Peasant life in China has changed dramatically. After decades of poverty, China’s peasants have begun to experience a better life, as they respond eagerly to the production incentives and marketing opportunities that have accompanied the dismantling of the commune system and the elimination of mandatory state purchase of farm produce. The enormous energy that has been unlocked by these measures has created a surge in production so large that it has provided the entire population with a greater volume and increased variety of food and, at the same time, lifted the China peasant out of impoverishment.
The wealth created in Chinese peasant households has meant better food, better clothing, better farm implements-but above all, better housing, as the families pour money into new farmhouses. So how do they live, these men and women who make up 80 percent of China’s population?
Most of China’s peasants live either in small thatch-roof farmhouses made of mud bricks or in newer tile-roof cottages made of clay bricks. The whole family lives in two or three rooms. They keep warm in winter by keeping a fool stove lit. In the evenings, the clay or brick beds, called Kang are heated by flues tanning from the stove; sometimes flues are laid down through the floor to keep the whole cottage warm. Evening light is provided by oil or kerosene lamp. Often the bedrooms have no windows, to conserve heat. Other rooms may have window frames sealed with white paper to allow light to enter and shut out drafts, yet provide ventilation. More modern cottages have glass windows. Outside, everyone keeps warm by putting on additional layers of clothing and wearing top garments of padded cotton. They wear out their clothes quickly because they work hard in there; and while the cotton cloth ration is usually not enough for the family’s needs, they manage to get by. A lot of patching is done.
Family meals are simple consisting mainly of vegetables and cereal rice in the south and wheat and millet in the north. These staples are supplemented by pork and chicken when available. The family consumes good quantities of hot tea and sometimes plain hot water. Although there are a table and chairs for meals, there is very little other furniture apart from the beds.