That no longer seems to be the case. Over the past decade, the Chinese government has poured resources into rural areas, part of a broader rural revitalization project meant to attract talented young Chinese to settle in the countryside and boost “backward” rural economies. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, in 2020, 10.1 million people returned to the countryside to start businesses or engage in “innovation.” But it is not all top-down pressure. Over the past few years, a growing number of young urbanites have fantasized about fleeing the pressures of big city life for a supposedly pastoral countryside. In a group dedicated to “countryside living” on social media site Douban, tens of thousands of young Chinese talk about early retirement to the idyllic and natural beauty of rural China.
To an extent, the movements seem at odds with one another. As the government pushes to bring urban economic vitality to rural areas, young Chinese dream of a pastoral aesthetic untainted by work and financial pressures. So, who has it right?