A Reality Show Featuring China

ESWN has posted a Chinese article from wenxuecity.com that describes and comments on the contents of a documentary produced by the Japanese NHK television group titled “激流中國 : 富人與農民工” (“China in a Raging Current: The Rich and the Peasants”). The article has provided links to the documentary video clips on Youtube. The documentary is in Japanese with Chinese subtitles, but you wouldn’t need to know either language to understand.

I have translated the article below.

“Documentaries produced by NHK are quite well known internationally. I think the reason is that apart from having unique angles, the films reflect the truth and are objective and fine-tuned. Although using the example of Li Xiaohua who is the richest man in Beijing and who claims to have a net worth of US$2 billion may be a bit extreme, the projection of the peasants’ way of life is however very close to reality – a condition which generally exists in vast expanse of China and is something that I have personally witnessed.

This is a reality that China cannot avoid facing: most of the nation’s resources are controlled in the hands of a small vested interest group, with wealth churning among a number of elitists; the rich have no need to work hard for their wealth while the poor toil exhaustively for miserable returns. The wide gap between rich and poor stretches further apart by the day.

I used to be under the impression that our country’s decision makers were really focused on rectifying this social impasse, mighty as they are on their high pedestal declaring their ambition to create a harmonious China. But unfortunately in the documentary I saw several powerful big shots whose faces are frequently seen on television appear at Li’s 56-year birthday bash, chatting and joking with the affluent business moguls. The party is just a microcosm of a reality: that power and money are happily married. Those in power provide information and money-making opportunities for the rich, and may even change the rules of the game in their favor. Those with wealth provide the powerful with money, pleasure and an easy life.

A young man featured in the film becomes a wealthy big shot relying on “guanxi” built up by his father who is an incumbent senior government official. The rich young man has bought several apartments in Tianjin for investment purpose. It seems that NHK has stumbled on a common trait for China’s rich people. What Deng referred to as “common wealth” has taken on another meaning: it is the common wealth of the powerful and the rich.

When the film turns to the poor peasants and their families, I feel that I have fallen from a surreal world of prosperity into an almost tangible world of reality. What I see in the film are many different versions of my personal experience in my home village. In a country where development splits two-ways into urban and village, the villages are using their depression to shoulder the prosperity of the cities and the peasants are using their hardships to prop up the urbanites’ good fortune. The social security system only covers the city population, but not the village peasants. While the city people enjoy employment, medical and retirement social benefits, the peasants have no choice but to leave their families behind to find work in cities in order to earn some cash to pay for their children’s education and their elders’ medical bills. But the ever inflating living costs are racing the peasants’ ability to earn in a marathon. So when they fall ill, they have to endure it; when they get hungry and cold, they have to bear with it. There can be no stopping for breath, not even one moment of rest is possible!

Children of peasants are often left behind in the villages by their parents who have gone to the cities to work. They miss their parents badly but can do nothing except to bear them in their hearts. In writing an essay titled “My Dream”, they show that their single wish is to be able to go to university, work in cities and take their parents to the cities to live.

Society has never been fair. It is impossible to have absolute fairness. Yet under the present unbridgeable wealth gap, the least those in power can do is to make it possible for the poor’s basic subsistence needs to be satisfied. But the reality is: the poor are not just poor, they actually cannot see any certain path leading them out of their fateful destitution. Such social anomaly where the poor can only get poorer and wealth continues to flow within the elite’s confines, it is not a matter of laboring pain of reform but is something that can only be called tragic.”