Sancha Village

Published on Author guenc17

The village of Sancha, meaning three crossings, is known for little beyond the writings of Peter Hessler, who details his time in the village in Country Driving as well as in an article for the New York Times. As seen in the map, the village is approximately two hours north of Beijing, nestled in the mountains at the foot of an old sction of the Great Wall. It lies around the border between Yanqing and Huairou counties, though it does not come up as a standalone location on Google Maps.

Mostly thanks to the entrepreneurial leadership of Wei Ziqi, it became a tourist destination for urban folk seeking to escape the city and see the Great Wall. According to a yoga retreat website run by Mimi, Hessler’s roommate and companion in China, the village still only sports a population of 398, though that is far above the 150 Hessler reports before modern development began. Population statistics serve as an appropriate segue into a quick review of the Lewis dual-sector model, which Professor Smitka mentioned in class.

The model is named after Nobel prize-winning economist Sir Arthur Lewis, and it describes the transition a developing economy makes from a subsistence agriculture-based system to a capitalist system. Lewis argued that because land is fixed input, in a developing economy there exists a surplus of agricultural labor that contributes effectively nothing to the output of the sector; their marginal products are zero. This is especially true in a country like China, with a massive (though shrinking rapidly) rural population, often cultivating poor land that yields little. The model postulates that as an economy shifts to a more modernized capitalist system, capitalists take advantage of the labor surplus to hire cheaply in factories, mines, plants etc. This scenario can offer an explanation to China’s explosive 10%+ yearly growth over the past few decades as well as the rural-to-urban migration of millions of Chinese. Once that surplus has been eliminated however, growth levels off, which is known as the Lewis Turning Point. The Economist wrote a piece in 2013, citing evidence from the IMF that the quantity of available labor peaked in 2010, and the population will only age and leave the workforce in greater numbers, leading to the aforementioned turning point in the mid 2020s.

The effects of the Lewis model are felt in Sancha, as Wei Ziqi remains the only man his age to have ever left he village and returned. The rest left to seek better work in Beijing or other surrounding cities.Wei Ziqi and his wife Cao Chunmei open the first restaurant in Sancha, and slowly pioneer the development of the village as a small tourist destination. With this came massive wealth increases; Hessler reported in 2008 that the Wei family income had increased six times over in the span of just seven years. This newfound wealth brought a car, outside investment, a Communist Party membership and many material benefits to the Wei family and the village. It also brought concerns of environmental pollution and health problems. Wei Jia, the son, was overweight by fifth grade. The wife began taking amphetamine diet pills in an effort to emulate the city women she served at the restaurant. Ziqi was smoking a pack of cigarettes a day and drinking heavily, habits picked up in the embrace of Chinese 关系.

Overall, development brought material prosperity, in a relative sense, to Sancha. It also came so quickly that the residents never had time to learn the importance of moderation, or how to balance tradition with modernity. Time is needed to assess the net impact of these changes, but the pollution an medical dangers of the new Sancha lifestyle indicate a worrisome trend. Someday China’s growth will come back down to Earth, and they will be left to deal with the ramifications and effects on its environment and people.

5 Responses to Sancha Village

  1. Is it safe to say that there is necessarily a direct correlation between pollution/environmental changes and economic growth? If so, is the government trying to slow/stop this trend while allowing economic growth to continue?

    • What are the sources of pollution? Are they things that increase with economic growth, ceteris paribus?

      What is the government doing? Or in this case, which government is doing what? – local, provincial, national?

  2. I really enjoyed the last part talking about the negatives of the economic growth in Sancha. With wealth and prosperity came the cultural changes that have swept urban China by storm. Very cool

  3. How did the Idiot spend his time in 2002, at the start of Hessler’s account? How about at the end? Were higher incomes a boon for him?

  4. Hessler mentions that many of the tourists to Sancha are Chinese from the city. Based off this customer base alone, is the continued growth in tourism of Sancha guaranteed? Might other rural villages enter the market, taking business from Sancha?