The Heart of the Dragon: Living

Published on Author Suraj Bajracharya

 -by Christy and Suraj

Maoping can be considered as a very efficient village, even with very less infrastructures present, at least during the time the film was shot. The Household Responsibility System made growing crop very efficient as every family in the village was responsible to grow their own rice and wheat. Thus, every family was responsible for their own betterment. Though this might have led to cases such as envy among the different families, at least it prevented free rides and other controversial issues among the villagers. In fact, if any family is producing more than the rest, the other families might have only been inclined to produce even more crops. The villagers had mutual understanding and were there to help each other. They got together to help each other build houses – from getting timber all the way from the forest to actually building up the houses. They were not paid, but no one had problems of not being paid. Thus, labor cost was minimal. Also, because only timber was used to build the house, material cost was very low too. But the houses were strong nevertheless. Thus, the village of Maoping is very efficient, though, with more infrastructures, it could have definitely gotten better.

An important source of cash income for the villagers in Maoping would be their sale of crops, which would have begun after the construction of roads. The villagers would then be able to export their crops for cash income. Crops were widely grown, with 2 crops of rice and 1 winter crop of wheat. So would be the case with bamboo harvesting and the bamboo products the villagers made themselves – they could be easily exported after the construction of the roads. Other sources of cash incomes included the small-scale manufacturing company and the departmental store. The standard of living in Maoping can be estimated taking into account various factors, namely life expectancy, household hygiene, birth rate, availability of healthcare, level of education, literacy rate, enrollment rate, gross income, employment rate and so on.

A rice field in China

Despite the success of higher agricultural output and higher real income, the poor transportation system impeded the village’s economic potential because, in fact, all grain was consumed in the village instead of being sold in the market. Similarly, hand-sewn clothes were in the same situation where they “had only a modest level of interaction with regional markets” (handout). If there was better transportation, the villagers would have more incentive to work hard and reap higher income, as crops would have access to the market. Also, as a result, technology in harvesting might be introduced to accelerate production process, leading to higher output and income. On the other hand, increased mobility would encourage young people to migrate to bigger cities in seek of better economic and social opportunities, but at the same time kids would be left in rural areas with limited education and support. As a result, the left-behind children phenomenon has been dominant and pressing in recent decades.

Speaking of the role politics plays in the local economy in Living, as each policy had its advantages and disadvantages, the positive effects of policies were emphasized in the documentary. It was obvious that the Household Responsibility System created incentive for farmers to work harder, but it’s questionable whether hard work was the dominating factor that led to higher agricultural output and famers’ real income, or if there were other factors involved. In addition, according to the video, primary education was offered to every child by the government. Nevertheless, critics argued that this policy was not fully implemented until two years ago, so not every child in the country had the opportunity to get primary education as of the time of the film.

A Chinese Meal

What I also found interesting were two cultural practices of the villagers in Maoping, or the Chinese as a whole.  First, mealtime was considered as a religious ritual as it combined the three most important elements of their lives – house, family and food. In a country where most citizens didn’t have religious beliefs, they simply lived their lives peacefully and pragmatically. Also, people wanted to be buried in their homeland because they had a special attachment to it. Traditionally, they perceived land as part of who they were and thought it represented continuity of their lineage so they ought to be buried with their ancestors.

3 Responses to The Heart of the Dragon: Living

  1. I thought that the role of women in the village was very interesting. I took Chinese Literature winter of my freshman year, and many of the stories focused on the oppression and misfortunes of being a woman in ancient Chinese society. For example, in one story when a women was “unable” to produce a son, the whole village, including the other women, looked down on her and eventually the husband remarried. As the movie said the communist party insisted that women were equal to men and this equality was evident in the movie. The women, especially the one who showed us around her house (I forgot her name), seemed very proud and held a lot of power in her giant household. The women in communist Maoping still carried out the traditional roles of women, such as cooking and sewing, but that was only because the males were more physically suited for the necessary hard peasant labor.

    As I discovered in a paper for Industrial Organization last semester, gender equality often times leads to significant economic growth due to the shifts in labor supply and productivity.

  2. How can we as economists define “efficiency”? — being on the Production Possibility Frontier, yes, but that in itself doeesn’t tell us much. That everyone keeps busy and that crop yields are high may or may not reflect “efficiency”. In particular, the fact that wages are not being paid does not mean that labor (or people’s time) has an [economic] opportunity cost of zero. So what we want to ask is whether labor allocation (by families and/or work teams) reflects opportunity cost, or whether too much labor is being used because the accounting cost or wage cost is low or zero.

    We’ll read a lot more about institutions, about gender issues and so on as the term progresses. Keep in mind the generic issue: are resources allocated in a sensible manner — investment vs consumption, rural labor vs urban labor, time in education vs time in work, investment in urban infrastructure vs other uses, investment in rural housing vs investment in mechanization of agriculture. How can we think about these?

  3. I don’t really find it very disputable that the Household Responsibility system is the dominant factor in improving local yields. While other factors are not really considered by the film, in many historical cases shifting from centralized to decentralized production and individual profits is responsible for increases in production. For example, Lenin found that allowing land ownership and individual profits proved important in improving the lot of Soviet peasants, though later Stalin completely reversed the policy. American slave labor, while markedly different from collectivization, is an example of how forced labor not for profit is inefficient.