Xiakou’s Economy in 1992

The Political Geography of Xiakou

This study focuses on team two of Xiakou village in Longxi township of Ya’an city in Ya’an prefecture, Sichuan province, People’s Republic of China. Team, village, township, county, prefecture, province and nation are a set of nesting boxes in China’s political geography.

After the family, the team is the most basic unit of rural political and economic organization. It typically represents a residential hamlet with about 30 families, and so teams are more likely than villages to have a characteristic economy, with common geographic and climatic conditions. Each team usually has a privately-run convenience store and a grain mill. The team is the level at which land is distributed and population and production and tax records are aggregated. As a political unit, the team has a long history. In the Old Society, the team was similar to the “bao”, while during the 1960s and 1970s the team was the fundamental unit of production and distribution. Teams in Ya’an often feature groups of relatives of the same surname and so have a strong kinship dimension to their internal politics. Whereas in the 1960s and 1970s the production team might have as many as six or seven official positions, today there is just the team head. The position of team head, like the team itself, is far less important a designation than before decollectivization. Some people joke that nowadays being the team head is a very undesirable job, being nothing more than a glorified tax-collector, and occasional propagandist.

The “village” or “big team” (formerly translated as brigade) is the next step up and is, most often, a collection of four to seven teams which are, in many cases, quite scattered. The village has an accountant who keeps track of taxes, official debts, and other transactions and he/she is in charge of the manufacture of village production records. The village also has a women’s representative to oversee family planning policy and occasionally help women who have particular problems. Perhaps most importantly, the village has a village head and a branch party secretary who share in the administration of village affairs. They are involved in everything from arbitration in land disputes to infrastructure maintenance, but there is great variety as to whether local villages have any special revenue of their own to fund village projects. Some local villages retained collective enterprises at the time of reform and others have set them up since. Xiakou had no funds generated at the village level. All village and team positions are held in addition to normal farming and other activities, and carry with them only a small supplemental income of around 100 yuan (approximately 11 pounds sterling: see Table of Equivalents page viii). Other villagers without official positions may be members of the party, but these are said to be very few in this region.

Xiakou village is officially made up of four teams. It includes 458 people in 106 families and 759 mu of arable land (45 hectares: see Table of Equivalents, page viii). Statistics on village population and land holdings based on official village data for 1992. By local tradition, however, only three of these teams are called Xiakou; the fourth team is called Qian Jia mountain. Team two is located on the east bank and team three is located on the west bank of a small river that parallels the motor road to Ya’an; they are close together yet made quite distinct by the presence of the river. Team one consists of the houses of families scattered on the eastern slope above team two, although recently residents of team one have begun to move their houses into the team two hamlet. To walk to the houses on Qian Jia mountain from the river takes forty minutes of very steep climbing. There is no way to drive there. This study focuses primarily on the 161 people and 37 families in team two but uses the name “Xiakou” following local custom.

The variation between the four teams mirrors a more general variation among hamlets in this region. Team two and team three, being close to the public road, have a larger population (161 and 113 people respectively versus 80 and 104 people in team one and team four) and a higher percentage of people engaged in wage labor (12% in teams two and three versus 4.8 % in team four). based on official village statistics for 1992. Team one and especially team four are more remote and have less people. Team one is not really representative of a remote hamlet because many of its inhabitants have moved down the mountain to the roadside. The remoteness of these hamlets is somewhat compensated for by greater natural resources. While people in team two have an average of 1 mu of arable land per capita; those in team four have

2.3 mu (see table 2). As a result, families in the more remote villages produce more grain --team four families grow twice the rice and twice the corn of families in team two. The greater levels of grain production and more abundant wild grasses of team four have proved useful for developing animal husbandry sidelines, although transporting products out of these villages is a particular problem. The people in team four also rely heavily on forestry and high quality tea grown in their high mountain mists to provide an income (see table 3).

