A modern village

Located on the opposite side of Poyang Lake, this village has a similar biophysical environment as the traditional village. But it has followed a different development path, and the villagers have constantly adapted their livelihoods over time. In the past, they had used shells collected from the lake making buttons. When the shells were used up, they began to cultivate pearls. Now as pearl business becomes difficult, they are trying to transit to jewelry making. And they are still on looking for new business opportunities. They have a modern corporate management. Under the leadership of the president, the managers of the sales department are responsible for negotiating deals of sales and purchasing production materials for all its members. The members gather often to discuss business issues and exchange information. The villagers are happy that they can make good money and be able to stay at home (many own cars). In the office of the corporate management, behind these modern glass doors, I saw beautiful displays of jewelry products on the shelves.


Rural industry

The working procedure:

Step1: cut from shells;

Step2: smooth first with a machine and then by hands;

Step3: color, wash and dry;

Step4: put together into strands, and then further smooth with sands.


The profit from producing these intermediate products is tiny, mostly depending on quantities. They are sold in large sacks like those used to hold rice or corn, from which jewelry-makers will make final products, and make much more money.





Coloring and washing


put together and further smoothing



A price paid for development

When I first looked at the beautiful jewelry displays behind those modern glass doors, I was so excited and happy for the villagers. Only after I visited many workshops (from small to large), and learnt the working procedure, did I realize the price they paid for their development. Then I suddenly felt not so sure about this progress any more. And later when I visited Michaels Store, and saw those colorful shell beads on the shelves, I would think of these women with masks and shells with holes piled up everywhere in the village. (Many farmers away from home work for rural enterprises whose workshops have adverse working environments like this. Some developed health problems from work that involves in lead, for example.)



Empty new houses

In every village, I saw empty new houses left locked like this because their owners were working away from home. (In fact, many houses in rural areas were built with money made from migratory work. House construction has the first priority in a farmer household's expenditure, and is the largest expense. For most farmer households, a major task in their lives is to build houses for their sons' marriage and see them get married.)

The same people I saw everyday

I saw these same people every day in the model village. Since young people and most middle-aged people work far away from home, many villages are mainly occupied by old people, women and children. Some humorously call them 3-6-9 army: March 8th is International Women's day, June 1st Children's day and September 9th Seniors' day in China.

Children on their own

I also saw children left alone in some houses (This seemed to happen more to poorer households). I almost felt glad then that they didn't follow the one-child policy - at least the children can be companies to each other. (When parents take up work away from home, some children are able to go with them and get enrolled in local schools. Many, however, stay at home taken care by their grandparents who mostly just feed them. This wave of migratory work (as part of the urbanization process) apparently has levied a toll on the next generation, but I don't know how we should assess its significance.)




Wu Bao Hu

This old couple only has one daughter who married out. In each village, there are several Wu Bo Hu (a household of an old couple who don't have sons to provide them financial support). They receive some monetary assistance from the government, but the amount is small. (In rural China, when people become old and cannot do agricultural work anymore, their children are expected to take care of them. Life can be harsh in some cases.)






Getting married

During our stay in the village in the big polder, the village leader's oldest daughter got married. On the wedding day, when the broom arrived holding fresh roses in his hands, the folks of the bride pretended not to let him in. He had to beg, and of course, were let in at the end while his folks delivered presents to the folks of the bride. The bride was then carried by a relative on her side to the car which would take her to her new home in Nanchang city. Fireworks were lit, and children were happy jumping around. Following the local custom, We gave the bride and broom a "red envelop," and got to eat for three days with other villagers.

(Getting married is a big event in rural China, and can be very costly these days. Another event on which rural households spend a lot of money is spring festival.)










A nice evening

After his oldest daughter got married, the village leader drove us to see Poyang Lake in his second-hand Santana. On the way, he stopped to pick lotus flowers for his two younger daughters (Both were working in Shanghai for an electronic device company, and yet I could tell how much they felt home in the big polder). There were nice colors in the sky, and I smelt sweetness in the air. Everything around looked green and hopeful.





Into the future

Today, as I listen to my conversations with the farmers again, I cannot tell that I was an outsider. I should go and see them again: that young guy who grew mushrooms in Anhui province and wanted to farm in his own village if he could acquire a large area of farmland, that curious fisherman who came to see us while we were having dinner at the village leader's home, that middle-aged farmer in the big polder who was fond of fish since he was a boy and contracted a fish pond, that young woman who came back to visit her parents from town and said girls got married too early, that woman with a dark face who made a living by catching crayfish in the lake and whose mother-in-law and husband were sick, the village leader's wife in the traditional village who had a beautiful smile, the accountant who welcomed us to his home and refused to accept money for room and food and said "let's be friends," and those households that served us meals simply because we happened to be there at lunch or dinner time... How are they now?

And these children. They are as lovely and intelligent as any other children. And they give a concrete purpose to my work. After all, sustainability is all about them (and their children and their children's children...): what kind of world they will face and what kind of life they will live when they grow up.







me on the road