Liang Village is located in Rang County in southwestern Henan Province, 40 kilometers away from the nearest town. Rang County geographically features broad plains, low hills and few mountains. Twenty-nine rivers run through the county, bringing fertile black earth and moist soil.
The village is nothing special. It has much in common with millions of other Chinese villages, with nearly 2,000 residents who earn an annual average income of 3,000 yuan (US$480).
Liang Hong lived there the first two decades of her life. In 1993 she left her hometown for college. She graduated from Beijing Normal University with a PhD focusing on contemporary Chinese literature.
After obtaining a doctorate, Liang became a college teacher and began a life full of lectures and paperwork. But she felt empty, as though some connection between her and real life had been severed.
“If one has felt similar internal frustrations, some will choose to travel around the world, some will tolerate it. Me, I chose to return to my hometown,” Liang told NewsChina.
In 2008, Liang conducted five months of quasi-sociological and anthropological fieldwork in her hometown, conversing with villagers about their family relationships, personal development, housing conditions, marriage and child rearing.
“I hope to present the past and present, the happiness and sorrow of the village through my eyes,” said Liang.
The book China in Liang Village revealed the crisis at the heart of rural China during urbanization: the homeless left-behind children, the deficiency of educational resources, medical facilities and aged care institutions, the environmental devastation, the broken rural families, the twisted morality, farmers’ frustrated sex lives, and more.
“Liang Village in this book is a microcosm of the 400,000 villages that have been ‘eliminated’ over the past three decades,” the renowned agricultural economist Wen Tiejun commented.
Half the village population has left to work in the cities, transforming the village into an empty, dilapidated and ghostly place where only children, the sick and elderly remain.
“The village is full of weeds and ruins, which show its inner desolation, decline and exhaustion. Internally, the village is no longer a living organism. If villages lived, this one would have entered its twilight years and lost its vitality,” Liang wrote.
Liang feels the upheaval has resulted in a moral and spiritual vacuum. “The whole village is degenerating in all aspects, appallingly,” she said.
In China in Liang Village, Liang transcribes the stories and events that rock society: the introverted, lonely left-behind teenager who raped and killed an 82-year-old woman; the nine-year-old left-behind girl raped by an elderly neighbor; the transformation of a local school into a pig farm.
“Since when did rural life become a drag on the nation, the burden of the reform, development and modernity? Why has rural life come to symbolize social depravity and disease? […] How much conflict and error, suffering and crying, will the transformation take? These, perhaps, are problems that every intellectual who cares about rural China cannot avoid,” Liang wrote in the foreword to China in Liang Village.
The book has received critical acclaim. It gained the “People’s Literature Award of 2010” and was selected as one of the Top 10 non-fiction books of the year by Asiaweek. The Franz Kafka prize-winning writer Yan Lianke regards the book as “a theoretical window into contemporary China with insightful thoughts.”