In the Field

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Oct 9

A small convenience shop is located next door to the Buffalo Institute where we are staying in Bishan village. Every morning we walk over to buy vegetables to cook for breakfast. Hu Yongfeng, the shop owner, is a 61-year-old Bishan native. In the late 1990s, she opened one of the first private shops in the village, where villagers could buy fertilizer and farming tools. But even by that time the demand for farming supplies had already started to decline as villagers left to become migrant workers.

Large-scale farming has made farming less profitable for individual farmers across China, but the fast-expanding nearby towns provide Bishan villagers with a variety of opportunities to make money. While most Bishan locals still grow some rice every year, many households have stopped growing vegetables. In 2006, Hu started selling a small selection of vegetables in response to changing customer demand. As farming in the village continues to decline, her selection has grown. Today her shop also offers meat, eggs, tofu, baked goods, cigarettes, snacks and drinks.

Hu wakes up every morning at 4:30 to drive five miles to the Yixian county town market, where she buys fresh produce to sell in her shop. Today villagers are more dependent on buying food from the county town, or from village retailers like Hu in a complete reversal of the traditional supply-demand relationship between rural and urban areas.

Hu and her husband stopped farming completely in 2009. Hu’s family is relatively affluent in Bishan. On top of a daily revenue of over 1000 RMB from the convenience store, they also own two other businesses in Yixian county town: a curtain store and a truck transportation outfit, which Hu’s husband manages. Their son works as a deliveryman in nearby Huangshan city, and their daughter helps out in the curtain store. The couple often subsidize their children and grandchildren because it is difficult for the young families to sustain themselves on meager salaries in urban environments. But Hu doesn’t think the answer to this financial insecurity lies in a return to farming either. She told us, “In the future, nobody is going to farm in our village anymore. Our generation is farming less and less, and the next generation doesn’t farm at all. My children have never farmed in their lives, and they live in town. They don’t even know where in the field our farming land is located.”

— Pulitzer Center grantees Sun Yunfan and Leah Thompson. Images by Sun Yunfan (@eighthday on Instagram). China, 2013.

Images:

1. Hu Yongfeng (second from left) played on the Bishan village basketball team during the Cultural Revolution. (Yixian County Photo Archive)


2. Hu Yongfeng peeling edamame in her convenience shop in Bishan.


3. Vegetables on sale in Hu Yongfeng’s shop are all purchased from Yixian county market.


4. Yixian county market is located in the Yixian county town, approximately five miles away from Bishan village.