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Video: Author Documents How Rural China Evolves, and Villagers Struggle to Adjust


A villager in Wasteland who has adjusted to the town's modernization with mixed feelings. (Michael Meyer)

In a discussion presented at Asia Society New York last night by ChinaFile, the online magazine of Asia Society's Center on U.S.-China Relations, writers Michael Meyer and Ian Buruma discussed Meyer’s new book In Manchuria: A Village Called Wasteland and the Transformation of Rural China. For the book, Meyer spent time living in a rural Manchurian village as it was transitioning from a patchwork of small family farms to a large-scale production overseen by a rice company. This transition, which saw farmers moved off their land and into modern apartment complexes, received a mixed reception from villagers.

In the clip below, Meyer compares what’s happening in rural China to what happened to the hutongs of Beijing, which he wrote about for his 2009 book The Last Days of Old Beijing. He says that the Beijing government began tearing down the small traditional homes partly as a way to get older residents off government-subsidized housing and into the market economy. Many were very reluctant to make the move, but since China has no private property rights, they had little or no say. “I’m wondering if what’s going on [in the villages] now isn’t sort of the same thing,” Meyer says. “…If this isn’t a way of saying ‘if you want to leave your land, we’ll give you a nice price for it, get out.’ Whereas many villagers say ‘no, give us rights to the land to buy, sell and mortgage it ourselves.’”


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