The Chinese Dream
The Thousand Faces of China PART 3
Photos, text and video Antonio Faccilongo

Huaxi: the Chinese Dream

In China there is a dream which goes by the name of Huaxi. A small village comprising only 250 peasant families, who since the early 60s, before China opened to the global market, set up an international import-export business in the joinery nail sector. At present the corporation counts over 100 companies including textiles, metallurgy, digital economy and business finance.

Incredibly today the descendants of the founding families own the world’s sixth largest holding, Jiangsu Huaxi Jituan Gonsi. Approximately one third of the village revenue is generated by the steel industry. The holding imports raw materials from India and Brazil and exports its products to over 40 countries. Furthermore, village executives are planning to increase tourism. Internal Chinese tourism appears to be on the rise and it is estimated that 2 million tourists every year travel to the small community to witness first hand this “model of a socialist village”.

A factory shed in Huaxi

The sky above Huaxi is saturated with the smoke of the factories intent on producing wealth. Since they opened, production was stopped on only one occasion: during the recent Coronavirus pandemic. The government in China, like in Italy, decided to shut down all factories and to safeguard its citizens’ health through isolation. Luckily this area was not directly hit by the epidemic, otherwise the effect on its residents would have been dramatic as the factory workers often live in run down compounds inside the factories themselves with several families living together in the same room. After almost two months, with the emergency over, production has finally resumed and the population has returned to daily life.

Two children in a private school in Huaxi

For years, the Chinese authorities have used Huaxi as a prime example of success to be showcased, proving how the communist regime has transformed a poor village into an immensely rich area in just half a century. One of the lines of its anthem recites “The skies above Huaxi are the skies of the communist party, the land of Huaxi is the land of socialism”.

One of Huaxi’s 24-hour factories. On the right there is a light: it’s the workers at work, even though it’s late at night

Huaxi stands about one hundred kilometres west of Shanghai, in the Jangsu region. In Bejing they call it “the number one village under the sky”, intending it is the most beautiful village in China. The town, which takes its name from the river crossing it, is the perfect synthesis of socialist collectivism and Asian capitalism. Despite it being the richest village in China, Huaxi is very small. Its surface totals a mere 240 acres, less than the Vatican City.

A view of one of Huaxi's industrial areas

In 1964 mayor Wu Renbao convinced Huaxi’s inhabitants to invest their money in the construction of a nail producing factory without the authorities knowing. The income generated by this secret activity was divided equally and regardless of their duties among the 1,600 peasants who were the actual shareholders. This business embodied the concept of capitalism, in opposition with the socialist ideologies of the time and this is why the factory’s activities were initially kept secret. When Beijing found out about the business they shut it down completely and imprisoned the mayor.

The square where workers gather in the evening and participate in collective activities

With the death of Mao and thanks to the subsequent opening up of China to the global market, Huaxi was able to reopen its factories and make the most of its past experience and the international contacts it had cultivated, finding itself at an advantage against the competition of the industrial activities being set up. Growth was rapid and exponential, reaching out to other activities as well.

A corridor inside a textile factory building in Huaxi

Huaxi’s fortune appears immense. The village reached great notoriety throughout the country in 2003 when it announced its annual turnover had reached 100 billion yuan, approximately 14 billion Euros. In order to prove its economic strength in 2015 the village even spent 400 million Euros in building its own sky scraper, towering in the centre of an expanse of small country houses and factories. The tower is one of the highest in the world. With its 72 floors it is 328 metres high and has been named “Hauxi’s hanging village”.

The Hauxi skyscraper. It’s the eighth tallest skyscraper in China

The building even houses a 5-star hotel, the Long Wish International Hotel, with a large golden ball which can be seen from afar dominating on its rooftop. Its immense hall walls are lacquered in gold and there is also a statue of a calf in solid gold, symbolizing not only the place’s immense economic power but also its profound connection with the earth and peasant life. Further, as the 7-day work week does not leave the villagers much time to travel, Wu Renbao decided he would bring the world to Huaxi. The village has a “World Park” with replicas of famous monuments such as the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, the Statue of Liberty and the Arc de Triomphe.

The 2000 residents who make up the founding families benefit from special privileges. The majority of the holding’s dividends are reinvested, the rest are divided equally among them, irrespective of the role they have in the company. They say that each member has 250,000$ in their bank account. By birth right they receive a 400 square metre villa and a luxury car, free health service, education and a pension as well as free cooking oil.

All the families of the founding members have the right to a 350 square metre villa as a birthright

However, in order to deserve these benefits they have to conform to strict social rules. They are only allowed to marry other founding family members, there are no cafés, clubs, Internet cafés or karaoke clubs and gambling and drugs are strictly prohibited. The village has been conceived so as not to provide any kind of distraction to labourers who are expected to work as much as possible.

Young students in uniform in a private school in Huaxi

However, it is not all wonderful in Huaxi. The village work force is also made up of 25,000 immigrant workers who fare in the same conditions as all other Chinese labourers and work seven days a week with 12-hour shifts for a wage ranging between 200$ – 300$ a month. They get 5 days off a year during the Republic’s festivities and have none of the luxurious benefits that the “first class” citizens enjoy.

A textile worker bagging a spool in Huaxi

Strangely, this village which boasts being the richest in China, has very few stores catering to its rich residents, For this reason the fortunate owners of the holding move to the nearby city if Wuxi when they need to have access to quality high-end services.

A girl dancing in a club in Wuxi

The metropolis counts 6 million people, it is the region’s business hub and is located on the high-speed railway connecting Shanghai and Beijing. Here they can find all the western-style luxury services, shopping malls selling the most famous Italian and French brands, golf clubs, wellness centres, cosmetic surgery clinics, luxury car retailers and jewellery stores.

Unparalleled wealth, exclusive comfort and at the same time no possibility of distraction; an underpaid workforce denied any access to the privileges reserved for members of the founding families. This is Huaxi, the Chinese “village under the sky”.

Photos, text and video Antonio Faccilongo