Read Will the Boat Sink the Water?: The Life of China's Peasants Online

Authors: Chen Guidi,Wu Chuntao

Tags: #Business & Money, #Economics, #Economic Conditions, #History, #Asia, #China, #Politics & Social Sciences, #Politics & Government, #Ideologies & Doctrines, #Communism & Socialism, #International & World Politics, #Asian, #Specific Topics, #Political Economy, #Social Sciences, #Human Geography, #Poverty, #Specific Demographics, #Ethnic Studies, #Special Groups

Will the Boat Sink the Water?: The Life of China's Peasants (4 page)

BOOK: Will the Boat Sink the Water?: The Life of China's Peasants
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1982 (February) The Twelfth Party Congress; Hu Yaobang becomes general secretary of the Communist Party.

1984 (October) The Third Plenary Session of the Twelfth Party Congress announces the reform of the economic system, with emphasis on urban areas.

1989 Tiananmen Square incident.

1990 Deng Xiaoping tours parts of South China and reiterates the policy of Reform and Open Up.

1993 The Plenary Session of the Eighth National People’s Congress confirms the household-contract system, which has been introduced in parts of the countryside.

post-liberation time line

1993 Trial launch of the “reform of the tax and fees sys-tem” in rural areas with the aim of reducing the peasants’ financial burden. Items on the agenda include standardizing rural taxation, regulating fees and charges, reducing or eliminating charges for governmental and educational projects, eliminating conscripted labor and other items, and writing these changes into law.

1993 (December) The State Council (central government) announces plans for reform of the financial system.

1996 (December) The “Number 13 Circular” announces the decision of the Party Central Committee and the State Council to reduce the peasants’ burden.

1997 (July l) Hong Kong is returned to China.

1998 (March) The Party Central and the State Council announces “rules for the conscription [state purchase] of grain,” to protect peasants’ interests.

1999 Ninth National People’s Congress: Premier Zhu Rongji formally announces a project to reform the system of rural taxes and charges, in order to reduce the peasants’ burden. The reform, called “tax for fees” for short, is first tried out in Anhui Province.

2000 Li Changping writes a letter to Premier Zhu Rongji, deploring the condition of the peasants, stating: “The peasant’s life is so hard, the countryside is so poor, agriculture is in such a dangerous condition.” This statement is later referred to as the
san-nong wenti
, the “three-peasant problem,” called here the Triple-Agri. (This is a recent Chinese coinage:
= “peasant”;
= countryside”;
nong ye
= “agriculture”)

2001 (February) The “tax for fees” project is tried out nationwide.


the martyr

Restlessness in the Village

Sometimes the unmistakable line between life and death is blurred: a person may be dead and gone and yet remain among the living. At least that seemed to be the case with Ding Zuoming.

Ding Zuoming is dead. His death would probably not be reckoned as “weightier than Mount Tai,”* but on February 10, 2000—a full eight years after his death—when we asked around for the way to Luying Village, we were invariably greeted by the question “Looking for Ding Zuoming’s place?”

Ding Zuoming was an ordinary peasant of Luying Village within the jurisdiction of Jiwangchang Township in Lixin County, a notoriously poverty-stricken backwater in Anhui province on the flatlands north of the Huai River. If there was something different about Ding Zuoming, it was that he had a few more years of schooling than others—he actually graduated

*Mount Tai, in Shandong Province, is one of the largest, most scenic, and culturally most significant mountains in China. A center of spirituality for centuries, it also symbolizes the spirit of the nation. The expression “weightier than Mount Tai” means that a person’s death has meaning—for example, it was for a good cause.

will the boat sink the water

from senior high. He was an exceptionally good student. When there was no food on the table, he would go and bury his head in the water jar, fill himself up with cold water and go cheerfully to school. During the national exams for college entrance, he scored just a few marks below the entrance margin. If he had not been a native of Lixin County—if he had been born in Beijing or Shanghai—he would have been a college student right away, for his grades exceeded the entrance requirements there. Actually, if he had been born anywhere but Luying Village, he would have had a different fate. But being only a graduate of the local high school, he had no choice but to go back to his native village, and thus he ended up as a dirt-poor peasant like any other, going down to the fields every day to tend to the crops. But Ding, having a little more book learning than other peasants, liked to leaf through the newspapers and listen to radio broadcasts, and was somewhat literal-minded. In short, he had a mind of his own. He was modest to a fault in his dealings with people. But he would stick to the letter of the law, was not afraid to call a spade a spade, and had the temer-ity to stand up to the cadres and speak to them as equals. This led to more trouble for him than was the lot of an ordinary peasant. Eventually it cost him his life.

