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Xinghua: Farm and Factory

April 16, 2012

We journeyed this weekend to the Northern part of Jiangsu Province with a large group of foreign language teachers from the many Nanjing area universities.  Weather has turned warm and pleasant just right for exploring some outer reaches of our home province in China.  The main feature of this tour, organized by the Jiangsu Province Foreign Affairs Office, was a look at the traditional rapeseed farming areas of this region, located about three hours by bus from Nanjing.  The garrulous Mayor of Xingua and his large entourage in limousines joined our two motor coaches and the whole convoy was led by police escorts throughout the weekend.  On the second day, the Mayor also led brief walking tours of new, flagship public facilities in and around Xinghua, including a fairly new boarding school for middle school students, a housing project for indigent senior citizens, and a nursing home.   A highlight of the first day was an approximately 25-course dinner with the Mayor and dignitaries at what seemed to be the local Communist Party conference center.

At the nursing home, we were met by folk musicians in traditional dress, along with most of the community — young and old alike — out in force to meet up with and entertain our contingent of university teachers, many of whom were seldom-seen Caucasian folks who hailed from places like Australia, New Zealand, and the U.S.

Xinghua children.

The locals we met over the weekend were typically angling to get photos of us visitors — true novelties in this town, which is off the map for guidebooks and doesn’t participate in the expatriate economy of the famous coastal cities — and tried often to  sneak photos of the laowei guests without our seeing them, but sometimes they asked us to pose with them.  Occasionally and with permission we also got a few pictures of the handsome local faces who lined the streets in greeting.

We arrived at the Rapeseed Scenic Spot and joined hundreds of busloads of Chinese tourists in our tour of one portion of the agricultural zone devoted to this important plant, which in this part of the province is cultivated in enormous stretches of reclaimed delta land overlain with a maze of canals and shallow waterways.  Flat-bottomed skiffs powered by oar and motor helped us cruise the canals and enjoy the endless fields of yellow flowers, and pagoda-like structures dotted the Rapeseed Scenic Spot area, allowing for beautiful vistas on a cloudless day featuring air clear of everything except extremely heavy smog, which completely prevented a blue sky from showing through.

Xinghua rapeseed fields.

Apparently, rapeseed production in China has increased about 7-fold in the past few decades, as the plant is now used for a variety of purposes beyond its traditional use as a source of canola oil for cooking.  These days, it is most significantly used as a source for biodiesel fuel.  It’s a partial alternative to fossil fuels, but much controversy exists, of course, over the environmental wisdom of biofuel production and use.  Nevertheless, production of rapeseed continues and grows (China currently leads the world in rapeseed farming), and at the same time Northern Jiangsu Province is growing by leaps and bounds.  But not merely on the strength of flowering plants.

Xinghua City, Jiangsu Province

Hundreds of new apartment buildings and factories have been built and continue to transform large portions of the formerly agrarian landscape from yellow flowering rapeseed fields into the typical Chinese built landscape, thereby changing permanently the character — cultural and ecological — of northern Jiangsu’s incredibly fertile agricultural lands.  Within a few years, this formerly sleepy agricultural region very likely will be a leading factory zone as well: the apartments and factories are going up at an absolutely furious pace.   It may be that this will be a kind of model for other planned cities in this part of industrial China, with the region itself producing its own cheap biofuel, mercilessly polluting its own skies as a cost of doing business, bringing its rural workers slowly into the industrial working class (and sometimes the middle class), enriching a very fortunate minority on the inside political track, and making all that inexpensive stuff for the rest of the world.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Tom Argiro permalink
    April 17, 2012 5:02 pm

    Excellent shots, love the flat-bottomed skiffs! Keep on posting, your pics and insights make for an outstanding cultural portrait.

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