July 14, 2024

Huaxi Journal: Sharing the Wealth and Living Large in a Tiny Chinese Village

The utopia part certainly seems plausible. Whether Mao would have approved is a bit more in doubt.

Huaxi’s so-called New Village in the Sky — at 1,076 feet, a bit taller than the Chrysler Building in Manhattan — is getting finishing touches this summer in preparation for an October opening. Among other attractions, it will have a five-star hotel, a gold-leaf-embellished concert hall, an upscale shopping mall and what is billed as Asia’s largest revolving restaurant. Also, it will have five life-size statues of a water buffalo, Huaxi’s symbol, on every 12th floor or so.

That this half-billion-dollar edifice is a good 40-minute drive from a city of any size is part of the plan. For though not many foreigners have heard of Huaxi, Chinese far and wide know it as the socialist collective that works — the village where public ownership of the means of production has not just made everyone equal, but rich, too.

Two million tourists come annually to view the Huaxi marvel, no small number of them officials from other villages who yearn to know how Huaxi did it. The enormous skyscraper, topped with a gigantic gold sphere, will never win architectural awards. But it will add to Huaxi’s allure, the village fathers confidently predict — and soak up tourist money as well.

“We call it the three-increase building,” said Wu Renbao, 84, the town’s revered patriarch, meaning that it will increase Huaxi’s acreage (by half), increase its work force (by 3,000) and, hardly least of all, increase its wealth.

If he is right, all 2,000 villagers will get a little richer. They all own a piece of the building — just as they own the town’s steel mill, textile factory, greenhouse complex, ocean shipping company and other ventures. That is Huaxi’s carefully curated narrative: by rigidly adhering to socialism with Chinese characteristics, the citizens of this little village have created an oasis of prosperity and comfort that is the envy of the world.

When China effectively embraced capitalism in the 1980s, Huaxi was an agrarian hovel, reachable by dirt roads. Mr. Wu, then the local Communist Party secretary, seized on the new market freedoms to shift the Huaxi economy from farming to manufacturing and trade, but with a twist: the residents would throw their money into a collective pot and share in the take from whatever new businesses they bought.

“In the 30 years after the opening up, the system changed in many places,” Mr. Wu’s son, Wu Xie’en, said in a recent interview. “Some chose private ownership, but we Huaxi people chose public ownership. The biggest benefit is that the people share the common prosperity.”

That Huaxi is prosperous seems undeniable. Here, the villagers get lavish annual stipends, live in spacious single-family homes instead of China’s usual cramped apartments, drive imported cars, and get basic medical care, education and even an annual vacation free from the government. Lately they also get free helicopter rides, courtesy of a 100 million renminbi, or $15.5 million, fleet of helicopters and small jets the village is buying to attract still more sightseers.

Ge Xiufang, now 62, was a penniless peasant in a northern area of Jiangsu Province when her newly graduated son began looking for work in the early 1990s. “He saw an ad in the paper calling for workers to come to Huaxi,” she said. “So we came here, and two years later, we became villagers.”

That was in 1993, before Huaxi took off. Ms. Ge was interviewed in her son’s house, a two-story building with marble floors, overstuffed leather sofas, a large aquarium and a liquor cabinet dominated by an enormous bottle of expensive Scotch. Ms. Ge said she and her husband live in a sprawling town house a few blocks away and shuttle between homes in one of the family’s three cars.

“We peasants, we didn’t even have apartment buildings in those days,” she said. “We had no idea it would be this good.”

Jonathan Kaiman contributed research.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=5f20f5d78c7f1e925d41999689aca695

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