The township of Longxi incorporates eight villages including the administrative village of Xiakou. Longxi is the seat of professional bureaucrats and contains a total staff of forty or more individuals. The administration is led by a township head, his deputy and a party secretary. It is here that public meetings are held, credit is made available, special programs are administered, and general policies implemented. The township of Longxi has a credit cooperative, a women’s federation office that coordinates the activities of the village representatives, a small security force of three or four private unarmed citizens, a forestry representative, accountants, cashiers, an office which purchases grain, a veterinary station, a middle school, a small hospital, and several small township enterprises owned by the township government-- including a feed mill and a small fruit drink company. The officials who work in the township include both local people and people from outside, although the highest positions tend to be filled by educated individuals from Ya’an or other townships. The township also has several private restaurants and tea houses, small convenience stores, barbers, mechanics, and a blacksmith. Most townships also feature an occasional market, but Longxi no longer does, so locals either went to Ya’an or the markets in the Zhongli district.


Land in mu

Team 1 Team 2 Team 3 Team 4 Total
Families 18 37 27 24 106
Population 80 161 113 104 458
Paddy 16 25 11 *49 101
Dryland 154 136 173 195 658
Total arable land 170 161 184 244 759
Per capita land resources 2.1 1.0 1.6 2.3 1.7


Differences Between the Economies of Remote Villages (Teams 1 and 4) vs. Roadside Villages (Teams 2 and 3)

Weight of commodities in jin (see Table of Equivalents p.viii).

Team 1 Team 2 Team 3 Team 4 Average
Refined tea per family 5 5 3 25 10
Coarse tea per family 180 67 85 400 180
Corn per family 4700 2100 3700 4600 3800
Rice per family 830 681 385 1475 840
Industry workers 0 1 0 1 .5
Construction workers 10 14 13 1 9.5
Transport/post/tele workers 1 2 0 0 .8
Service sector workers 2 2 1 0 1.3
Education/arts workers 0 0 0 2 .5
Other 0 1 0 1 .5
Total workers 13 20 14 5 13
Self-employed forestry labor 0 0 0 18 4.2

The Household Economy

The farming economy of this mountain region is fragile at best. The cost of agricultural production and human maintenance is high and the price paid for agricultural products often do not equal these costs. Farming families thus rely on supplementary wage incomes. The aim of agriculture is primarily subsistence, and, on the whole, these farmers are net consumers not net producers. As a result, in the more remote hamlets, residents claim the population is no more than pre-liberation levels (see table 4); people are leaving because agriculture does not pay. In order to give a clearer introduction to the household economy of Xiakou’s team two, I will offer a composite portrait of a representative-type household of five people, as well as provide information on the actual range of real families’ economic situations. The data on which this section is based comes from two sources: official village statistics for 1992 and my own budget surveys of 21 of the 37 households in team two. My survey was conducted in 1992, but its data is for the period 1991-92. The composite is drawn primarily from averages of the survey data. As a point of reference for what follows, state salaries in this period were 200 yuan per month. State workers, in addition, frequently received free housing and medical benefits, but bought most of their food on the market.


Qian Jia Mountain - Team 4

1949 1960 1992
Families 19 40 24
People 90 104
Source: former village official of Qian Jian mountain

One important respect in which the data from my survey differ from the official data is family composition. Official data on family composition frequently omit men who have married into the village and include men and women who live away for most of the year. My own data are aggregated by family groups who live together and eat together for most of the year. Men and women who live and work away usually only contribute minimally to the family budget, perhaps 100 yuan a year, and they do not eat from the family’s resources. I have therefore chosen to leave them out. Also, whereas official statistics list as independent families some of the older residents, I included them as members of the households of their offspring, with whom they cooperate closely, sharing work and food. While the official figures indicate an average family size of 4.35 (figure five), my own indicate an average of 5 persons. Besides the alternate methods of reckoning family membership, another reason for this difference in average size is that when I conducted my detailed household budget interviews, the families which were hardest to interview were the smallest families, mostly because they are labor short and so have less time to talk. While this would indicate that my data are slanted toward labor-rich families, the similarity between my survey data and the official statistics is close enough to consider my data reasonably representative.

