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Blockchain Chicken Farm

And Other Stories of Tech in China's Countryside

By Xiaowei Wang
  • Read in 13 minutes
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  • Contains 8 key ideas
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Blockchain Chicken Farm by Xiaowei Wang

Blockchain Chicken Farm (2020) is an examination of the way technology is entangled with everyday life. This sweeping survey of life in rural China unpacks the social, political, and economic changes we can expect in the twenty-first century.

Key idea 1 of 8

China is the product of complex relationships between the urban and rural.

Every year, all across China, a great migration takes place. As winter begins to thaw, people crowd into buses, pack train stations, and take to the highway. They’re on the move for Chunyun, or the Spring festival.

During this national holiday, more than 300 million people travel from China’s massive cities to their laojai, or ancestral homes, in the countryside. It gives urban workers a rare chance to reconnect with their roots and visit the older generations who remain in smaller towns and villages.

But these hinterlands aren’t just places of rest and respite. China’s extensive rural landscape has played a central role in the county’s economic, political, and social development.

The key message here is: China is the product of complex relationships between the urban and rural.

In the Western imagination, contemporary China is often defined by crowded megacities like Shanghai, Beijing, and Shenzhen. But when the People’s Republic of China was founded back in 1949, the country was largely rural and agrarian. In fact, Mao Zedong and the Chinese Communist Party were only able to take power by galvanizing the nation’s extensive peasant population against the cities.

After establishing the People’s Republic, the communist government was determined to develop China. It wanted to raise the standard of living and compete with Western powers. This initial attempt to industrialize was known as the Great Leap Forward. To implement it, the state relied on rural communities and resources. It tried to boost agricultural production by collectivizing farming. The state even encouraged villages to build their own small-scale factories. Unfortunately, these disruptive policies resulted in widespread famine.

Still, the country pushed through and eventually found its footing. In the ’80s and ’90s, China’s economy boomed. Small rural businesses, called Town and Village Enterprises or TVEs, were a key fuel for that growth. TVEs were more flexible than large state-owned companies. They could be more responsive to changing economic demands. By 1995, these companies were responsible for about a quarter of China’s GDP.

Today, many young people move to China’s largest cities in search of work. Yet, 40 percent of the population still lives in the countryside. The government wants to keep these communities thriving, so it plans to industrialize agricultural centers further. It hopes to connect far-flung regions through building extensive IT infrastructure. The goal is to have the city and countryside work together for the nation’s success.

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