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White Horse Village, a farming community deep in Western China.

Life here hasn't changed much for

hundreds of years but now it faces transformation on an epic scale. The village is to be destroyed to
make way for a city. This is the story of a family torn apart by change.

A farmer trying to forge a business empire in China's ruthless economy. And the communist party
secretary who has to convince the villagers to give up their way of life forever. Filmed over six years, it's
a story being replicated in thousands of villages all over China. The biggest urbanisation in human
history and a giant leap of faith in the name of progress.

I've lived and worked in China on and off for nearly 30 years and when I started filming in White Horse
Village it was just another dirt poor corner of the country. Farmers working small plots by hand,
counting themselves lucky to earn £200 a year from selling pigs or silkworms. A decade ago, the Chinese
government embarked on an ambitious piece of social engineering. The plan was to drive development
west to modernise thousands of rural communities. White Horse Village was on the list. After centuries
as a rural backwater, it was destined to become a high-rise city in a few short years.

China's power and wealth are concentrated in its coastal mega-cities. White Horse Village lies a
thousand miles inland, in remote Wuxi County. Now the challenge is to bring China's economic success
to the hinterland.

Xaio Zhang is 32 and she's a rice and pig farmer, just like her mother before her. She lives on the
outskirts of the village with her two children, Yang Yang and Pei Pei. Her husband works in a factory in
Beijing. So Xiao Zhang is bringing up her children alone as well as caring for her in-laws. There's no
money to buy food, so she has to grow everything they eat. This is the life Xiao Zhang wants for herself
and her children.

The cities of the east coast. Hundreds of millions of farmers flock here for jobs in the money economy.
Now the government wants to reverse that tide by bringing the cities to the countryside instead, turning
half a billion farmers into urban consumers, hoping to spread the wealth and cure China's dependence
on western markets. But for those who've never left White Horse Village all of this is unimaginable.


-I'm in my 60s and I've been a farmer all my life. I don't know how to do business and I can't start now.
We don't know anything about the plans for development. They told us we have to sell and that we'll
have to rely on financial support from the government. The village must go to make way for the city and
this is the man who must deliver the orders.

Xiang Caiguo was born just after the Communist revolution of 1949, and the party has shaped his life. He
grew up under Chairman Mao and he served in the Red Army. For the last 20 years, he's been White
Horse Village's communist party secretary.


-It's a hard job because I have to carry out orders from above. On the other hand, I have to listen to
ordinary people and find solutions to their problems. For a party that was founded to fight for the
peasants it's awkward that the cities have benefited so much more from China's growth.
Political stability depends on closing the gap. It's the party secretary who has to convince his neighbours
to give up their houses.


-It's very sad that people have to move. Many families have been on this land for decades, even
hundreds of years. They'll miss their old lives here on this land. The new life can't be as tough as
farming. Farming is really hard work. You have to make a lot of effort for very little reward and that's a

The plan for Wuxi New Town - a city of 200,000 that will transform the valley. Farmers have no place in
this vision. Every new tower block has to be built on somebody's fields. Government and developers
cutting deals.

In China there's no private land ownership. The state can take fields from the farmers at will, give
them minimal compensation and lease the land to developers instead - at 30 times the price. The
farmers think that's unfair.

Construction has already started in some parts of the valley.

This is Xie Ting Ming. He had no hesitations about taking the compensation for his farmland. At 43, he's
been a farmer and a migrant worker. The plan for a city has given him a chance to start a business and
he's invested his compensation in a bulldozer. Mr Xie is making friends where it matters. A villager the
government can do business with.

TRANSLATION: The next step will be to build houses, high-rise buildings and roads. You can make much
more money than being a farmer. I've got my own projects now, but I'm also getting involved in other
people's projects. Mr Xie and his team have been busy. Much of the land on the valley floor has already
been cleared. But the next step towards the new city is harder. The villagers may not have owned their
fields but they do own their houses. So they can't be forced out quite so easily. It's the party
secretary's job to measure each farmhouse. Compensation is calculated on floor space and he has to
convince the farmers to accept it. Everyone's been promised an apartment and places for their children
in the new high school when the city is built. But they feel cheated at the low price they received for
their farm land and many are suspicious. Some villagers are old enough to remember another attempt
by the party to transform their lives - the Great Leap Forward.

