A Dream of Grey Mansions

Back to the land – Nick Holdstock

In 1979, 80 per cent of China’s population lived in the countryside; by 2010 this proportion had almost halved. Of all the convulsions that have shaken Chinese society in the last hundred years, the shift towards becoming a primarily urban society has arguably been the most revolutionary. Though the countryside witnessed huge upheavals during the Maoist era, first with collectivisation, then with the terrible famine that followed, neither of these led to the removal of almost an entire generation from rural communities. But the great rush towards the factory towns in south China has removed the majority of people of working age from the countryside. In many villages, the only people left are grandparents and their grandchildren.

I wanted to see how the continuing exodus to the cities had affected rural life in Hunan, so in 2014 I accompanied a friend of mine on a trip to his village.