Nineteen of Salvador’s twenty employees come from the Lincang Prefecture in Yunnan’s southwest. Lincang serves as a model for the problems that currently face rural Chinese as it is one of the poorest and least developed prefectures in the province. Lincang lies in a very mountainous part of Yunnan that few outsiders ever get the chance to visit. In years past, the tea market brought relative riches to the area’s farmers, but with the gradual decline of tea values this is no longer the case, and farmers struggle to get by. Lincang has seen very little of China’s economic progress, as its per capita income is less than 10 percent of the average Chinese.
Rural poverty has resulted in more and more youths leaving the countryside for the city in search of higher incomes. Many farming families invest everything in their children to make the move to the city in search of new employment to support the family. Most find the transition difficult, as drugs, gambling, prostitution and other dangers pose a serious threat to first-time urban migrants. And because so many are leaving, the farming communities now have to deal with an aging population and no youths left to help tend the land.
Nationwide, the rural-to-urban transition has resulted in the largest migration in human history, as China’s urban population now accounts for close to 50 percent of the total population, compared with 26 percent in 1990 and 36 percent in 2001. Infrastructures in cities like Beijing and Guangzhou are now struggling to meet the demands of an ever-growing population.
As governments invest more in the growing cities, villages have witnessed much of their infrastructure go to ruin. Lack of educational development, inaccessible health care and shortsighted resource management in village areas are the ultimate results of China’s modern urbanization. Moreover, beyond the scope of China, the country’s urbanization threatens international health and security as political and environmental pressures grow in conjunction with urbanization.
With the help of their employees, the owners of Salvador’s have established strong relationships with village leaders. In return, they have been given a unique perspective into the problems currently facing village life in China’s southwest.