Grand promises were made but the result was famine and in White Horse Village many died. Now the
party is promising transformation again and Tang Rending voices their shared anxiety.

TRANSLATION: As party secretary, I can't disagree with central government policy. The programme is for
the welfare of the public so we must all make sacrifices. For some, the city can't come fast enough but
Xiao Zhang lives outside the first zone of development and fears it will be years before she benefits.
Before she had children, she worked as a maid in Beijing and she knows the cities are the only place to
make real money.

-Almost every young couple leaves their children with their grandparents and goes away to work as a
migrant to make money. I feel very jealous of those who can go. I don't have a way to do that. Most
young people leave for the cities.

Mr Xie and his wife are taking time out from business to celebrate their daughter Yuqian's 20th birthday.
She's made a big decision. The deep valleys and high mountains of this region have kept it cut off from
the modern China that Yuqian wants to belong to. But for now, her only decision is what to do for her

In White Horse Village, it's the party secretary's job to persuade his neighbours to give up their homes
for the new city. But it's personal too. His ancestors are buried in the fields they once farmed. The
party secretary and his generation have lived through chaos and famine. But the traditions of life on
the land have always endured. Now they're being asked to give up everything they know.

Eight months later, construction of the new city is well under way. All these buildings are government
offices. There's no sign of the promised new high school or the apartments for the farmers. So they're
concerned about where they come on the list of priorities. There's been no public consultation.

Mr Tang, who had so much to say at the village meeting, is still waiting for answers on how they're
going to make money now their farmlands been confiscated. It's the run up to Chinese New Year, the
biggest festival in the calendar and a time when families get together.

Xaio Zhang is preparing for a rare trip home by her husband Chang Seng. In a few days, she'll slaughter
the pig she's been fattening up all year.

Chang Seng works a thousand miles away in Beijing. With no jobs in White Horse Village, this is the only
way they can save for their children's future. Earning £20 for a seven-day week in a chemical factory,
Chang Sheng is one of the unsung heroes of China's economic miracle. The low cost labour behind the
products that flood world markets.

TRANSLATION: I never wanted to leave home while my children were so small. I wasn't even there when
my son was born. Last year I only spent three weeks at home and then I had to come back to Beijing.
Chang Sheng plans to persuade Xiao Zhang that this time, he should stay with the family for good. 150
million people leave their families to work in the cities.

For Chang Seng, it's a three-day journey home. On his journey home, Chang Sheng witnesses the extent
of China's transformation. Along the Yangtze River more than a million people have been resettled in
new cities to make way for the Three Gorges dam and reservoir. And all these new cities are being
linked with a motorway network part of the ambition for a 21st century infrastructure. Perhaps when
Yang Yang and Pei Pei grow up there will be well-paid jobs at home. But for now, work means separation
and they have a father they barely remember.

In the village, the party secretary is taking his campaign from house to house, hoping a new year gift will
smooth the way. Xaio Zhang and Chang Sheng spend their first day together preparing the pork for their
traditional New Year feast. But they don't see eye to eye.

New Year is a rare moment in China when construction actually stops. But for Mr and Mrs Xie business
never stops.
On the eve of the holiday, the workers must get their annual bonus. It's not just the Xies who are feeling
rich. It's been another year in which China's economy has grown by more than 10%. The Xies' new
wealth paid for the village's first ever white wedding when their daughter Yuqian married her
businessman boyfriend.

TRANSLATION: Business has been good since my daughter got married. New officials have been
appointed to the development project which means the new town will happen even faster. I'm going to
buy more equipment, another new digger and hire more workers. I'm hoping business will get even

After the wedding, Yuqian rejected her parents' advice. She moved to the city of Shenzhen to start a
new business with her husband. There's important news to catch up on.

The party secretary can finally forget the cares of village politics, even if it's just for one night. One
person is missing. His daughter Rui Lin is a migrant worker in Shenzhen and has decided to save money
rather than spend it coming home.

The party secretary and his wife are bringing up her little girl. Tonight, the villagers celebrate the new
year. Soon the Xies will get a grandchild and Chang Seng will have to make the long journey back to

But for the village, the future is as uncertain as ever.

