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July 9, 2018

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Every hour sees miracle of 40 years of reform

What can be achieved in one hour?

A lot has changed in China over the past 40 years of reform and opening-up, not least the working lives of ordinary people.

Farmer Xie Mingsheng, 53, from Shanxi Province, can cut well over a hectare of wheat in one hour with the help of two harvesting machines. Forty years ago, the same task took his six member family almost two weeks. The summer harvest used to be exactly the kind of drudgery Xie hated most. His face peeled under the scorching sun and a wheat allergy gave him a severe rash, leaving his arms itchy for days.

“The most frustrating thing was that I cut just the tiniest tract of wheat in an hour with only a sickle at my disposal,” he recalled.

In the late 1970s, China started contracting farmland to households. Xie’s family was allocated theirs in 1982. The first machinery did not arrive until 1992, when a tractor replaced the aging oxen for ploughing and transport. Now villagers have machines for sowing, weeding and harvesting. Drones spray their pesticides.

“Farming methods have completely changed,” Xie said.

Better farming means more grain. From 1978 to 2017, grain output more than doubled to 618 million tons.

Higher output is not only seen in agriculture. In Xie’s province, coal production hit 98,000 tons per hour in 2017, nine times the amount mined in 1978.

Coal miner Zhao Zhaofeng, 29, was born into a mining family. His grandfather dug coal with a pick and shovel and carried it in a bamboo basket. Dynamite was used everyday. His father, a mining electrician, helped maintain conveyor belts and lamps. Coal was then transported by the belts and carried out of shafts by carts.

Today, Zhao operates a coal cutter. The conveyor belt runs twice as fast as that maintained by his father. Annual production of the mine is 12 million tons, 40 times the amount during his grandfather’s time.

Progress has been made in almost every sector of industry, bringing exponential increases in productivity. GDP skyrocketed to 82.7 trillion yuan (US$12.5 trillion) in 2017, well over 200 times more than the pre-opening-up figure.

Reform and opening up has not only unleashed productive forces, but emancipated the people. Former farmer Han Yonghui left his rural home in Xiangfen County in 1997 to start a business selling shaobing, a type of flat bread usually eaten for breakfast, in Tianjin.

He sells dozens of shaobing an hour during the breakfast rush, making over 10,000 yuan a month.

When he first left his hometown, he had to walk for an hour to the nearest train station, wait in line overnight to buy a ticket, before boarding a packed slow train that took him to Tianjin in 18 sweltering hours.

All that changed in 2014 when high-speed trains reached Han’s hometown, cutting his travel time to six hours.

In today’s China, every hour nearly 23 billion yuan is spent via smartphone, 3,300 vehicles are made and goods worth 3.2 billion yuan cross the border.

Reform and opening up may have taken 40 years to get this far, but with each passing hour the miracle continues.


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