“Growing up as a Chinese national, I leaned a lot about Communism through text books. On Monday it only took a one and a half hour flight and one hour drive to travel from China’s modern cultural and political center, Beijing, to the small communist society at Nanjie Village.
Honestly, I didn’t expect it to be so easy. There were no entrance tickets, no security guards, and no one had to check our vehicle. We drove all the way to the village center, where a giant statue of the late Chinese Chairman Mao Zedong stood in the middle of a square, waving at me. Next to him were four portraits of his communism comrades: Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin. The loudspeakers at the square repeatedly played the classic revolutionary song “The East Is Red”; the same song played in outer space in 1970 after China’s first satellite was put into orbit.
The entire Nanjie village consisted of dozens of factories and several main streets. Faces of Mao Zedong were everywhere. There were very few people or cars on the street, which might have been the reason why all the traffic lights in the village were not working, not even at the crossroads. I jumped up and down with my cameras in the middle of the street to get good angles, which could easily get me killed if I were in a different town. But luckily the people of Nanjie seemed to move at a slow pace and be pleasant.
The next morning, a worker approached me on the street and said: “Welcome to Nanjie Village!” I was deeply flattered, as it is difficult to have a casual conversation in China with a complete stranger. I was also dying to talk to local residents as I had tons of questions for them. I wanted to know how they felt about everything in the village, how they felt about their lives. So I asked these questions to the middle-aged worker, Mr. Wang.
His answer was only one word: “Zhong”, a word from the Henan dialect which means “wonderful.” He explained further that many of life’s necessities were free in the village, including housing, health care, education and food. He said this immediately made people living in other places embarrassed, because even Chinese white collar workers have to spend most of their salary on mortgage and credit cards while praying to god they never get sick. I asked him why other places in China can’t replicate what Nanjie has, even though all of China is under the same social system? Why, in other places, would a person take advantage of others just to get more money? He replied that it was because of people’s selfishness. He believes that selfishness is the root of all means of destruction. However, in Nanjie, people were doing the very opposite of selfishness – sharing. Selfish people would be isolated in this place, he added.
At the end of our chat, I asked whether he had ever been to a capitalist country. He said he had been to Japan. “Japan’s social system is also good (comparing it to Nanjie’s), and it is also more modernized, especially in education.”
As I bid farewell to Mr. Wang, he gave me a handbook titled “Understanding Nanjie Village.” Browsing through the pages, I saw many grandiose mottos recited by the village Communist Party Secretary (head of the village) Wang Hongbin, such as “Money is poison in an individual’s hand, but fortune in a collective’s hand,” and “Make the people in Nanjie village so rich that they don’t have any deposit.”
I have to admit, even though how the society actually works still puzzles me, I was intrigued by the lifestyle in Nanjie. I wanted to stay longer, but soon realized that it was the end of month and I still had a bunch of credit card bills to pay. I snapped back to reality.”