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Lingard CHEN

Rural areas have always been an important part of China. Even now when cities are everywhere, there are still 691,510 administrative villages in China, including 900 million people in terms of household registration. Chinese rural areas, like every city in the world, are both familiar and mysterious. We always say that this place breeds people who are austere and honest. However, as a person who has a deep understanding of Chinese rural area for more than ten years, only the addition of “Rén Qíng Shì Gù” could make this description more comprehensive. 

“Rén Qíng Shì Gù” includes how people communicate with each other, do things and so on. The concept of it is the same as the concept of law. Everything we can think of is included and bound by it, except that the law tells people what they should not do, while “Rén Qíng Shì Gù” tells people what they must do. Since it includes everything, money, the thing all humankind love, must play an important part in it.

“Rén Qíng Shì Gù”, especially valued by folks in Chinese rural areas, affects most aspects of people's lives. Holding large-scale events in the countrysides is one example of being deeply influenced by it. They would usually hold large banquets and invite relatives and friends to celebrate weddings or birthdays in the family. But because rural families rarely have good economic conditions, holding such banquets often requires a lot of savings, so a tradition has been left from ancient times to the present-“Suí Fèn Zi Qián.” Friends and relatives who are invited to participate banquets would give money to the host family to help reduce the financial burden of holding the banquets. This was originally a good thing. Helping each other is conducive to a more stable and harmonious society, but that custom went astray from what was originally intended when people in rural area began to take “Suí Fèn Zi Qián” as a way to make a profit.

To earn more, some would create various reasons to invite friends and relatives. It’s reasonable that rural families hold feasts to celebrate the family member’s birthday or marriage. However, some married couples would hold their second weddings. In some rural areas of China, some even  hold feasts for pigs giving birth. Before the banquet is held, rural people would even invite associates or distant relatives who have not been in contact for decades. If the invited person cannot come for some reason, well, money can be brought to the host by someone else. At this time, you might say that rejection can solve this problem. However, the reality is often not so simple given that rural China is a very close-knit society. When someone rejects an invitation to a banquet, rumors of his / her disrespect would spread in the community, immediately affecting that person’s daily life. Over time, the people who give a lot of money in banquets would, therefore, hold a banquet to “earn” back the money, effectively transforming the countryside into a "Bar" where people host banquets every day.

When I first encountered this phenomenon, I confided extreme confusion when I saw the host's fake smile at the guests and the real smile at the money he received. It was so ironic. So this is what we called honest and austere? What I witnessed was no longer the spirit of a wedding or birthday celebration but the endless hypocrisy. Having seen many similar scenes, I realized one thing: these two expressions seem to not only appear on the sly people but also on the kinder people’s faces too. A few days ago, while thinking about this phenomenon, I suddenly understood that it is not the rural people who are wrong but the society in which they live. They were born into a community which has been changed by their ancestors. Due to the influence of the peasant mentality, the thinking mode of the rural people has long been limited by the narrow range of where they live, resulting in their tendency to look out only for their own interests. In order that they earn enough to survive, they must imitate this toxic pattern — receiving the money previously given through banquets.

Although the Chinese rural area caused by Rén Qíng Shì Gù is like a terrible kingdom, it is not exactly a terrible one. Otherwise, there would not be so many people still living in the Chinese rural area in such a free world. In a society where people interact with each other intensively, Rén Qíng Shì Gù also exudes a touch of tenderness. It makes the rural area a secular but more importantly, it inspires people to do good deeds. When a family in the village is in trouble, other villagers will try their best to help. Those who have the money would lend ,and those who don't would offer physical labor. Although this may be done out of fear of gossip or with a return favor in mind, the result is that the family which is in trouble got the assistance it needs, which. In the city where where people rarely know each other, acquiring this kind of help is rare. 

Rural China is such a magical place. Its twisted side is so disgusting, but its warm side is so moving. That's why I hate it and love it.

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