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Tuesday, 19 November, 2002, 06:33 GMT
Chinese village still in Mao era
Tourists from neighbouring provinces gather around a tour guide at the foot of the Mao Zedong statue in Nanjie's main square
Mao Zedong still dominates Nanjie village

China's Communist Party is moving ever further from its revolutionary roots to embrace the country's new capitalist elite. But not everyone is travelling in the same direction.

Nanjie village, in the central province of Henan, collectivised its agricultural production and industry in the mid 1980s - when the rest of the country was doing the opposite, introducing market reforms put forward by former leader Deng Xiaoping.

It continues to be run on Maoist egalitarian lines and has become something of a tourist attraction because of its staunch adherence to the values of the past.

On the TV set in the local souvenir shop, a karaoke video is playing. But the Chinese characters changing colour across the screen as the music plays are not the usual sentimental love lyrics.

They are a song paying homage to Chairman Mao. He is everywhere in this place

In Nanjie's main square, a bus-load of tourists gathers around their guide at the foot of a giant white Mao statue, flanked by portraits of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin.

The local military brigade provides a pair of sentries to guard the statue around the clock. But it quickly becomes clear that this place is about more than preserving revolutionary icons.

It is about trying to hang on to at least some old Communist values in a fast-changing society. And about finding a way around the seemingly intractable economic problems of rural China.

Tourist trap

A jostling crowd of village residents lines up to collect their regular quota of eggs. They do not need to pay a cent for them. They just take along their little red ration food distribution booklets.

"They also get meat and cooking oil and duck eggs and other commodities," says one resident.

Of course there are those who support what we're doing and those who oppose it

Wang Hongbin
Nanjie party chief
It is the same for accommodation in modern tidy rows of apartment buildings, and for health care. No wonder bus loads of tourists are coming to see.

"Mao's slogan 'to serve the people' is really put into practice here. It's not just empty rhetoric," says one woman tourist from Chairman Mao's home province of Hunan.

It all sounds almost too good to be true - and in a sense it is.

There is a whole cluster of factories and flour mills, which make Nanjie village look more like a small industrial town. They now make up the core of its collective economy.

But most of the work is done by migrant workers. They outnumber the village residents by about 9,000 to 3,000.

And the migrants do not get anything like the same deal as the locals.

"It's true that the migrant workers' pay and conditions are not as good as the village residents," says Nanjie's party chief Wang Hongbin.

"But they want to come here to work and we're giving them employment opportunities, so we're benefiting the country and the people."

Changing times

Even with all that low cost labour, the village has recently been going through tough times as its main products like instant noodles and beer face stiff competition.

But ideologically, Mr Wang, who has become something of a cult personality, insists things are hale and hearty.

Poster of Mao Zedong
Mao is out of fashion elsewhere in China
He deftly brushes off any suggestion of a clash between the collective lifestyle of Nanjie and Deng Xiaoping's free market reforms.

"Of course there are those who support what we're doing and those who oppose it," says Mr Wang. "That's quite normal.

"But those who oppose us are also helping us by posing questions for us to answer, which are beneficial to our development."

In the surrounding countryside, it is clear that the Nanjie approach has had some influence.

Several villages have adopted a similar model, even though large-scale re-collectivisation of the economy remains a Maoist dream.

China's leaders have failed to give a significant boost to rural living standards. And with capitalists now formally allowed to join the Communist Party, the leaders seem much more preoccupied with wooing the country's emerging rich elite.

Places like Nanjie, which embody the old style collective values of the Maoist era, may be out of fashion, but they are likely to keep a certain appeal.

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