From Village to City

Much has been written about China’s urbanization over the past three decades, as the rural/urban ratio has shifted from 80/20 to roughly 50/50.  Most of this urbanization has taken place as a result of millions of people picking up and moving from the countryside into the cities, leaving behind, in many cases empty villages or villages with only old people left.

For those of us who have lived in China for the past few decades, we have seen this migration first-hand as our once small cities turned into large cities, and our large cities turned into mega-cities.

But there is another aspect of urbanization in China that we often overlook, namely the transformation of villages themselves INTO cities, meaning that some rural dwellers become urban dwellers without having to actually leave home.

On June 22, the BBC published a fascinating piece by Carrie Gracie, titled “The Village and the Girl,” in which she takes an in-depth look at how a village in Shaanxi was transformed into a city, and how it transformed the lives of one village family.

In 2015, Xiao Zhang's former home, White Horse Village, is long gone. A new city which stands in its place is full of slogans painted in urgent red. The one above her head reads: “Justice, efficiency, cleanliness, serving the people!”

For the chief cleaner of the new city courthouse, service is all she's ever known.

Serve the parents. Serve the pigs. Serve the future. Serve the family.

Right now Xiao Zhang is serving the people with a feather duster, carefully working round the gold stars on the crimson emblem of state above the judge's high-backed chair.

Across the empty courtroom, her husband is perched on a window ledge, polishing the glass that looks out on to iron bars, security gates and a city street that 10 years ago was an expanse of shimmering green rice paddy.

Xiao Zhang does not miss that greener past. For her, there was nothing romantic about life on the land.

Gracie began reporting on the Shaanxi village ten years ago, knowing that it was part of the government’s “Develop the West” plans:

White Horse Village has been part of that hopeful story. Over 10 years I've watched as the village was destroyed to make way for Wuxi New Town - an epic transformation being replicated in thousands of villages all over China, the biggest urbanisation in human history and a giant leap of faith in the name of progress.

For anyone interested in the transformation of modern China and how that transformation has affected individuals and families, this article is a must-read. It also has great photographs and other visuals.

As they say, read the whole thing.

Image credit: Old and Low vs. New and Tall, by Lars Plougmann, via Flickr