Village in a vacuum

By Chen Heying in Nujiang Source:Global Times Published: 2016-4-21 19:23:01

Relocated farmers not provided government services

A mischievous 5-year-old stares at the photographer outside the Lijiazhai Guangming School in Lijiazhai, Yunnan Province. Shortly after this photo was taken, the boy leant closer to the camera and spat on the Global Times reporter. Photo: Chen Heying/GT

When the Global Times reporter appeared in Lijiazhai, a hamlet high on a hill in Kongguang village, under the city of Baoshan, a couple of boys got excited and bashful at the same time. Too shy to come close, they larked around a cowshed barefoot, weaving between silent cattle and chortling.

These children never have a chance to feel lonely, as they all have at least five siblings, and plenty of playmates in the neighborhood.

The flip side of this abundance of friends is that it stretches already tight household budgets, with many parents barely managing to feed their children, making new clothes, education and social security all luxuries.

The only local school, funded by a church in Baoshan, Southwest China's Yunnan Province, was opened in 2014. A few children in the area did not attend school until they were 12 years old.

The 32 households, who are all from the Lisu ethnic minority, migrated around 1998 to Lijiazhai from Fugong, a county in the neighboring Nujiang Lisu Autonomous Prefecture. But unlike their ancestors who made a living hunting high in the mountains, they just hunted for a piece of arable land that can sustain such large families.

Nevertheless, their move from Nujiang to Baoshan has left them in an administrative vacuum, as the local governments have not yet decided who should take responsibility for them. This means that they are missing out on poverty-relief funds that could otherwise lift part of their burden.

Passing the buck

Villager Deng Siyong, 46, recalled that a shortage of arable land forced them to move some 400 kilometers from their hometown. "More villagers followed the forerunners after seeing the hope here. Now there are 32 households in total," Deng told the Global Times.

Yielding less than 50 kilograms of grain per mu (0.067 hectares) on average, one family cannot support themselves even if they own 10 mu of land, Xie Yi, former Party chief of Nujiang, was quoted by the Nanfang Daily as saying.

Nujiang ranked the last out of the province's regions in terms of GDP in 2015, generating just 10 billion yuan ($1.5 billion), only one-fifth of Baoshan's 55 billion yuan, according to

Deng rented 30 mu of land to plant corn, paying annual rent of 100 yuan ($15.5) per mu. However, the income was too meager to feed his eight children - 2,000 kilograms of corn can be sold for about 1.6 yuan per kilogram.

Therefore, their staple food is now nutrition-lacking corn paste, which is only occasionally mixed with rice.

With parents hardly able to afford clothes and shoes, barefoot and pantsless kids playing on the dusty ground are a common sight, while older children wear over-sized shoes that may had been worn first by their older sisters and brothers or donated.

"Since our hukou (household registration) is registered in Nujiang, the Baoshan government is not obliged to distribute subsistence allowances to us and the Nujiang government has not told us about applying for the allowances," Deng said sadly.

Aside from these daily necessities, government-sponsored education has yet to reach the hamlet.

"The Baoshan government said it could not allocate education services to villagers who are administered by the Nujiang government," Joshua, headmaster of the church-funded Lijiazhai Guangming School, told the Global Times.

Moreover, villagers' children, aside from the oldest two, cannot obtain hukou in Nujiang unless they pay hefty - and unaffordable - social maintenance fees, according to the family planning policy, which means that many children would be unable to go to public schools even if education services were provided by the Nujiang government, Joshua said.

With the church and individual believers' donations, he founded the primary school in Lijiazhai in 2014 that has two classes, one for the first graders and the other for the second graders. Currently, there are a total of 45 students of the school.

Hu Yuxian, the first grade teacher, said that the students in her class are aged between 5 and 12.

Yang Yuhua, a 12-year-old girl wearing her older sister's high heels, started first grade in 2014. She told the Global Times that before she began going to school, she spent all her time helping her parents do housework and looking after her younger siblings.

"Following the tradition that they simply reproduce and raise generation after generation, the parents don't see the significance of education," Joshua noted.

They may finally expand their horizons and realize its importance when their better-educated children dare to leave the village and seek job opportunities outside, he said.

He added that the villagers were averse to the clergy's suggestion that they use contraception.

In spite of the backward infrastructure and a lack of public services, Deng does not regret resettling in Lijiazhai, saying "living here is better."

When reached by the Global Times, Baoshan's poverty relief office said the Nujiang government should take on the duty to alleviate Lijiazhai's poverty. The Nujiang government has not replied as of press time.

China has vowed to lift all of its poor citizens out of poverty by 2020. Premier Li Keqiang urged lifting about 10 million people out of poverty by 2020 through relocation, saying local governments should make sure the relocated people have stable jobs to make a living, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

Another side

In contrast, villagers who were relocated from Lushui county, Nujiang to Mangkuan village in Baoshao in 1996 with the aid of the Nujang government, lead easier life.

The Nujiang government rented land for the villagers, with the tenancy varying from 30 to 70 years. They were provided with social security, medical care, and equipped with houses, clinics as well as a primary school that has six grades, villagers said.

Planting coffee and sugar cane, farmers' average annual individual income is about 3,000 yuan, a villager told the Global Times. He added that most families have only two children, fearing a third one would not be able to access education.

"As more and more villagers work outside the village, they have seen the prospects education can bring," the primary school headmaster surnamed Yin told the Global Times.

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