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Beyond Beijing

Life in the Chinese Countryside

Since China's great gǎigé kāifàng (Reform and Opening) experiment was begun by reformists in the Communist Party of China (CPC) under Deng Xiaoping in late 1978, tens of thousands of articles—in print and online—have been written about the huge changes and nearly miraculous standard-of-living improvements that have happened throughout China.

Evidence of these changes can be seen in every major large Chinese city as well as throughout most of China’s coastal provinces.  This transformation is due in large part to:

  1. The lightning-speed, State-supported growth of many of China’s industrial sectors
  2. China’s dramatic expansion in factory-produced exports combined with simultaneous development of broad global distribution channels
  3. China’s seemingly never-ending supply of human capital—migrant laborers willing to temporarily live apart from their families for better work opportunities
  4. Massive governmental investment/spending at every level—central, provincial, and local—with special focus on developing country-wide transportation infrastructure and modern urban centers
  5. The tremendous amounts of foreign investment capital that has continued to flow into the country as China’s markets have become more open and globally-connected
  6. The unleashing of previously pent-up desires in the Chinese people themselves as they’ve had increasing choices and opportunities available to them in how to economically provide for their families and live their daily lives

These changes, as positive as they are, however, also skew thoughts and overshadow existing realities. And, as the world’s overall perception of China’s economic situation (as well as a significant part of Chinese society’s picture of themselves) has changed, the resulting narrative about China often comes out sounding something like this: “China has become a huge global economic power. Chinese people no longer need anybody’s help or concern. In fact, with China’s growing global political clout and military might, other countries need to take a step back, become a bit more wary of them, and be prepared to protect themselves.”

My concern with this growing view is that the vast majority of China’s rural people’s lives—measured by the World Bank in 2012 to be approximately 651,365,000 people (48.22% of China’s entire 1,350,820,000 population)[i]—bear no resemblance whatsoever to this narrative. Rather, at best, they have been overlooked; at worst, forgotten.

The reality on-the-ground is that while the situation in most rural areas of China has continued to show slight to moderate improvement over the past 35+ years, 90% of China’s poverty is still rural[ii].

And, with more than 1 in 10 Chinese still trying to survive on less than U.S. $1.25 a day and more than 25% of the population (a larger number of people than live in the entire United States) subsisting on less than U.S. $2.00 a day[iii], a large part of China’s population—especially uneducated, rural country-dwellers—remain in dire and impoverished circumstances with minimal to no opportunities for anything better. According to 2011 data from the National Bureau of Statistics of China, the average per capita net income of rural households in China was still only RMB 5,153 (U.S. $2.30/day).[iv]

Compounding the lack of income, the large majority of rural Chinese still have little or no access to social services. “Entitled benefits” such as health care and schooling are severely limited due to their rural hùkǒu (户口- permanent residence permits), and—just as in many other societies in the world—abuse by powerful leaders who consider themselves rulers over the peasants is still commonplace.[v]

Fortunately, ChinaSource knows of many “on-the-ground” organizations and individuals who in big and small ways are involved in making a difference and bringing hope—both economic and spiritual—into the lives of many of the multitudes of poor families who live in China’s countryside and its small villages.

One way you can participate is by assisting one of these little "on-the-ground" projects based in north-central China. For more than 10 years, Evergreen Cards has consistently provided income-earning opportunities for more than 30 rural families in Yangqu County, Shanxi Province, through the production and sales of exquisitely-designed and individually hand-cut greeting cards.  By purchasing Christmas cards (or a variety of other greeting cards) made by these rural people, you can become a part of giving them tangible hope and encouragement in the face of the dwindling opportunity.

We encourage you to visit Evergreen Cards website ( to find out more about their work and to help make a difference.


[i] “Rural population (% of total population) in China,” Trading Economics, (accessed October 13, 2014).

[ii] Wikipedia contributors, "Poverty in China," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed October 13, 2014).

[iii] Wikipedia contributors, "Poverty in China," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed October 13, 2014).

[iv] National Bureau of Statistics of China. (2011, February) Statistical Communiqué of the People's Republic of China on the 2010 National Economic and Social Development. Retrieved from NBS online:

[v] Rural Poverty in China: Problem & Policy by Gregory C. Chow

Photo Credit: Evergreen Cards 

A Wèi in Mountains West

A Wèi in Mountains West (pseudonym) and his family have been working with rural communities in China for the past ten years.View Full Bio

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