Desperate Times in Xiaogang Village
January 21, 2012 8:26 AM   Subscribe

The Secret Document That Transformed China. Planet Money story about Xiaogang village in China that was hungry and desperate in 1978, and how the risk the farmers took ended up influencing the transformation of China.
posted by Eekacat (4 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Nice caveat at the end of the segment. Dig even a little bit, and the lies and cronyism bubble up. You'd think the party would have the common-sense to at least keep the author of the document in wine and roses.
posted by leotrotsky at 9:44 AM on January 21, 2012

Really interesting. Thanks for posting this.
posted by nevercalm at 10:24 AM on January 21, 2012

The Xiaogang story is as much part of the myth of reform as "learning from Dazhai" was a fable for the collective era - which is not to comment on actual events in the two communities but to note how both villages have been used by the central authorities to push a particular line in two very different eras. I don't feel like the NPR piece gets much beyond that, and has some lazy background - I don't think anyone says 1978 was the "height of communism" - the Gang of Four had been arrested in 1976 and Deng was firmly back in the saddle when the villagers in Xiaogang made their contract.
posted by Abiezer at 10:33 AM on January 21, 2012 [6 favorites]

Assume for the moment that the story of the secret village contract is entirely true; that a group of families came together, drew up their private-ownership contract, and immediately began working much harder in the fields, creating prosperity of all.

What broad lessons should we take from this anecdote? A few obvious choices spring to mind.

1. The experiment was a success because collectivism in any group larger than a family is doomed to failure. Earning every penny you make is the only incentive which will compel naturally lazy workers to keep themselves from starving. Competition made the village a success.

2. The experiment was a success because distributed, local, democratic governance does a better job of creating productive and efficient labor conditions than central planning. The village prospered because villagers knew best how to run their own village, and the individual farms were a success because the people know their own land.

3. The experiment was a success because an engaged, empowered labor force is inherently more productive than an alienated one. It doesn't make any difference whether the village chose a better economic system - what matters it that the village chose it. The risks associated with doing so made the decision all the more empowering, and made them even more committed to the success of the project.

It's a shame (though, by no means a surprise) that the Planet Money team is unable to conceive of any possibility but the first.
posted by eotvos at 12:17 PM on January 21, 2012 [15 favorites]

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