In Xiakou, farmers have two basic kinds of land: paddy and dryland. The paddy land of farmers in Xiakou is minimal; an average of only .16 mu per person. Paddy is used to grow rice in the summer and wheat or rapeseed in the winter. Based on the interviews with 21 families, paddy land in Xiakou provided enough rice

for less than half of the families’ needs. Calculating reported rice production against reported rice purchases revealed that rice production was 42% of the total. Most families, therefore, must buy rice, and in 1991, an average purchase for five people was 700 jin (770 pounds: see table of equivalents page viii) costing about 280 yuan.On average, one person buys 140 jin which, in 1992, cost .4 yuan a jin. For a five person family, this adds up to a purchase of 280 yuan. (In Xiakou, total per capita consumption is approximately 240 jin per person.)

The bulk of the land resources in Xiakou are of the type called dryland. Dryland is used to grow corn in the summer and is also used to grow wheat and rapeseed in the winter. Thus corn is the most important grain crop grown in this area. The mountain slopes on which it is grown permit no use of animal or machine traction in its production. Dryland allotments officially average .8 mu per person, but the reality of how much dryland is actually farmed is more flexible. Higher up the slopes there is poor quality land that can always be “opened up” if the official allotment is felt to be inadequate. The allotments are better quality land and have more stable tenure; they are reclaimed by the government only if a family fails to pay the tax on them or if the number of resident family members diminishes. Land that is opened up is either taken from another category of land allotment, that is “forest land”, or it is taken from the fallow land of other families who are unable to farm all their holdings. These families are willing to allow other families to farm their land simply in exchange for the farming family’s willingness to pay the tax on the holding. Opening land is hard work, but it does have the advantage of requiring less fertilizer in the initial years. My own data thus indicated that families were farming somewhat more than their official allotments, with an average of 1.2 mu of dryland per each person resident.

One mu of dryland yields about 400 jinMy data indicates an overall average of 390 jin per mu and this fits with farmers’ own generalizations.The amount of corn produced per mu will, however, vary according to whether the corn is hybrid corn or local corn as well as the quality of the land and the amount of fertilizer. (See chapter on soil for more detail on the factors bearing on the choice between hybrid and local corn). Official statistics state that the land produces 600 jin of corn per mu, but is not itself consistent since it indicates that half the land is planted in local corn, and that hybrid corn specifically produces 600 jin per mu. While the official estimate of per capita production fits with my own data, I think the difference in the per mu production is made up for in the official statistics by estimating a lower amount of land planted. of corn-seed in the summer and may also be planted in rape or wheat in the winter, although these crops are not planted as widely as is corn. The representative family of five in 1991 had 2400 jin of corn, 200 jin of rapeseed, and 300 jin of wheat (table 5) at their disposal. The wheat is traded to the government for a nearly equal weight of noodles which are then consumed by the household. Other subsistence items grown include potatoes, beans and yams (table 6) which are consumed entirely by the household, both the by the people and the livestock. The rape is sold to the state and in 1991, the average income from the sale of rapeseed was 90 yuan, although both the price and the amount planted tends to vary significantly from year to year. The money is used to pay the land tax with some left over; the amount leftover is roughly enough to pay for the purchased oil requirements of the household. The use of the corn is more complicated. Families use the corn to feed pigs and goats; a small amount may be consumed by the people, especially in poorer households, and if there is an excess still, it is traded to the state for rice at the ratio of 65 jin of rice for 100 jin of corn, or lent to relatives who will return it after their own next harvest. More often in team two, rather than having a surplus, households experience a shortfall of 200 to 500 jin of corn, which is either bought from the government or borrowed from relatives who have a surplus. Surplus households are often those who live higher on the slopes, typically in team one, who plant more land. The representative household will raise to maturity an average of 3 pigs a year survey data indicate an average of 2.9 pigs per family; no official data exist. which each consume 500 jin of corn a year, but take more than a year to mature. Thus in the summer and fall families will have two or three large pigs which are being well fed in preparation for slaughter and two or three small pigs which are to be used the following year. Pigs are the main source of meat and oil for cooking and so having a pig or pigs to butcher at the new year is considered an important indicator of a family’s well-being. If a marriage is planned, an extra pig or even two should be reared for the weddingfeast. Some families will sell some of the pigs they raise, but all families consider one pig for their own consumption a minimum standard. In 1991 a large pig sold for 200 yuan; in 1993 the price had risen, along with corn, to 500 yuan. In 1991, among 22 household surveyed, 10 households sold fattened pigs, and among these 5 sold 1; 4 sold two; and 1 sold three.


