CHINA / National

When rich meets poor - Wealthy entrepreneurs into village
Updated: 2006-03-26 10:01

The photo of the old, wrinkled, yet still strong hands being held in a manicured, callus-free palm speaks far more than a thousands words in China's tale of rich and poor, urban and rural.

The photo of the old, wrinkled, yet still strong hands being held in a manicured, callus-free palm speaks far more than a thousands words in China's tale of rich and poor, urban and rural. Photo taken by Luo Chuan, a Microsoft executive, shows his hand holding an old female farmer's hands in an unprivileged village of Shaanxi Province in Late February, 2006. [cctv] 

The picture was taken by Luo Chuan, a Microsoft executive the evening he left a poor village in northwest China's Shaanxi Province were he spent three days learning how the other half -- or in China's case the other 70 percent -- live.

Luo said he was moved when the grandmother grasped his hands to say good-bye asking her new friend to mark the moment with a photo.

"We all owe these people," Luo told Xinhua when he came back from the trip. "Never should we look down upon peasant farmers and people from rural families. All of us are the children of peasants. We are their sons, grandsons, or great grandsons."

Experts have warned that China's yawning wealth gap between rich and poor is now "terrifying", and provides the basic source of social instability.

From late February to mid-March, Luo and nine other wealthy executive embarked on trips to rural villages in China's poor country side. All of them are taking electronic correspondence courses for an MBA from prestigious Tsinghua University in Beijing.

The trips to the hinterland to live with poor peasant farmers constitute part of the course study aimed at "gaining rural experiences".

Luo, who for the past four years has jetted around the country making deals for Microsoft, chose to stay in Caojiayuan village of Shaanxi Province. He estimates the average annual income of a peasant farmer there is around 2600 yuan (some 320 US dollars).

"But people can only spend about 1,625 yuan a year. There's no entertainment. There's no traveling," he said, remarking on how there is simply very little on which the peasants can spend their money.


"Few of these business people come from the countryside; they seldom see a poor village so we wanted them to actually 'feel' country life for themselves and see first hand the problems most peasant farmers are facing," said the program deputy director Huang Li, from the Economics and Management College of Tsinghua.

Noting that almost all successful business people got rich following the country's policy shift to market reforms and rapid economic growth Huang says, "We expect them to try their best to reciprocate to society."

The school's strategy seems to have had its desired effect on Luo who called his days in the village, "a very important life experience."

"I will never hire employees who look down on the poor," Luo said, adding that he will urge his friends and colleagues to pay more respect to farmers. He also plans to send his employees on similar three-day rural retreats every year.


Li Yangqin, is another of the wealthy business owners taking the Tsinghua course. He's the chairman of Huaxia International Group and is one of the country's billionaires. He chose a wealthier village as he wanted to see how the "rich people" in the countryside make a living.

He stayed with the Huang family in Hejiagou village of the western Gansu province. The Huang's are the wealthiest family in the village, earning about 20,000 yuan (2,469 US dollars) a year.

"The village is not suitable for human habitation," Li said repeatedly during the trip. "The place is so short of water. I was given only a kilogram of water to use for two days."

Li was also shocked to meet an old village woman who was so secluded from the outside world that she thought Chairman Mao was still alive. He died some 30 years ago.

"If we sold all of the grandmother's belongings we still wouldn't have enough for one of our meals in the city", said Li, adding that nothing in her house was worth more than 50 yuan.

China's market economic reforms of the past couple of decades has allowed some people in big cities to get very rich, very fast and to fulfil their business ambitions. Meanwhile more than 700 million peasant farmers remain in the poor countryside.

This is why China has tilted its policy focus toward rural development. During the recently announce national drive to "develop the new countryside," funds will be poured to rural infrastructure projects. There will also be more funds for medical care, education, and social security schemes for poor peasants.

The new program and the dire straights of peasant farmers is well known to all in China yet the urban rich still shocked when they get such strong reminders of how poorly the peasant farmers live. "People at both ends of the wealth pyramid should get chance to talk," said Zhao Songqing, board chairman of Yanhuang Health Media Group. "The rich should go out to meet the poor, otherwise they will never understand each other.

With a fraction of the money spent on shopping you can change the life of a poor man. So why not help them?" she said, calling for more generosity from the rich entrepreneurs.


Upon returning from their rural trip, the entrepreneurs where required by Tsinghua to come up with their own solutions for helping the farmers to grow their way out of poverty.

Fang Yixin, chairman of Tayoi Cosmetics Company in Jiangsu province, east China, is another of the Tsinghua MBA students taking the unique course. She spent a weekend in the countryside in the eastern agricultural province of Anhui.

Feng proposed to Anhui's governor that he promote a research institute for farming that would nurture farm experts and train more skilled farmers in the province.

"I was stunned by what I saw," Fang said "I knew peasant farmers were poor, but I would have never known they were THAT poor if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes."

Other entrepreneurs like Liang Hao, who went to Henan, also developed a package of schemes for rural development. His plan is to boost the rural economy so the young peasant farmers won't have to leave their families behind to go 'gold hunting' in big cities.

"Official figures show 15 million peasant farmers from central Henan province have left their homes to work as laborers in cities. It's a big problem," Liang said.


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