Professor Guy Salvatore Alitto of the history department of the University of Chicago, who has visited a county in the eastern province of Shandong time after time over the past 22 years, has witnessed great changes in China.
"Each time I visit China, I am astonished at its development," said the professor, who recalled the scene in Zouping County in 1986, when he first arrived.
"There was only one main road running through the county," he recalled, "In the evenings, under the dim light of a cinema, a lone booth was selling popcorn. That was recognized as night life for local people."
Alitto described the change of the small county as "between heaven and earth".
"One year after my first visit, the county had its first cafe. Formerly distrustful farmers later welcomed me by extending congratulations for the Chicago Bulls' crowning in the NBA championship," he smiled.
Situated in central Shandong, the typical agricultural county was among the first batch of Chinese rural areas opened to foreign scholars.
Data released by the local statistics bureau indicated that in 2007, the gross income of the county was 40 billion yuan (about US$5.7 billion) and the per capita income of urban citizens and farmers was 13,800 yuan and 6,038 yuan, respectively. These figures were roughly 53, eight and 10 times the figures in 1989.
Like Alitto, many foreigners have visited the county during the past 22 years, including Michel Oksenberg, a former member of the US National Security Council, and former US President Jimmy Carter, who went to the county in 1997 and later published a story in the New York Times entitled "It's Wrong to Demonize China."
Alitto has finished a book on the history of Zouping after talking with several hundred elderly people there, and he plans to write another book -- this time, a novel on the development of Fengjia village.
"Thirty years have passed since China's reform and opening up, and I have witnessed the dramatic development of Zouping," he said. "The research goes on."
(Xinhua News Agency April 1, 2008)