Weight is in jin

Per family Per capita
Official 3200 735
Official 2135 490
Survey 2470 485
Rice (guzi)
Official 680 155
Survey 730 730
Official 160 40
Survey 300 60
Official 190 45
Survey 205 40
Source: Annual Report of Agricultural Economics, 1992, Longxi Township, Xiakou Village and Survey data


Measure is in jin.

Per family Per capita
Soybeans 91 21
Peas 9 2
Beans 9 2
Potatoes 64 14
Yams 101 23
Tobacco 5 1
Source: Annual Report of Agricultural Economics, 1992, Longxi Township, Xiakou Village (Official statistics only - No survey data)

person in 1992 and 28 yuan per person in 1993. Clothes range from negligible to several hundred yuan in household budgets, and it takes many families years of saving to buy a television or a sewing machine or a bicycle. To accommodate these needs, families usually rely on wage income.


Sale value is measured in yuan

Family Number Family Size Milk Sales Goat Sales Pig Sales Rapeseed Sales Corn Sales Other Sales Total Agric. Income
1 7 1200 90 400 90 300 500 2580
2 4 1400 400 500 190 -250 0 2240
3 6 1800 90 0 90 0 100 2080
4 7 1500 120 0 50 -110 500 2060
5 4 1200 250 0 160 300 0 1910
6 8 1000 270 0 90 500 0 1860
7 6 1100 30 400 120 200 0 1850
8 9 1200 120 0 90 0 0 1410
9 7 1020 40 200 140 0 0 1400
10 6 1000 200 400 190 -500 0 1290
11 5 800 120 200 70 0 0 1189
12 5 400 0 500 190 0 75 1160
13 3 550 90 200 60 0 0 900
14 2 0 0 180 40 500 50 770
15 4 0 0 0 0 750 750 1500
16 4 0 0 0 90 450 0 540
17 4 440 0 0 70 0 0 510
18 5 330 20 0 20 0 10 380
19 3 0 0 200 0 0 200 400
20 4 0 0 0 60 0 15 70
21 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Average 5 710 90 150 90 100 100 1240
Median 5 800 40 0 90 0 0 930
Total number of families in Team 2 was 37
Source: Survey data 1991-1992


Cost measured in yuan

Family Number Family Size Seed Fertil. Purch. Pesti-cide1 Pig Purch. Tools Salt for Goats2 Vet Goat /Pig Ag Tax3 Total Cost Ag Produc.
1 7 65 450 32 300 50 41 30 21 989
2 4 40 250 18 150 45 36 38 15 592
3 6 55 400 15 100 50 36 30 18 704
4 7 60 200 17 200 50 32 60 21 639
5 4 60 250 25 100 40 9 12 15 511
6 8 0 300 25 100 50 18 20 24 537
7 6 100 400 38 300 45 32 70 27 1012
8 9 60 300 19 150 30 36 38 24 657
9 7 60 250 21 150 30 23 26 21 580
10 6 60 250 25 200 50 23 35 21 664
11 5 50 185 13 150 30 23 26 12 488
12 5 70 300 14 250 45 9 30 15 733
13 3 50 150 8 100 40 14 16 9 387
14 2 30 120 21 100 15 0 4 9 299
15 4 15 148 8 0 20 0 4 9 204
16 4 20 260 15 100 30 0 4 12 441
17 4 60 350 14 100 30 18 20 12 604
18 5 30 212 12 100 40 9 12 15 430
19 3 40 100 14 150 40 0 6 18 368
20 4 0 200 17 100 40 14 16 0 386
21 4 20 225 12 100 30 9 12 12 420
Average 5 45 252 18 143 38 18 24 16 554
Median 5 50 250 17 100 40 18 20 15 510
Source: Survey data 1991-1992


