怀德村:virtue’s rewards

It’s been a while since I’ve summarized an episode from The Transformation of Shenzhen Villages (沧海桑田深圳村庄三十年) and so today, episode 6: The Secret of Huaide Village (怀德的秘密), which puns the village’s name and also means “the secret to cherishing virtue”.

The episode opens by telling viewers that Huaide is a revolutionary village, which contributed over 40 soldiers to the People’s Liberation Army. The connection between good Party leadership, virtuous villagers, and getting rich is then personalized through the story of Pan Baliang, a Huaide villager, who fought in the Korean War, (or the Resist American War as it is known in Chinese). However, during the Cultural Revolution he was jailed because his children were abroad, and was only to be rehabilitated in 1980, when out of gratitude for his fellow villagers continued support, he petitioned the village/ brigade if he could open a factory.

In 1988, Huaide was chosen as the location for Shenzhen’s Baoan International Airport. At the time, the SEZ decided that guannei land should be saved for urban development, rejecting a proposal to build at Baishizhou, which was then considered the suburbs and choosing instead to stimulate the guanwai economy by converting Shenzhen’s largest duck farm into an international airport. The Shenzhen airport expropriated over 1,000 mu of village land and in return Huaide received a compensation package of 3.5 million yuan. The question became: should the sum be divided evenly and distributed to each villager (as many villages had chosen to do) or should the village create a jointly held corporation and invest the money in common cause?

In 1988, guanwai New Baoan County was still rural. This meant that the village was still organized as a collective brigade, which provided the organizational infrastructure for Huaide’s subsequent development as a jointly held corporation. Huaide’s current CEO and current Party Secretary, Pan Shansen earnestly explains that Huaide Party leaders understood that unless they could correctly direct the thinking of the villagers, the village was in danger of making a collective mistake. Collective and Party leaders then went to work on villagers with dissenting opinions in order to make sure that everyone was on board with the next step — using the money for capital investment to build and manage Cuigang Industrial Park. Pan Shansen then expresses his gratitude for the previous Party leaders’ foresight in using the Airport compensation to create a strong, collective economy.

Pan Shansen describes the work of creating “a center where there was previously no center” as arduous and only possible through the cooperation of the people and their government. In addition to creating a large wholesale furniture market, in 1996 Pan Shansen established a venture capital fund that provided interest free loans to young villagers who wanted to start up companies. The fund started with 1/2 million when and grew to 2 million, and loans grew from 20-50,000 per project. In 2005, this venture capital project was expanded through collaboration with Shenzhen’s rural bank, providing low interest loans of up to 300,000 yuan to Huaide Villagers. By 2010, when the documentary was made, in addition to the villages collected holdings, over 40 families had used Village venture capital to create family businesses.

Fiscal conservatism of the defining features of Huaide Village’s success. Huaide Village has its own “constitution” that requires any private investment over 5 million yuan to be approved by the village, they set up a legal aid office for villagers to consult when writing contracts, and since 1992 have not sold any village land rights. Telling, Pan Shansen makes a point of reminding documentary viewers that Huaide Villagers are farmers — to break their ties to the land and the village is tantamount to destroying what makes them who they are, regardless of how they actually make money. Land is at the heart of Huaide’s neo-Confucian CCP virtue and unlike many Shenzhen villages that no longer have collective land, Huaide still owns almost 1/2 of the land they owned before 1980. What’s more, the Village has actively purchased land rights from other Shenzhen villages, leaving its own land for future use.

The rewards of Huaide’s virtue are a neo-Confucian-socialist hybrid capitalist success story, or as it is sometimes said, villagers washed their feet and left the paddies. In addition to its village venture capitalist fund, Huaide invested in social services and local culture. Huade provides medical insurance, education, including college scholarships, and old age activities for its 700 villagers, and in 2010, its Lion Dancing Troupe was the only village level troupe to receive an invitation to perform at the opening ceremony of Belgium’s Chinese Culture Festival. And thus, the moral to this episode tallies with Shenzhen’s ongoing campaign to promote Confucian ethics: good party cadres are at heart neo-Confucians, serving their people, who become collectively rich. In turn, inquiring minds wonder: to what extent has Huaide’s ethical sensibility extended to the organization of workers’ rights in the village’s three industrial parks?

Cultural postscript: the Lion Dance Troupe is talented and fun. Check out a performance, here.

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