Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Farmers (and their Children) of China

Over the past years, I have met many young people from the rural areas in China. Most children from the cities are single children, as expected under the one-child policy. Many from the rural areas, however, have brothers and sisters, some as many as four - a boy I met last year has 4 elder sisters. It is also quite common for their fathers and elder brothers and sisters to be away from home, working in some coastal regions such as Zhejiang, Shenzhen, Fujian, etc.

It is not surprising for people to want to get away from the farms, since the average income in the cities is estimated to be six times higher than average income in the rural areas. In comparison, the corresponding number in most other countries is said to be one and a half times.

In the mean time, the tax burden on the farmers is said to be four times higher in the rural areas than in the cities. These include expenses for construction of government buildings, administrative expenses, salaries for officials, education, family planning, militia training, public health, public transport, ... The central government has pushed to streamline the collection of taxes, and actual reduction of taxes. At the same time, it is also setting policies for expansions of social services such as free education. While little or no additional money is provided by the central government, guess where the money is coming from?

While moving to a more market-based economy is good for the nation in the long run, it is a huge challenge to engineer a smooth transition.

In the mean time, their best hope is for the children to study hard and to get into one of the elite universities, and then a high-paying job in the main cities. Some of them are actually in our universities now.

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