Value measured in yuan

Family Number Family Size Gross Ag Income Cost of Production Net Ag Income Minus Cost of Rice Net Per Family
1 7 2580 1000 1590 220 1370
2 4 2240 590 1640 200 1440
3 6 2080 700 1380 800 580
4 7 2060 640 1420 460 960
5 4 1910 510 1400 180 1220
6 8 1860 540 1330 800 530
7 6 1850 1010 830 240 590
8 9 1410 660 760 400 360
9 7 1400 580 820 240 580
10 6 1290 660 620 400 220
11 5 1190 490 700 320 380
12 5 1160 730 430 0 430
13 3 900 390 510 160 350
14 2 770 300 470 80 390
15 4 750 200 550 40 510
16 4 540 440 100 160 -60
17 4 510 600 -90 0 -90
18 5 380 430 -50 200 -250
19 3 200 370 -170 320 -490
20 4 70 390 -320 160 -480
21 4 0 420 -420 420 -840
Average 5 1200 550 640 280 370
Median 5 1190 540 700 220 390
Source: Survey data 1991-1992

Eighteen of the twenty one families surveyed had at least one person engaged in wage labor for a minimum of several months of the year. Official statistics state that 20 people in team two (a total of 37 families) have worker status. This probably includes those people who officially reside in Xiakou but come home infrequently. As I pointed out above, such people do not contribute very much to the household budget and are not counted in my survey. Even discounting these cases, the survey demonstrates that many more than the official 20 people have work on at least an occasional basis. Figure 8 shows the range of wage earnings among survey families, demonstrating that the majority of families have low and fairly uniform earnings but that two families among the survey group (survey family numbers 4 and 6) had much higher than average earnings. Explanations can be given at several levels for why these two families had high earnings. At the most straightforward level, they had high earnings because of the particular jobs members of those families had acquired. The families include, in one case, a contractor who makes extra money by organizing the labor of others Income on wage earnings was difficult to assess. While most families claim to earn the standard 8-10 yuan a day, some families obviously earned more. The estimates used here are based on a combination of what informants said during the formal survey interviews, what they said informally at other times, and what other villagers concurred was the case., and in the other case, two sons who have work in high-paying marble quarries a days journey away. The daily wage of these three people was several times what other men in the village were earning. Furthermore, whereas most families only have one wage-earner, these families each had three. In both cases there were a father and two sons who all worked. The fact that the wealthiest families were those with several adult sons demonstrates why many people prefer to give birth to sons rather than daughters.

For the purpose of creating a portrait of a representative village family, the illustration of the range of wage incomes raises some important issues. While the average income is 1,620 yuan, the median income is a much lower 1,050 yuan per family, -- a difference of 570 yuan. Thus the number representing the mean household income is significantly affected by the inclusion of the incomes of the two high-earning families. When this is measured against the fact that most families demonstrate a high degree of uniformity in their earnings, it suggests that with respect to wage earning, the median is more appropriate than the mean for drawing a representative portrait. Therefore, while table 10 shows that average total per capita net earnings in team two are over 400 yuan, I think a better per capita income figure could be derived from adding the median wage income (1050) to the median net agricultural income (620 yuan)--to give us a per capita figure of 330 yuan. This assumes that, despite the high wage earnings of the two families , their agricultural practice is not very different from that of other families and so can be included in the representative agricultural data, an assumption I have made throughout this discussion. The assumption is supported by the agricultural profiles of the two families: by the numbers, they are neither the best nor the worst farmers in the village and by my observations in the field, their practice was of the same basic style as others. The representative family of five thus had a net cash income of just over 1600 yuan to accommodate their basic needs. Basic needs here includes the purchase of rice, the cost of children’s education and young people’s marriage, paying the poll tax, clothes, and other sundry expenditures.

While this discussion has so far worked to provide a snapshot of the farming economy at a particular moment, 1991-1992, in order to understand the narratives which follow, the broader economic trends which farmers were experiencing also need to be considered. While these trends will be given a fuller treatment in the chapter on reform, the reader needs to be aware from the outset that the period during which my research took place was a time of worsening conditions for the majority of farmers.

