THERE IS A surprising amount of earth-moving equipment on the otherwise sleepy rural back roads of Binzhou prefecture in the eastern province of Sha
THERE IS A surprising amount of earth-moving equipment on the otherwise sleepy rural back roads of Binzhou prefecture in the eastern province of Shandong. Some of it is being used to build an irrigation channel to draw in water from the nearby Yellow river. But much of it is being used for destruction. At a turning off a county highway, a sign points to Zhaibo village. It no longer exists. The machines have already done their job of levelling Zhaibo and carrying away the debris.
Before the end of May, the village was home to about 70 households who made their living growing maize and cotton and tending fruit trees. Now most of the former residents are in newly built flats on the outskirts of Weiji, a town about seven kilometres away. “We’re improving the soil and a lot of them will be able to come back and work the same land,” says a worker.
Similar scenes have been common in rural areas across China in recent years. Villages are being destroyed and their former residents moved elsewhere, often into clusters of houses or blocks of flats built by local governments to accommodate the populations of what were once several scattered hamlets.
Governments give several explanations for carrying out what they call hecun bingju, or “village consolidations”. Sometimes they talk of promoting urbanisation (some of the new communities are on the edges of towns like Weiji), or of helping…