When you think of the classical village in rural England, images of thatched roofs and well maintained gardens spring to mind. But China’s ‘ideal’ village takes a different view. Not for it the quaint. Indeed, it recently signalled somewhat loftier ambitions when it built a skyscraper taller than the Eiffel Tower (see photo). The Zengdi Kongzhong New Village Tower opened earlier this month and stands at 328 metres tall. Topped with what appears to be a golden golf ball, it is hard to miss.
Regular readers of WiC will be familiar with Huaxi, known throughout China as the country’s ‘richest village’. We first mentioned it back in issue 27 and renewed our coverage in issue 87 when news emerged that the wealthy villagers had decided to buy 20 private jets. And now Huaxi is back in the headlines yet again, after China News Service carried photos of a series of ambitious construction projects.
To give local residents a chance to glimpse the “beauty of the world”– as well as to boost tourism – Huaxi has put up replicas of various iconic buildings. These include China’s own Great Wall, as well as the Temple of Heaven in Beijing. But adding an international flavour are somewhat less successful attempts to knock-off Washington’s Capitol Hill, the Sydney Opera House and the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
Huaxi is located 85 miles from Shanghai and houses 60,000 residents – all of whom have a per capita income seven times the national average. Its economic success stems from an early decision – during the eighties – to embrace the reform era and convert farmland to factories.
So successful has the formula been that government officials from across China now regularly visit it. Even before it opened its new skyscraper and knock-off Capitol Hill, Huaxi was receiving around 2 million visitors annually.
But what makes Huaxi’s success all the more interesting is that it remains a commune. That means that villager wealth is mostly of the paper variety. Residents must put 95% of their dividends and 80% of their bonuses back into the village.
“Our assets belong to the commune not to the individual,” says Sun Haiyan, a member of the local government. “We have a local saying that your dividend lasts only as long as you stay in the village and the factories keep running.”
The new skyscraper is a case in point: it cost Rmb3 billion ($469 million), with each household expected to invest their share of dividends in the project. For that they get new residential apartments, plus a stake in a five star hotel.
However, for all the economic success of Huaxi over the past three decades, some will wonder if its latest efforts at reinvention merely reflect China’s broader construction mania and the bubble that it presages.
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