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Down to the Countryside

Down to the Countryside

The world has heard much of late about the scale and scope of China’s mass migration from the poor rural countryside to its booming cities. Some think the number of these migrant workers will soon reach some 400 million souls. They have created massive new urban megaplexes like Chongqing, which now has a population of close to 30 million.

Earthbound China

12.15.14

A Map of China’s Back-to-the-Land Efforts

Leah Thompson
In our short film “Down to the Countryside,” Sun Yunfan and I follow Ou Ning, an artist and curator who moved from Beijing to the village of Bishan in rural Anhui province in 2013, where he experiments with preserving and revitalizing local heritage...

But such precipitous, rapid, and massive urbanization inevitably causes reactions. And in this beautifully shot short film by Leah Thompson and Sun Yunfan, we are introduced to one urban “back-to-the-lander,” Ou Ning, who for all the understandable reasons has moved his family from Beijing to the countryside in the storied Huizhou region of Anhui Province. The film is a lovely evocation of how urban malaise has led one city intellectual to forsake the increasingly polluted, expensive, hectic, and crowded capital in search of a quieter, cleaner, and more sylvan setting for his family.

Whether he will prove a harbinger of things to come in China is as yet uncertain. But what does seem beyond question is that as China’s enormous and environmentally hazardous cities grow ever larger and more polluted, Ou’s pioneering escape will become a tempting model for many others to follow. —Orville Schell

Born and raised in China (Shaanxi and Shenzhen), Sun Yunfan has lived in the U.S. for the past decade. She studied painting at the School of Visual Arts and received an M.F.A. in Fine Arts from Pratt...
Leah Thompson is a multimedia producer and the Associate Director of the Center on U.S.-China Relations at Asia Society. At the Center, she has produced videos on issues ranging from arts and culture...

This video is part of an ongoing project, “Bishan: Reinventing China’s Emptying Countryside,” funded by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

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