Seven months later and progress on the new city has slowed down.

The villagers still don't like the plan for their apartment blocks

and are refusing to move out of their farmhouses.

Officials are getting impatient.

TRANSLATION: Farmers here are rather backward.

They want to be able to feed their pigs, cows, chickens and sheep -

they're not used to the idea of living in an apartment block.

So the process of building a new town is also about changing their way of thinking.

The Xie family have always embraced the plan for the new city.

Mr and Mrs Xie have used their contacts

to buy a commercial apartment at a knockdown price.

They're hoping they can persuade daughter Yuqian

to move back home with her new family.

700 miles from White Horse Village

is Shenzhen - China's export hub in the Pearl River Delta.

30 years ago, it was little more than a fishing village -

now, with a population of 12 million

it's the centre of the biggest manufacturing region in the world.

A place where fortunes are made.

Xiao Zhang has convinced her mum to look after her children,

and come to Shenzhen to see if she can find work.

There's already a network of friends and relatives

from White Horse Village who might be able to help.

Rui Lin is the party secretary's daughter.

She's worked here for ten years in a shoe factory.

While her mum's away, Yang Yang has to grow up quickly.

It's a three-mile walk to the local primary school.



Competition for places at the new high school will be intense.

At four, Yang Yang already knows she has to stand out.


Their grandmother is ill and has no health insurance.

If Xiao Zhang gets a city job, it'll pay for medicine.

In village politics, battle lines are being drawn.

Finishing the Communist Party headquarters has taken up much of the construction budget,

and now the bosses want a public square in front.

The farmers' mud brick homes are in the way,

and eviction notices have been posted.

Beijing's intention was to bring them prosperity,

but all the villagers see is local officials looking after themselves.

In 2007, China saw over 70,000 riots,

most of them sparked by the confiscation of land and homes.

In response, central government announced a new slogan,

"Harmonious Society", a reminder to local government

that everyone should benefit from progress.

But the harmonious message hasn't reached White Horse Village yet.

It's four years since their land was confiscated,

and the villagers know the stalemate over their houses can't go on.

Now the party secretary's been ordered to set an example

and have his own home demolished - or face the sack.

It's a turning point -

most of the farmers follow his lead and give up their homes.

Until the apartment blocks are built, this is their new home.

There's no hot water or heating,

and the toilets are in a communal block.

Hardly the good life they were promised.

The party secretary's family have lived on this land for generations.

TRANSLATION: Right now is the hardest time.

We've lost our land and our houses.

The government is thinking about how they can resettle us.

They've got lots of things to sort out.

China's new inland cities will consume vast amounts of energy,

and these mountains are rich in natural resources.

The Xies have won the contract for a road to a coal mine and dam,

growing their business beyond the valley.

It's a difficult and dangerous business.

Three people have died on this project already.

TRANSLATION: It's really tough up here.

There's a constant danger of rock falls hurting people

and damaging equipment.

It's very dangerous,

but this is the project the government has given us.

We have to get it done and we have to do it fast.

We have many projects around here, but there's not enough money

in the area. We have to invest a lot and it's very competitive.

It'll be easier to make money in Chongqing.

The emerging mega-city Chongqing is 200 miles away,

but despite the distance

its boundary extends to White Horse Village -

a sign of how big China intends this urban region to become.

The Xies have persuaded Yuqian to move to Chongqing,

and given her husband a start in construction -

the first stage of their own plans in the city.

Yuqian's got to start again and build a new business.

Being a full-time mum was never her plan, and she doesn't want to get

trapped at home when there are so many opportunities here.

Xiao Zhang's taste of city life didn't last long.

Her mum found looking after the kids on her own too much.

The one hope left for Xaio Chang

is that her children might go to the new high school.

It's the best in the county, and will soon have 5,000 pupils.


English is taught here as well as computer science -

part of China's campaign

to prepare the next generation for global competition.

The villagers were promised places for THEIR children.

But none have been allowed to enrol.

Rural children have always been the outsiders

when it comes to educational opportunity in China.

Now it looks they might lose out, even in the new city.

As usual, the only person to whom the villagers can air their grievance

is the party secretary.

The city has arrived. Wuxi new town.

Just four years ago all of this was fields,

but there's no trace now of White Horse Village.

