This is Jonah Kessel, reporting with Andrew Jacobs for the New York Times in China. It was nearing nightfall when we arrived in Luotuowan Village, a rural and dirt poor place just 180 miles from Beijing. Lately, the residents here have been getting a lot of attention from the outside world.
A few weeks ago, China’s new communist party leader Xi Jinping stopped in for a surprise visit. State media was there to document everything. Villagers tell the tale with great pride.
We welcomed him outside. It was easy to identify him, even from distance. Were you introduced? Nobody introduced him to us. You could tell at first sight he was a high-ranking official. While many in China live modern lifestyles, in Luotuowan, you wont find many cars, internet connections, or even widespread electricity. Residents here say the biggest change in recent memory has been an increase in the availability of food and clothing.
There’s been dramatic change here in the past 20 years. We didn’t have enough clothes to wear, not enough food to eat. We had nothing. But now we have both enough clothes and food. That is a dramatic change.
Mr. Xi’s visit set china’s propaganda machine into motion. Just hours after he left, more news cameras showed up at the door of Mr. Rong Bing.
There was a lot. Countless Journalists. He left at 10am or 9am, I think the journalists came at 1pm. Soon, photos and video clips began to circulate online, offering up a vision of the country’s new leader as a man of the people focused on the plight of the rural poor. The average annual income in Luotuowan is just $160—well, below the poverty line in China. Many experts say the wealth gap is a huge threat to this nation’s future stability. Following Xi’s visit, villagers started receiving gifts from the outside world. Local party secretary GuRongjin invited us to dinner and told us that since the images spread across the Chinese internet, the village has received close to $50,000 in donations.
His visit is a great inspiration for us. When the general secretary first came here, he brought a bag of flour, a cotton quilt, a coat, and a bottle of oil for each family. But after that, it was all from public donations. They also sent us rice and oil—it was really quick. For the 120 low-income families, each family was given 1,000 yuan. Families of the senior party members were give 2,000 yuan. While the village is still poor by any standard, the influx of gifts has put this fact out of site, at least in the short term.
Life before the secretary’s visit wasn’t good. Life in this mountain area can’t be that good. The food is not bad, but that’s about it. Yes, we are very happy now that we were visited by such a high-ranking official. Things will be better. It’s just like when we met Chairman Mao. During his visit, Mr. Xi warned local officials that embezzlement of poverty reduction funds is an intolerable crime. The party has now promised $40 million to rural outposts across China. But given the country’s rampant corruption, how much of it will trickly down to places like Luotuowan remains to be seen.