Where do you live?
Town- and country-dwellers have radically different prospects
Rus in urbe
IN DAYI COUNTY, a couple of hours’ drive down a motorway from the city of Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province, Chinese tourists stroll through the meandering courtyards of a rural mansion. In the 1950s, soon after Mao seized power, the mansion was turned into a museum, intended as a showcase of evil. It once belonged to Liu Wencai, a landowner supposedly notorious for ill-treating his tenant farmers. Liu embodied a class despised by Mao, who came to power on the back of a promise to give land back to the peasants.
In its Maoist heyday the museum was a place of pilgrimage. Red Guards swarmed there for ritual denunciations of Liu and his ilk. A high point of their visit was a trip to the “water dungeon”, a room with several inches of water covering the floor where Liu had allegedly kept disobedient farmers. Another was a series of life-size sculptures of peasants and their vicious oppressors. A politically disfavoured curator from Beijing’s Forbidden City who happened to look like Liu was forced to stand next to the sculptures as a “living Liu Wencai” so that visitors could shout and (though not strictly permitted) spit at him, according to Geremie Barmé of Australian National University.