Instead, a thriving money economy,

where every day brings the launch of a new business.

But the villagers are not yet part of city life.

They're still living in the temporary housing.

Their apartment block has now been built,

but they're unhappy with the quality and they're refusing to move in.

They think the developers have cut corners to line their own pockets.

They've made a video, and bypassed local officials

to send their complaints direct to Chongqing.

Two years ago, an earthquake nearby killed 70,000 people.

Building standards can mean life or death.

The prospect of jobs and businesses in the new city

is bringing young migrants home.

The party secretary's daughter Rui Lin has saved enough money

to buy her dream apartment in an upmarket block.

Her parents have come round to celebrate.

The city expansion hasn't reached Xiao Zhang's house yet.

But she's been making a little money by renting out

the top floor of her house to construction workers.

She built an extension, but bigger buildings

mean more compensation, so only the government is licensed to build.

Lots of people get away with it

but Xiao Zhang doesn't have the connections you need.

What is true in Wuxi is true in Chongqing and for bigger stakes.

Mr Xie knows for his business to succeed in the new China,

he has to build good relationships.

TRANSLATION: When we first arrived, we didn't know anyone.

After a while I started to make contacts with property developers,

and eventually they started calling to offer me business.

The line between connections and corruption can easily get blurred.

In Chongqing they've arrested thousands.

But even the Communist Party admits corruption

is one of the biggest threats to China's advance.

TRANSLATION: There are a very small number of officials who work outside the law.

They use their power and influence within the government

to bully you and threaten to take over

the businesses of honest people.

That's how they do things.

In Chinese families, childcare is often the grandparents' responsibility.

Yuqian hopes to persuade her parents to look after Han Han

so that she can concentrate on her struggling snack business.

But business in Chongqing is beginning to thrive,

and Yuqian's parents are not ready to retire.

The people of White Horse Village are preparing for an enormous housewarming party.

After years of argument,

they've finally agreed to move into their new apartment blocks.

Each family has a shop front,

and some businesses are already thriving.

Today it's the party secretary's brother who's moving in.

After years of being ignored by local officials,

the villagers took their grievance about the apartments

to Chongqing, staging a sit-down protest outside party headquarters.

Local government was forced into concessions.

TRANSLATION: In the end, the Wuxi government signed a written agreement,

guaranteeing the safety of the structure for 50 years.

So once we got that, we agreed to move in.

The party secretary and his wife are not moving in with the rest of the village.

They've bought an apartment in the same commercial building as their daughter.

Private property, and consumerism -

none of this would have been permitted under Mao,

but he remains a hero.

Some villagers asked questions about where the money

came from for the party secretary to buy property at commercial prices.

A formal investigation was launched.

TRANSLATION: I'm innocent. I wasn't afraid.

I used only what I should have used, took only what I should have taken.

Last year they checked everything from top to bottom,

and now everyone knows that I've been cleared of wrongdoing.

People realised they'd been wrong and some even apologised.

In Chongqing, Mr Xie's business is growing,

but he's still very much hands-on.

The global economic crisis is being felt across China,

including the construction sites of Chongqing.

Cash flow is now his biggest headache.

TRANSLATION: We're supposed to be paid in full every month,

but all our partners are having problems so we don't push it.

It's only when we have trouble paying workers,

or maintaining the equipment, that we go to collect what we're owed.

Right now, everybody owes us - some owe us more than £20,000.

The Xies still own a lot of property back home,

and with money so tight, Mrs Xie is on her way to collect the rent.

The new highway from Chongqing has almost reached Wuxi.

The last stretch is just 50 miles,

but every inch of it is through mountains and gorges.

Funded from Beijing,

it's part of the drive to surpass the American highway network,

and connect China's newest cities to the global economy.

Xiang Caiguo has retired from his job as party secretary, after 25 years.

The man who grew up in a China which executed landlords

is now the proud owner of four new apartments for rent.

TRANSLATION: Now I'm retired and I feel a lot more relaxed.

My children are grown up and I don't have a lot of responsibilities

so life is very comfortable and I'm happy.

We've got a rental income now and it's enough for us to live on.

China's now the world's largest market for bathrooms.

Xiang Caiguo is doing his bit.

