On the Road in Northwest China

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From Lin Yang, who spent New Year’s on the road:

Not everyone is having a hard time during the financial crisis. Over the New Year’s holiday, I took my dad on a road trip to visit our old hometown in Ningxia, where the temperature was 5°F. Having spent twenty years in the bleak mountains of that region in northwest China, my dad was not prepared for what we saw. The photo above was taken at the house of Wang Hong, who has been a farmer all his life in a village by Helan mountain.

During the Cultural Revolution, my dad was sent there to help run a barefoot doctor training program and live with Wang’s family. Farming 30 years ago meant living hand-to-mouth, and when Wang mentioned on the phone that he and his sons were still farming, my dad decided to send some money as a New Years gift. It was not accepted, and my dad understood why when we arrived at Wang’s spacious courtyard. Wang’s 50 acres of farmland—vast by Chinese standards—lies beyond. The local government has been encouraging farmers to develop new farmland. If they can make crops grow, the land is theirs to farm, and the local authorities will provide them with cheaper electricity and water for large-scale agriculture.

It is hard work though. It usually takes a couple of years to break new land, and Wang spent the last two decades acquiring the 50 acres he has now. The family grows mostly corn, but also vegetables and melons (a local specialty). Last year the harvest was 200,000kg. In fact, over the years Ningxia has gained the reputation as Hong Kong’s vegetable basket, and migrant workers have been returning to the west to pick up their old trade.