Great Leap Forward pioneer now builds ‘new socialist countryside’ in his home village

By Xie Wenting in Xianyang Source:Global Times Published: 2016/9/23 5:03:40

Wang Baojing overlooks Fenghuo village from a construction site. Photo: Xie Wenting/GT

Among the pile of books stacked beside Wang Baojing's bed are Xi Jinping: The Governance of China and Learn the People's Skills with Chairman Mao.

The 86-year-old, who lives in Fenghuo village, Northwest China's Shaanxi Province, reads them attentively, notes down his interpretations and highlights the parts that he thinks are particularly meaningful.

From these books, he has learned how to better run the village, the place where he was born and has supervised for more than half a century. At such an old age, most Chinese people are long retired and spend their days at home, but gray-haired Wang still works diligently, trying to build the village into a "new socialist countryside."

"Building a new socialist countryside is the call of the Party and central government. I don't think I'm too old to do anything yet," Wang said.

While his legs are weak and his hearing is deteriorating, Wang still possesses a sharp mind, and also a say in the important affairs of the village.

Even the director of the village frequently visits his home, seeking his advice on how to manage affairs.

The uneducated son of a farmer, Wang served as the deputy mayor of Xianyang before his retirement in 1994.

Long before that, he had led his home village out of poverty and turned it into a well-known "red flag" village in the 1950s.

Wang first gained national attention back in the 1950s when he was received by Chairman Mao in 1955 for overseeing great increases in the yield of corn.

Since then, his name and career have become closely linked with "scientific farming" and impressive agricultural yields. He is also seen by many as one of the initiators of the Great Leap Forward (1958-60), a period when people had no qualms about "sending satellites," meaning greatly exaggerating reports on agricultural yields.

Wang Baojing stands in front of a statue of Chairman Mao at the village committee compound. Photo: Xie Wenting/GT

Upholding leaders' thought

Before the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, Wang worked underground in Kuomintang-controlled cities for the Communist Party of China (CPC) when he was only 14, helping the CPC deliver secret materials.

In 1951, answering the call of Chairman Mao, Wang formed the agricultural producers' "mutual aid team." He led villagers in adopting scientific measures to grow corn, setting a new national record yield in 1954.

When the provincial Party secretary at that time reported it to Mao, the leader was extremely pleased and sent his regards to the village. Because of Wang's achievement, he later got the chance to meet Mao in Beijing.

"I was so excited to meet him. After my return, many people demanded to hold my hand that had touched Chairman Mao," he recalled.

Over the course of his life, he managed to meet Chairman Mao and Premier Zhou Enlai 13 times.

"When I first set up the mutual aid group, it was one of the hardest times in my life, as I had no knowledge and was inexperienced," Wang told the Global Times.

The other rough time in his career came after the Great Leap Forward. After Mao reviewed his error of encouraging local officials to greatly exaggerate farm yields during that period, the country started to right its wrongs.

As Wang had made enormous exaggerations of his yields - which were so high that they set the national record -  he was attacked by his opponents, with some claiming he started the Great Leap Forward in Shaanxi.

"That was hard. But whatever other people said, I kept focusing on my own business," he said.

Eventually, the provincial Party secretary said a word for him, pointing out that this was not the fault of a single man. 

"What I did that time was wrong. But we learned important lessons from it... The whole of society at that time was doing the same thing. The whole environment was like that," he said. He explained that the widely circulated quote, "Such a bold person, and so much production" didn't come from him as some people said.

Wang did not try to avoid the absurdity of that period during the interview, but insisted that it "should be remembered."

In the exhibition hall of the village, which showcases important moments in the village's history, there are windows displaying the follies committed during that time, such as the killing of dozens of dogs whose meat was used to "nourish the land."

Wang survived this crisis, and he as well as the village grew stronger. They received a number of famous guests, including China's last Qing Dynasty emperor Pu Yi in 1964 and former US President Jimmy Carter in 1981.

Wang became the deputy mayor of Xianyang in 1983. He noted that the most important factor for his success is that "he listens to the Party's commands and always follows the top leaders' instructions."

Ushering in a new age

Wang returned to Fenghuo after retirement. "I'm a farmer, so I want to stay on my land," he said.

Like in most of China's villages, more and more young people in Fenghuo are abandoning their farmland to seek a life in the city.

"The land is the soul of the farmer. Even for people dwelling in cities, they still need land to feed them. Otherwise, they are living in the air," Wang said.

But he admits that the lack of young people poses a major obstacle to building a new socialist countryside.

"To combat this problem, I started by changing people's way of thinking. It's important for young people to know history and be grateful for the past," he said.

An educational site was set up where people could learn about the past, people's sacrifices and hardworking spirit.

On the other hand, the village has made great steps in attracting investment. Billions of yuan have been raised from investors to set up entertainment businesses in the village.

"Ecological agriculture and ecological tourism are also being promoted."

According to Wang, some young people are now returning to the village. "If the village is built well, people in the cities will eventually return."

Newspaper headline: A life of service

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