Wealth and risk creating uncertainty in tiny boom town
Published: Feb 06, 2014 11:43 PM Updated: Feb 07, 2014 09:18 AM

My hometown is Diankou, a tiny spot on the map of Zhejiang Province. It's just a 30-minute car ride to the Hangzhou international airport, and is quite close to the textile city Shaoxing and the city of Zhuji, which administers Diankou.

But despite its tiny population of 63,000 and its seemingly low profile, Diankou ranks 18th in the top 1,000 towns in China and 4th in the top 100 towns in Zhejiang Province as far as economic power is concerned, according to its official website.

I left my hometown in 1993 but every Spring Festival I travel all the way back home to stay with my family there. It's an interesting experience.

Villagers there own high-end cars and villas worth millions of yuan. They are equipped with the latest iPhones and Samsung gadgets. They are considered tuhao, or nouveau riche, but at the same time they keep pace with an ever-changing China.

They attach significant importance to the education of their children. Every time I meet my old friends, they sincerely ask me for advice about where to send their children for higher education. They ask about the differences between Hangzhou and Shanghai, Shanghai and Beijing, Europe and the US. They are not asking out of politeness. I find that they take action very quickly.

In previous years, they would ask whether we know officials or celebrities. They would spare no effort to attempt to forge ties with them to maintain and expand their interests. This year, they asked more about technology or devices that might be convenient for them.

From time to time I enjoy Mahjong with my family. Large-scale gambling is not common in the area, but extreme cases do exist.

The son of my father's friend lost 3 million yuan ($494,900) overnight in January, and his father had to sell a villa at very low price to help him. They became homeless overnight.

Previously, it was quite common to borrow money among friends or relatives. But this year, you could talk about anything but money.

These crazy lending businesses had already destroyed quite a number of families and factories. Some Zhejiang businessmen disappeared after borrowing millions or even billions of yuan from friends. Even in Shanghai, I always receive phone calls from friends in Diankou, asking me to lend them money. They would promise rewards of 36 percent interest annually. These days, I don't dare take such risks.

Prior to the holidays, I felt a bit worried because Zhejiang has been the province worst hit by the H7N9 bird flu. There were fatal cases reported in Xiaoshan, Shaoxing and Zhuji before Spring Festival. When we were in Diankou we tried to persuade my mother and mother-in-law not to prepare chicken or duck for the festival.

They argued that the poultry they had was home-raised and they claimed that it wouldn't cause any trouble so long as the meat was well done, citing experts on the local TV station. They won the argument, and the dinner was tasty.