This past week, I had my first Chinese article published at Shanghai Lexicographical Publishing House. The book, “Jing Mountain Research,” is a collection of articles and essays about Jing Mountain Village, in the Yuhang District of Hangzhou. It includes work by my Professor at East China Normal University, Dong Jianbo, whose made a academic career out of studying the history of the local economy in this region.
My piece, “Jing Mountain New Economy,” is a description of how the village has changed as it marketed its local tea with a historical flavor, and rebuilt the 1,000-year-old temple site into a tourist destination. In short, the villages became rich, built new house and sent their children away to school. With the local economy booming and construction in every place you look, there is scarcely anyone under 30 to found (save some small children).
At the end of last month, Christina Larson published a story in Foreign Policy about a very similar village in Yunnan (http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/10/30/why-puer-tea-is-the-next-big-asset-class-transforming-chinas-villages-green-gold/). A surge in interest in storied Yunnan pu’er tea made the villagers who’ve long cultivated the unique leaves suddenly, and unexpectedly, wealthy. The parallels between Larson’s Yunnan village and Jing Mountain are striking. In fact, this is a fairly widespread phenomenon in China, although few if any places command the prices for tea as Yunnan pu’er.
A key difference, however, seems to be the investment in tourism. Larson’s Yunnan village is far flung, but Jing Mountain is part of Hangzhou, the thriving metropolis home to Alibaba, and not far from Shanghai. The Jing Mountain Zen Tea Culture Travel Collective has invested some US $40 million in giving the Jing Mountain village a bevy of brand new Buddhist temples – and so the villagers are making a large portion of income from opening hotels and restaurants as well as selling tea. From reading Larson’s piece, infrastructure seems to be better in Jing Mountain, and of course villagers have better access to the modern world, being near Hangzhou.
The difference says something about economics and geography in China: Location matters. Yunnan, among the poorest provinces of China, has a per capita GDP just one-third of Zhejiang. There are far fewer opportunities there. Like Larson, I also worry about the sustainability of their windfall tea economy.
If you can read Chinese (or just want to look at the pretty charaters), download the PDF I made: JingShan_New_Economy