An Unexpected Surprise
From China
The Folly Of
Leaving The Land

Dateline: 18 January 2016 AD

(click for an enlarged view)

One of the nice things about having my Planet Whizbang business is that I can help my local economy by purchasing materials from, and hiring the services of, local businesses. I make it a point to do that as much as I possibly can. 

One local business that I have worked closely with for many years is a small, rural machine shop. It's operated by a husband and wife in a barn by their house. I was visiting with my machine-shop friends last week and they told me the following story....

Last summer they bought a plastic picnic table. It was made in China. When they opened the box, they found the tools pictured above. Evidently, one of the workers at the factory left his tools in the box, and they were inadvertently packaged up.

One tool is a hammer and the other is like a small hatchet. As you can see, they are surprisingly primitive (being handmade out of scrap material) and have been heavily used.

There is surely a story behind the two tools. One can't help wonder what the working conditions in the plastic picnic table factory are like, and if the loss of these two tools was a great personal crisis for some poor worker. 


Those two tools prompted me to ruminate on the socioeconomic transformation that has taken place in China in recent decades, and the current crisis that so many people in China are currently facing. It is worth understanding, and there is a very valuable lesson for us Westerners in the understanding....

Starting in the 1970s Chinese technocrats made a conscious decision to transition the country from an agrarian civilization to an industrial civilization. It began with the development and expansion of infrastructure, urban housing, and factories. 

The many jobs in construction drew millions of poor agrarian workers out of their rural villages. Then, as the industrialization of the nation progressed, hundreds of millions more rural people migrated to the urban centers to work in the factories. This migration is explained in this sobering and insightful article from The NY Times: Leaving The Land: China's Great Uprooting

The millions of rural-to-urban migrants were not so much forced from their villages as they were lured. The following quotes come from another internet article on this subject...

In the interviews, we asked each of the migrant workers the question of why they first decided to migrate out of the village. Instead of having been pushed by harsh economic times in the village, it turns out many were pulled by opportunity and the excitement of city life.

Many interviewees also mentioned the attraction of city life, broadcast as exceptional and exotic by both earlier migrants returning to the village and the media, as a primary motivator in their decision to migrate. A related motivator is the desire for material things and luxury items available only to urban workers. 

It was the Pied Piper of materialism that drew so many poor migrants away from the land, into the cities. This is the pattern that every industrialized nation has followed. But, for many, the dream of a better life away from their rural villages has been an illusion....

Having migrated after limited years of schooling, migrants face high pressure from work, low satisfaction in terms of their wages, unsure self-identification (villager or citizen), and an overall lack of happiness.

The tragic string of 13 suicides in a factory owned by one of China's largest employers of rural migrant workers.... in Shenzhen City brought the challenges of these .... migrants into focus.

Many of the urban workers in China are now 2nd generation migrants. They are not as inured to hard physical work as their agrarian-raised parents. Thus...

For many years, rural-to-urban migration was associated with a tolerance of any task work: Migrants never complained about poor or unfair treatment. With new-generation migrants, however, this characterization is far from reality. Since life in the villages has been generally improved in most places and land has become increasingly scarce, the only child (or one of the only two children) of a rural family is no longer used to heavy agricultural work at home. As a result, they tend to choose light labor jobs, are highly preferential in the work they choose, and are more likely to switch jobs if they feel they are being treated too harshly.
The major noneconomic reasons for changing jobs included harsh or unfair treatment by management, being overworked with insufficient pay, a desire to learn more skills and techniques, and for individual development. 

And now, to make matters worse, China's economy is faltering. This is front-page news. Industrial "progress" in China is slowing down. The whole world, including China, is slipping into an economic recession at best, and more likely a long depression. 

Hundreds of millions of Chinese people who have left the land in past decades, and who are now crammed into urban centers, will lose their jobs. 

Without land to work, without the know-how to work the land they don't have, without the tools to work the land they don't have, without the hardened bodies needed to live off the land, these people are in a very bad situation.

They left the relative security of an agrarian lifestyle on the land and gave their lives to the pursuit of the industrial dream. As previously noted, it was a pipe dream for many, but it's now about to become a hellish reality. 

Having no job in the urban-industrial world is far more of a crisis than having a job you don't like.

The wicked little secret about the industrial dream is that it always eventually comes to an end. Industrialism is always a boom and bust scenario. And those people who leave the security of the land, always put themselves and their families at risk. 

I feel bad for the millions of poor urban Chinese who have become helpless dependents on a socioeconomic system that is going belly up. But I feel even more sorry for millions of Americans who have also become helpless dependents on such a system.

If you are among this dependent class, I urge you to seriously consider your personal dependencies in light of emerging economic realities. Remember, industrial systems of support always eventually fail.


More NYT Articles On This Subject


WhatIfWeAllCared? said...

Always a must to continue farming no matter what other occupation you choose for fun!!

RonC said...

Lots to ponder in this blog entry. I too wonder about the owner of the tools and what is the story behind them and what were they used for. My gut reaction is one of sadness. I guess one could try to track down the owner and try to return them, or put them in your own tool collection and pray for the previous owner when you see the tool as you go about your daily work.

The story of the Town mouse and the Country mouse comes to mind also....Aesop's version and not Beatrix Potter's version.


deb harvey said...

the chinese need to read 'the good earth' by pearl buck, distributed to all elementary schools in the nation.
in our schools, too!

Herrick Kimball said...

Just read the following article (with film clip) about jobs in China drying up, and some workers are heading back to their rural villages...
China's Fading Factories Weigh on an Already Slowing Economy

deb harvey said...

at least they can still head back.
my friend and i have often commented that, unlike the last depression, americans no longer have farm families to fall back on.
God help us.

ron c good idea to pray for the man who lost them [or had them stolen by a jealous co worker] i am sure he has been almost desperate to replace them.
thanks for pointing out the need. i don't see that far or that clearly and need a reminder.

Tacketts Mill Farm said...

China's problems are much bigger than most Americans realize. Agriculture is looked down upon and farmers are considered too poor, uneducated and generally stupid to do anything "better" in China. China's economic model is based on industry and trade alone. China is a massive importer of grain from around the world. You may have noticed how Chinese companies are buying up American agricultural companies. They are also stealing American agricultural technology hand over fist, including stealing high-yeald GMO corn seedlings from Monsanto. The bottom line is China is about to face a serious shortage of food and that does not bode well for world peace.