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Declining Vitality of Rural Villages

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A village can soon lose its vitality if the young and middle-aged villagers leave to make money in cities. Left behind are only children and the aged. Against the background that more than 200 million villagers are seeking their fortunes in urban areas, is it surprising that many villages are unable to maintain the vitality they used to have?

In my recent trip to Dongxiang Autonomous County in northwest China's Gansu Province, I found that thousands of young and middle-aged villagers in this remote mountainous area spend most of their time in urban areas or else picking cotton as migrant workers during the harvest season in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in the west of China.

Despite the cancellation of taxes on agriculture, it is still hard for villagers in Dongxiang to earn much money by farming their terraced land on mountain slopes. They rely on the mercy of heaven for enough rain for the harvest. But odd jobs in urban areas can at least help them earn some cash.

One student said that she missed her father very much, as her father has been absent from home for three years working in the Xingjiang Uygur autonomous region. Another said that he had not seen his father for two years.

Another student said that he had been to Xinjiang twice with his fellow villagers. He earned 1,200 yuan (US$181) the first time and 3,000 yuan during his summer vacation in 2010. He was saving the money for his future studies. He said that he wanted to be a teacher if he could finish his college education.

As far as the income of villagers is concerned, they are much better off than before and the government has done a great deal to improve their living standards and the rural economy on the whole.

Yet, when it comes to rural traditions and culture, the changes seem to be revolutionary. They cannot afford to follow the ways of their fathers or grandfathers, neither can they afford to spare the time and effort for the public affairs that may ultimately have an effect on their lives.

Some may lament the passing of the good old days, but we cannot judge the lives of villagers from the perspective of our own. If we were in their shoes, what would we do? We would undoubtedly choose the way that suits us - migrating to cities to make money.

However, it is also wrong for us to take it for granted that rural villages should be left the way they are. Those who are seeking their fortune in urban areas will one day become too old to work as migrant workers. Many will then return to their rural homes. Who will take care of them? Will they regret that they have failed to create a better home for their old age?

What is even more threatening is the scenario that the second or third generation of rural migrant workers who were either born in cities or brought to cities by their parents will mostly stay in cities rather than return to their home villages. Who will take care of the fields when the elderly and women left behind are unable to work any more?

The campaign was launched late last decade to construct a new countryside should not just build new houses for villagers, but also help inject vitality into the declining rural villages.

The problem is: How?

It is not just unrealistic. It's also impossible to stop young villagers from seeking fortunes in urban areas unless agricultural policy makes it more profitable for them to farm their fields than to work on construction sites or in factories.

Policies are badly needed to specifically address village problems and thus improve the overall situation in rural areas.

(China Daily January 13, 2011)

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