Ding Zuoming had died long ago. Why did the people in Lixin County still refer to “Ding Zuoming’s place”? Was there a road that would lead us to him?

The morning of February 20, 1993, Ding Zuoming and seven other villagers who had lodged complaints to the county authorities about the conduct of village affairs were unexpectedly invited to the township office to attend a meeting. At the meeting, the township leaders announced that the county leadership at the next higher level, to whom they had previously made appeals, were concerned about their grievances, and that

the martyr

now Ding Zuoming and his group should elect two men from among themselves, to be joined by two Party members and two cadres from their village, and the six would form a work group to audit the books of Luying Village the very next day. Ding and his fellow villagers were jubilant, their despondency forgotten. Back home, some actually went to the village store to get fire-crackers, hoping to dispel their pent-up resentment with a few loud bangs. But the Spring Festival was just over and the stores were sold out. So the next day, February 21, when he got an unexpected summons from the township security, Ding walked out of his home with a light step, never dreaming that it would be the most fateful day of his life.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

Lixin County was a new county created after the Liberation, in 1949, when the Communists took over the Chinese mainland. Before that, the area had been in a spot where six different counties converged, and was consequently overlooked by all six jurisdictions. It was a poor area, inundated with yellow mud when it rained, which made roads impassable, not to mention the pervasive alkaline soil dotted with many sandy patches. Luying Village was a godforsaken hole to begin with, and after the disastrous flood of 1991, the people were bled bone-dry.

Our story begins in early 1993, with the upcoming Spring Festival, which would fall on January 23—just around the cor-ner. But there was no sign of coming festivities. There is a traditional Chinese saying, “Rich or poor, home for New Year,” but many migrant laborers could not return home for the Spring Festival—something unheard of. But now they dared not show their faces, for they were unable to pay the exorbitant fees and taxes waiting for them. By year’s end (according to the lunar calendar), the annual per capita income was under 400 yuan, or about US$50 ($1 is roughly 8 yuan), but taxes and

will the boat sink the water

other payments imposed from above such as “village cash reserves” amounted to 103.17 yuan per head. After twelve months’ back-breaking work in the fields, all that the villagers could hope to keep back from the tax collectors was their grain rations; everything else would have to go toward paying taxes and other charges, including so-called reserves—monies kept back for “community projects.” Households that had had a bad harvest did not even make enough to pay off the taxes, not to mention the reserves. The head of local security, who was working hand in glove with the village Party bosses, stated, “Pay up, or you’ll find yourself behind bars.”

During this time Ding Zuoming had been doing something that no one else in his village had ever dared contemplate. He spent several nights putting together all the information he had culled from the papers and radio broadcasts regarding the Party’s new policies laid down at the recently convened (1993) National Agricultural Conference in Beijing, information that he now compressed into a short, simple, easily understood list of important points, and went around the village spreading the word. He worked clandestinely, reminiscent of the Communist underground in the Nationalist-controlled areas during the old days before the Liberation. It made him anxious, yet it was exhilarating when he saw people’s eyes sparkle in the light of a murky light bulb hanging from the ceiling as Ding assured them, “These excessive ‘reserves’ are decidedly against the Party Central Committee’s directions.”*

The peasants, used to being kicked around, had always trusted Ding for his learning and good sense. Now, at one of their informal get-togethers, again the villagers were impressed and

*The Central Committee of the Communist Party of China. Often called simply the Central Committee or the Party Central (
dang zhong yang
). For more information on the Party Central Committee, see Central_Committee_of_the_Communist_Party_ of_China.

BOOK: Will the Boat Sink the Water?: The Life of China's Peasants
8.24Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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