With China’s economic downturn, ordinary citizens are left to suffer as a result of failing policies that were supposed to help them initially.
by Li Changshan
Seven and a half years after entering the office, many of President Xi Jinping’s political achievements are regarded as sheer “vanity projects” by China’s citizens, despite loud praises coming daily from the official media. Bitter Winter talked to some people in mainland China to find out the true feelings of the “beneficiaries” of national policies, such as the campaign for total poverty alleviation, the “Beautiful Countryside,” and many others.
“Toilet revolution” leaves villagers vexed
Proposed by Xi Jinping in 2015, the so-called “toilet revolution” is a campaign to improve sanitary conditions in the countryside, primarily intended to renovate all public toilets, as well as upgrade pit toilets to contemporary bathrooms with running water in people’s homes.
“The living environment of rural people is indeed a typical manifestation of the gap between urban and rural areas,” said Han Changfu, China’s Minister of Agriculture and Rural Affairs. “Dirty, messy, and inferior conditions affect farmers’ sense of well-being and happiness.”
Though it sounds like a good plan, the toilet revolution, in reality, is causing headaches for village residents all over the country.
In the county-level city of Lingbao, administered by Sanmenxia city in the central province of Henan, on March 2, a village head led personnel with sledgehammers, shovels, and other tools, to demolish each and every outhouse – the predominant type of toilet in China’s countryside. The orders, the official said, came from the city government. Nearly 40 outhouses have already been demolished by late February. But no new facilities have been built.
Video: Village government personnel are demolishing toilets.
With no toilets left in the village, residents had to relieve themselves in the fields or on the riverside. Elderly people with mobility issues were in an especially dramatic situation.
“In the past, public toilets were everywhere. Now, no toilets can be found, so I carry a ‘urine bucket’ with me. It’s convenient but so disgusting,” a local driver commented on the outcomes of the toilet revolution.
“Government officials sit in their offices with nothing to do. All they do is come up with these bizarre moves,” said a villager.
According to some calculations, by the end of April, nearly 7,000 public toilets in Lingbao city’s rural areas had been forcibly demolished.
In the central province of Hubei, a couple in their late sixties has been living in a single-story mud house for nearly 50 years. The house is old and dilapidated; it can fall apart at any moment. The roof over the kitchen has collapsed, and the rest of it has holes, through which water seeps into the house every time it rains.
The couple make a living solely from less than one acre of barren land, and they’ve never had enough money to repair the house. So, the demand in November 2018 by a village official to renovate their bathroom and pay for all expenses – 2,000 RMB (about $ 280) – came as a shock. Toilets matter, regardless if you are rich or poor, the official said.
The thought of a new toilet didn’t bring the elderly couple any joy. “How can we afford to renovate the bathroom?” the couple asked the official who, in response, threatened to revoke their impoverished household benefits and medical insurance if they didn’t proceed with the renovation.
Having no other choice, the couple had to sell their grain rations to pay for the new toilet. They also had to spend an extra 800 RMB (about $ 110) for floor tiles.
Since the onset of the toilet revolution, many in China have been suspicious that the campaign will become one of many president’s “vanity projects,” out of step with the reality in rural areas.
Some villagers in rural northern Jiangsu received sitting-style toilets from the government, to encourage villagers to reform their outhouses. The problem was that people had to take care of the construction of supporting facilities and drainage systems. All the modifications and retrofitting required from several thousand to over 10,000 RMB (about $ 1,400): many farmers simply couldn’t afford it, causing toilets to be abandoned in alleys and streets.
Later on, villagers were given squatting pans with drainpipes, but since they were installed in outhouses, the pipes froze during the first winter, causing them to break. When officials came for inspections villagers would put the squatting pans in toilets and remove them when the officials left.
Poverty alleviation drives people to suicides
In 2015, President Xi Jinping initiated the “poverty alleviation” policy, aiming to lift 70 million impoverished households out of poverty by 2020. As the deadline is drawing close, authorities on all levels are taking any measures possible, forcibly demolishing the houses that appear dilapidated or forcing the elderly to live with their children so that the combined household income would become enough to show on paper that “the poor have been lifted out of poverty.”
On August 11, officials spray-painted Chinese characters for “uninhabited” on the door to the home of a 78-year-old man who lived alone in Suiyang district of Henan’s Shangqiu city. The officials ordered the elderly man to move in with his daughter-in-law. Since his son had passed away a few months ago, he didn’t want to live with his daughter-in-law, because such living arrangement would be considered very unconventional in rural China, and would provoke criticism from neighbors. The man resolutely refused to move.
Eleven days later, the man’s body was found hanging from a beam in his home.
79-year-old Zhang Yunpei and his wife lived in Xiaozhang village under the jurisdiction of Zhoukou city in Henan. Their house was old and dilapidated, and it had been marked for forced demolition. The elderly couple was unwilling to move and chose to commit suicide by ingesting pesticides on March 5.
After a 92-year-old man in Liulou village in Zhoukou city’s Shangshui county refused to move from his home, government officials tore a large hole in the house and threw his belongings outside. On January 26, the elderly man was found frozen to death.
In Shangshui county’s Liangzhuang village, a 94-year-old woman also committed suicide as a result of “poverty alleviation.” So did Han Xinquan and his wife in Pingdian township, and an 86-year-old woman in Laotun village.