In this March 2, 2016 photo, a woman rides a bicycle past propaganda on a wall that reads: "Diligent labor is the basis of the country, a brilliant sun shining over China" on the outskirts of Beijing.
A fictional story on a soured relationship between a city woman and her rural boyfriend swept through Chinese media earlier this year, thrusting a spotlight on how split society has become between glitzy urban dwellers and abject villagers in the countryside. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
"The core of our job is to bring a society of common prosperity," said Zhu Liangyu, a delegate to the National People's Congress from Beijing, "and we can only accomplish the task when the rural peasants are economically prospering."
Urban dwellers have only recently begun to outnumber rural ones in China, becoming more than half of the population in 2011. But the split between them has been entrenched by the decades-long practice of differentiating them and their rights based on residence registration. The Herculean task of addressing that split was highlighted by the uproar nationwide over the breakup story, which emerged earlier this year.
"The fake love dispute and the ensuing heated discussions are only symptoms of a torn-up society," observed Tang Yinghong, a psychologist and a popular national columnist.
The female protagonist was from Shanghai, which represents "metropolitan China" and is comparable to any city in a developed country. Her lover hailed from a poor village in the hinterland province of Jiangxi, which could "be worse than Third World countries," Tang said. They matched two popular stereotypes — the sheltered, well-heeled "peacock" girl of the city, and the self-made "phoenix" man from the hinterland who makes good in the big city.
Many real-life testimonials of such relationships soon followed, with some rural men wondering aloud whether they should even try for city women — a touchy subject in a country where men outnumber women because of the traditional preference for male children, especially in rural areas.
Relationship gurus snatched the chance to sell their theories on what makes a good match, while state media called for more tolerance and respect.
"The fates of the protagonists are the foam created by the currents of our times," the People's Daily wrote. "The media should not feast on their pains but reflect on deeper issues reflected by the foam."
Public discussions were so vehement that some Chinese journalists sought to find the protagonists and raised red flags when they could not. Eventually, China's online regulators stepped in, investigated and declared the story was fabricated and the photo pirated. Authorities did not reveal who was the creator.
Wu Qiang, a political scientist at Tsinghua University, said the furor over the break-up has showed the failure of Beijing to deliver the benefits of the past three decades of industrialization to ordinary people, especially those in China's vast countryside.
"A single photo of a rural dinner table has condensed so many social meanings of our time," Wu wrote. "What kind of social relationships and social realities have made everyone uncomfortable? Is it the widening gap between the cities and the countryside? Is it the class discrimination against the rural man? Or is it simply the differences in living habits between the rural and the cities?"
Wu argued that China's rural-urban differences must be addressed. "Only when everyone has equal rights can we make up the feudal gap between the cities and the countryside," he said.
In 2014, the average yearly income for a Shanghai resident was 47,710 yuan ($7,300), more than four times the 10,117 yuan ($1,547) a year for an average rural resident in the province of Jiangxi, though costs of living are significantly higher in cities.
Zheng Fengtian, a professor of agriculture and rural development at Beijing-based Renmin University, said the income disparity is not as alarming as inequality in social benefits.
For decades, China's national policies have favored city residents, who are granted better social benefits, such as health, education, employment and pensions, while rural dwellers are left with reduced benefits on the grounds that they have access to land.
Nearly 55 percent of China's 1.37 billion people live in cities, and Beijing has shifted its focus from urbanization to rebuilding the countryside, where national policies are aimed at extending more benefits to rural residents, Zheng said.
Plans in the annual work report Premier Li presented to the National People's Congress include building 200,000 kilometers (124,000 miles) of new roads in rural areas, upgrading power grids and improving drinking water safety. The report also aims to promote farming and to increase investment in rural areas.
"The dual system has been around for decades, and changes will take a long time," Zheng said. "The key is to narrow the gaps between the cities and countryside. Now we are building the villages, where residents there can one day enjoy the same benefits as everyone else."
Marisa70394 • 2 days ago
I was in china last month, and the differences are staggering. chinese cities appear modern and local villages appear third world, but the reality really is, it is all third world to me. People in the cities are constantly spitting, snorting mucus through their throats (even young women), and the city toilets are totally disgusting. chinese people have no sense about bathroom etiquette and they constantly play with their noses and then touch handrails, elevator buttons, subway handles, etc. It is a disgusting place because the chinese are not quite civilized.
Sam Gu > Marisa70394 • a day ago
@Marisa70394，I am not sure how civilized you are, but the way you has presented yourself are certainly not.
China has been largest and one of the poorest countries for decades and China has never declared itself a developed country although its people's living standard has been improved dramatically in last 20-30 years, and we all know it takes even longer to changes social behavior.
The things you pointed out do exist in China, in the same way, I can also describe that drug dealers and users, gun violence, bar fighting are everywhere and every day in USA while sending troops to kill others thousand miles away every day.
That is old west style but it is civilized, LOL.
hhour > Marisa70394 • a day ago
You don't know the meaning of the third world, India and Philippines are third world. China as a whole is not. Do you really want to find a disgusting people? Go to India where people poop outdoors. I live in America. you find a lot of filthy people here too. A lot of homeless Americans defecate and urinate outdoors. You go to some migrant-worker camp sites in New Mexico and go to their restrooms , then tell me how horrible they are. By the way, I think you have never been to China but are just repeating what you read in some newspapers.
Ken • a day ago
But in the other hand, most of the farmers don't want to become city-dwellers as that means they have to give up the land they owned.
MrPanda415 • a day ago
farmer owners in the USA are wealthy, not all of them but a lot of the bigger farms do produce a substantial amount for the family
cieara • 2 days ago
May be a dual system, but that is the process of change. It takes time before all areas are reach equilibrium. Fighting poverty is on the high priorities on the current five year plan.
Want to criticize others? How about look into our own low income sectors. Title loans and pay day loans are all over the country, 65% of the work forces are in quasi-minimum wages.
dis666 • 2 days ago
This hapless reporter is barely showing the tip of the iceberg....
"In 2014, the average yearly income for a Shanghai resident was 47,710 yuan ($7,300), more than four times the 10,117 yuan ($1,547) a year for an average rural resident in the province of Jiangxi."
I've got news for you, DiDi Tang. Jiangxi is still a part of the eastern coastal rich area. Try taking a look at the Tibetan areas to the far west. Shanghai workers earn EIGHT TIMES the average salaries of the entire province of Qinghai, including cities. Can you imagine if workers in Mississippi earned $50,000 per year, while New Yorkers earned an AVERAGE of $400,000? The U.S. would break out in massive revolt.
Eagle • 2 days ago
The slogan: "Diligent labor is the basis of the country, a brilliant sun shining over china" is pure comedy. Most chinese can't see the sun because of the diligent labor in coal power plants.
dis-qussion • 2 days ago
who would want a miserable chinese boyfriend besides their own... or some desperate southeast asians ?
in Japan and Korea, if a girl goes with a chinese boyfriend she's definitely looked down and laughed at by her fellow Japanese or Korean friends. and the guys call her a slut..
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