Since 1983, following the initial period of reform, wage earnings had remained relatively unchanged. The price of milk had only one incremental rise which took place in 1989, when it went from .27 to .33 yuan per jin. Manual labor wages had increased from five or six yuan per day in 1983 to just six to eight yuan per day in 1992. During the same period, the cost of fertilizer had more than doubled (18 yuan to 48 yuan for a bag of urea), the poll tax had gone from 5 yuan to 28 yuan per person; a bicycle had gone from 100 yuan to 300 yuan. In this same period, credit was tightened. Whereas it had been easy for farmers to obtain low-interest credit from the government before 1988, due to targets mandating the distribution of such loans; after 1988 a more “scientific approach” was adopted. After 1988 obtaining a loan required having someone with assets to co-sign as a guarantor for the money borrowed, and after 1988 interest rates began to rise significantly.


Value measured in yuan

Family Number Family Size Wage Income Net Agricul. Income Total Income Per Family Total Income Per Capita
1 7 2000 1590 3590 510
2 4 0 1640 1640 410
3 6 1000 1380 2380 400
4 7 6800 1420 8220 1170
5 4 2500 1400 3900 980
6 8 8000 1330 9330 1170
7 6 800 830 1630 270
8 9 500 760 1260 140
9 7 1200 820 2020 290
10 6 1780 620 2400 400
11 5 1200 700 1900 380
12 5 1600 430 2030 410
13 3 0 510 510 170
14 2 100 470 570 290
15 4 0 550 550 140
16 4 1200 100 1300 330
17 4 1500 -90 1410 350
18 5 1050 -50 1000 200
19 3 1000 -170 830 280
20 4 1050 -320 730 180
21 4 800 -420 380 100
Average 5 1620 640 2270 410
Median 5 1050 620 1630 330
Source: Survey data 1991-1992

While these developments reflect a general trend of economic stagnation evident in the late 1980s, the situation became markedly worse at the very time of my fieldwork (and subsequent to the period of the survey data), between 1992 and 1993, when the cost of basic foodstuffs which the farmers frequently purchase rose sharply. Cooking oil went from 1.2 yuan per jin in 1992 to 2.1 yuan in August of 1993. In the same period, beans went from 1 yuan to 1.4 yuan a jin; salt from .23 to .38 yuan a jin; and pork from 2.7 to 3.8 yuan a jin. The price of grain, too, climbed precipitously: rice went from .4 yuan per jin in 1992 to .7 yuan per jin in 1993 and corn from .32 to .5. The rising cost of grain and stagnant price of milk resulted in a crash in the dairy goat economy between 1992-93. These trends of income stagnation and price inflation were due a constellation of political and economic factors largely connected to the policies of the second wave of reform (see Chapter Seven) which tended to benefit officials at the expense of the farmers.

There are two points I would like to draw from this portrait of the family economy. The first is how narrow the margin is by which most families have made ends meet. While the agricultural economy can provide a useful and important means of subsistence for these people, one can easily see how the youth of the village consider their best prospects as lying elsewhere, in the wage economy. The second point is that the role of the government is critical in the domestic economy of the villagers. The government has title to the land and manages its allocation. Taxes paid to the government represent one-fifth of the average net agricultural income in the village. The farmers rely on the income from milk which is sold to government-run factories, and indeed most of the wage labor income comes from rock quarrying on contract to government buyers. Rice and sometimes corn are purchased from the state. The state is involved in purchasing and/or processing corn, rape, and wheat and has a significant role in determining the price of grain, fertilizer, oil and other basic commodities. Since major agricultural inputs are produced in state-owned factories, the state also is responsible for the distribution of these inputs and the quality of their manufacture. These two considerations-- the narrow margin of sustenance, and the continued importance of the role of the state in the post-reform economy-- underline why the state continues to be an important subject for reflection for these farmers today.

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About This Essay

The Village Economy in 1993

This analysis first appeared in Pam Leonard’s 1994 thesis, “The Political Landscape of a Sichuan Village” as part of the first chapter entitled, “Xiakou Today” It was based on fieldwork in 1992-1993 and questionnaires on household economy done by each family in production team two during that time. The village economy has changed radically since then, a fact that can be appreciated by reading the essay on the Village Economy in 2004.