China's Rural Residents Survive Urbanization Wave

Xinhua, 17 May 2001

BEIJING, May 17 (Xinhua)—Tourists that have been to Sanya, China's southernmost city, on Hainan Island in the past, would be surprised to see many more small restaurants, shops and hotels booming along the beach-front than there were a few years ago.

And many of the shopkeepers, managers and waiters at restaurants and even the staff at a tropical ocean park used to be farmers in the countryside around Sanya City. The government took their farmland due to the expanding urban areas and the development of tourism in recent years.

Many rural residents found it hard to adapt without their farmland though the government gave them money in exchange for the land. It is not easy for them to find jobs in the city due to their poor education and lack of skills, said Chen Jianguang, an expert with the Ministry of Agriculture.

They are the potential headaches for urban society if they remain jobless, Chen said. And some of these residents have become vagrants.

Sanya's Vice Mayor Sun Zhifu noted that many ex-farmers there have started their own businesses in the suburbs or around the tourist sites with assistance from the government, and they have employed other people.

Their businesses also contribute to the local economy now, Sun said.

In a small village with about 2,000 residents of the Li nationality in Sanya, residents spent 4.7 million yuan, part of the money given by the government, in building a park to display their unique ethnic culture.

The 16-hectare park now attracts 10 percent of the tourists visiting Sanya and almost 2,000 tourists went there every day during the seven-day May vacation.

My family lived on part-time jobs and earned little money before the park was built but now earns more than 1,000 yuan a month, said Li, an old female villager with both a son and a daughter working for the park. Li has pulled down her old cottage and built a new brick house.

About 130 villagers work for the park now, accounting for one quarter of the local labor force and even a 70-year-old grandmother enjoys singing local folk songs for the tourists.

China's urbanization level has increased 0.63 percent annually in the past 20 years, almost twice the world's average rate. And the Chinese Government plans to speed up the urbanization process in the next five years.

The oversized agriculture population has greatly restrained the growth of personal incomes in rural areas, the major reason why the government is eager to push forward urbanization, said Chen Jianbo, an expert with the Development Research Center of the State Council.

Township enterprises in the industrial and service sector, such as those restaurants and parks in Sanya, offer a solution to the employment problems of those ex-farmers to the government, he added.

More preferential policies should be given to these enterprises and more individual and private capital should by introduced, he said.