Why didn’t anyone tell me about Huaxi village earlier:
It is the brainchild of Wu Renbao, the driving force behind Huaxi’s 40-year transition from a small village to a multibillion-dollar conglomerate with interests in steel, shipping, tobacco and textiles. By turns a communist dictator, capitalist entrepreneur and self-help guru, the 84-year-old is among China’s most colourful characters. He is praised for turning Huaxi into one of the richest villages in China and enriching the original residents with annual shares, dividends and free overseas trips. He is also criticised for turning the community into a family fiefdom, in which workers get no holidays and his relatives get the best posts.
He has created a hierarchy largely determined by closeness to the Wu clan. Those from the original 2,000 Huaxi families are at the top of the pyramid. Next come the 35,000 residents from neighbouring villages that have been swallowed up by Huaxi’s expansion. At the bottom are 20,000 newly arrived migrants, who provide labour for the factories on 12-hour shifts without weekend breaks. The monthly salaries of 3,000 yuan (£310) are better than average for low-skilled labour in China, but it is hardly a worker’s paradise.
Wu is undoubtedly Huaxi’s greatest draw. Coachloads of visitors – mostly cadres and retirees – turn up to listen to the 10.30am lecture he delivers every day in a village auditorium that has been decked out to resemble the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.
I came across this story just now because the village is opening an airline to fly rich people in and out of the village.