TRANSLATION: There's no way we could have imagined stuff like this when I was growing up.

In the 1950s, China was very backward.

We washed in a wooden bucket. I'd never seen a bath.

Never imagined it - but now everyone has one.

Millions of new private bathrooms are contributing to an acute water shortage.

But they do provide short-term business opportunities.

There's no shortage of shops in Wuxi new town - business is booming.

But by my count, about 80% of them

are to do with home decorating and building materials.

Take this stretch - that's tiles, paint, front doors

and, along at the end here, kitchen stoves.

So my question is, what is going to drive the economy

when everyone's decorated their apartments?

The local government is hoping this might be the answer.

Every new Chinese city has an industrial park.

But so far there's only one factory here.

A local man made good in Shenzhen has brought his knitting business home.
That's just 200 factory jobs.

There is now a service economy in the city, and it's creating employment.

After years of waiting and hoping,

Xiao Zhang finally has paid work close to home...

one job as a cleaner, and another in a local cafe.

TRANSLATION: Working here is easier than farming -

when it rains you don't get wet. It's easier on the body.

Xiao Zhang works here for four hours a day, earning around £100 a month.

That's more than she used to make in a year from farming.

TRANSLATION: I like working here. I can meet new friends

and it's good to learn how to do the work

because I want to open my own restaurant in the future.

She spends her earnings in the new supermarket.

With millions of subsistence farmers like her leaving the land,

commercial agriculture and imports are key to feeding China in future

and Xiao Zhang is looking forward to it.

TRANSLATION: It will be great for the next generation.

Transport, the roads, education will make our children's lives so much better.

Our generation is living through the development stage

so that our children can benefit.


Perhaps some day Yang Yang's dad can come home from Beijing to work in the family restaurant.

The promise of a better life for their children

was why the villagers sacrificed their homes and land.

And they made it happen.

Their children have joined the ranks of the educated.

But only after the parents staged another sit-in -

an enormous victory for direct action, in a country where taking a stand often ends in prison.

TRANSLATION: I kept complaining to the leaders

that we should keep our promise,

and let the village children go to the new school

as soon as it was finished.

We finally achieved this, but it took two years to get done.


-This school has given children like me a better education.

In the past, local people didn't have much schooling,

but now farmer's children get educated properly.

That's important.


-I want to become a scientist,

because scientists make a huge contribution to China and the world.

Many of these children now set their sights on China's top universities.

There's no going back to farming.

And for the elderly,

there are basic pensions and healthcare in the new city.

But some remain unimpressed.

Tang Rending has opposed the project throughout,

and despite the transformation of everything around him,

he's holding out in his farmhouse.

TRANSLATION: They haven't made a good job of it. The demolition's unfair.

I refuse to move out of my house without a good deal.

The new town's no good.

In the six years we've been filming with the people of White Horse Village,

we've seen their lives transformed.

And across China, a hundred million people have become urban residents.

Nothing like it has ever been attempted.

But Mr Tang is not the only one asking questions.

No one knows whether any of this is sustainable in the long run -

economically or environmentally.

But for today at least, worries about the future have been put to one side -

the people of White Horse Village are ready to party.

And they have reason to celebrate.

They've fought long and hard for their rights and won some important battles -

for their apartments, their shop fronts

and for their children's education.

TRANSLATION: In the old days, my mum and dad barely had enough to eat.

Now we have a much better life.

We're very lucky.


-My new house is much better than my old one.

It's all thanks to this new town.


-Just think about it - we're all farmers here,

but now we're out dancing in the evenings.

Old people do t'ai chi in the mornings.

Even my mum is spending money -

now she wears even more jewellery than me!

A city has been born before our eyes.

100,000 strong, and growing.

Connected to the rest of China, and impatient to make up for lost time.

The people of White Horse Village have joined the modern world.

TRANSLATION: Only with development, with the expansion of the city,

can we improve our standard of living.

If you don't develop, if you stand still, then you get left behind.


-There used to be nothing -

no sanitation, no parks, no bridges, absolutely nothing.

For me, a local girl, it's been amazing.

The speed of development has been astonishing.

TRANSLATION: We feel lucky.

We used to be farmers, and now we're city people.

It was tough along the way -

we missed the old life -

but now we feel better. It's progress.