Zhang Xinyun doesn't read: It's not because he hasn't attended school, but
simply he can't lay his hands on books.
Fifty-four-year-old Zhang and other farmers of Muzhang village in Northwest
China's Shaanxi Province have lived their entire lives without access to a
library. They can't subscribe to a newspaper, either.
"The only fun for me is watching TV or chatting with my neighbours," said
"No one reads occasionally, I go to the village official's home to read
Muzhang is among many villages in China where nine out of 10 residents
complain of lack of access to books, shows a recent survey.
Public libraries are confined to the county-level and above, the survey
shows, and other public services in rural China fall way short of expectations.
The survey, conducted in early 2006 by the Horizon Research Consultancy
Group, found that a shortage of public service facilities for entertainment and
sports hampers rural life.
The survey covered 4,128 residents between the ages of 16 and 60 in eight
cities, seven towns and their neighboring rural areas to evaluate public service
Libraries, cinemas and fitness facilities scored 24.9, 42.1 and 67.9, out of
a possible 100 in rural areas. The scores were much higher for urban areas:
69.5, 67.9 and 70.7.
Li Guohua, 44, a farmer in Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, spends
his days watching TV programs in winter when there's nothing much to do in the
"It's pretty boring out here," he said. "I wish we had an indoor hall where
people could gather to sing and dance."
Rural children, too, find their hometowns less fun than the cities.
Li Fei, the 19-year-old daughter of Li Guohua, attends school in Harbin,
capital of Heilongjiang, and returns home only during vacations, complained: "I
can't go online at home. It would be meaningless even if we bought a computer
because the village has no Internet connection."
Cultural services are poor, and don't meet the rising demands of farmers, who
are earning much more these days, said Zhang Yongxin, a director of the Social
Culture Department of the Ministry of Culture.
The government, however, has taken steps to help the rural areas, he said.
During the 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-10), about 27,000 cultural centers are
expected to be built in counties and townships across the country. Each will
have an average area of 1,000 square meters and offer books, Internet
connections and room for performances.
There are currently about 35,000 cultural centers in the counties but most
don't have such facilities. But by 2010, every village is expected to have its
own cultural center.
The government has allocated 60 million yuan ($7.5 million) to distribute
5.11 million books in 300 poor counties and 3,000 townships between 2006 and
Also, cultural organizations set up by farmers will be encouraged, Zhang
While the government increases spending in rural areas, some experts suggest
better use of current resources scattered among different government bodies at
the local level.
Wen Tiejun, dean of the school of agriculture economics and rural development
of Renmin University of China, said village committees should open their
services to farmers.
"The point is not whether farmers want cultural services or whether they will
use the facilities, what matters is departments and institutions in the villages
should not keep their resources to themselves. They have to share them with the
farmers," Wen said.
For instance, he said, many village schools have libraries which are mostly
restricted to teachers and students. If the libraries are open to the public,
farmers will have more books to read.
And Zhang can finally read.
(China Daily 01/15/2007 page2)