Prices in the Mao era – a peasant’s view
This article has been spread around numerous Chinese forums, actual origin not clear. (原贴)
I was born in 1954, in a village in Shandong province. I have a sister, and our parents are also peasant farmers. I want to start by talking about the prices of agricultural goods, starting with wheat as an example. From 1970 – 1980, the market price for wheat was: 0.35 RMB/shijin (ed: 0.5 kg), later growing to 0.35 RMB/shijing. The cost of things didn’t really change, it was very stable during this period. So the problem I want to discuss is, when a farmer sells a half kilogram of wheat on the market, what can he do with that money?
When my younger sister enrolled in first great in 1970, she only need to pay 0.30 RMB. At the time she only paid book fees, there were no other miscellaneous fees, a true “one fee system” (ed: which is what China has been trying to return to in recent years). When classes started and books were issued, the two texts “Language” and “Arithmetic” had a set price of 0.28 RMB total. So, the extra two cents paid when enrolling were returned to each student. These 0.28 RMB was the total amount of tuition due for the entire semester. So, based on the prices at the time, a farmer only needed to sell 0.8 shijin of wheat.
Let’s take a look at other expenses: diesel fuel used for irrigation and tractors was priced at 8 cents per shijin. In other words, one shijin of wheat could bring back 4.38 shijin of diesel oil. Bus tickets were five cents RMB, meaning one shijin of wheat gave us seven trips on the bus. Most parks at the time were also free, and even the ones that charged money didn’t ask for more than five cents RMB. Watching movies at the theater, a movie ticket cost ten cents, meaning if a farmer sells a shijin of wheat, they could watch 3.8 movies.
At the time, the market price for an egg was four cents. Someone once roughly calculated: if you raised a hen, the eggs from that hen was enough to pay the schooling fees for two students. And that’s not unreasonable; tuition fees through middle school for my sister and I were basically covered by the hens raised my mom. The money from these hens, other than paying for our school fees, were also enough to pay for the family’s oil/salt/soy sauce/vinegar/tea and other basic necessities.
Now, let’s look at agricultural prices in today’s reform/opening up period. What can selling a shijin of wheat do for us? How many students can a hen put through school? I assume everyone has an account book in their own hearts (ed: I unfortunately don’t…), so I won’t bother listing it out one by one. Based on this comparison, it’s not hard to draw a conclusion: who is it that’s depressing the cost of agricultural goods!? Who is it that’s sacrificing the farmer’s interests?! Things should be very clear.
Finally, I want to emphasize: at the time farmers had to turn in “patriotic grain” (ed: grain taken from the harvest as tax), and farming taxes weren’t yet eliminated (ed: as they were a few years ago), but the burden on peasants at the time were much easier than what it is today! Although we didn’t have the things and money that we have today, but at least the peasants were really the country’s masters!
Based on what I’ve seen online and the people around me, a majority of average laobaixing are really nostalgic for the Mao Zedong era, because although that era was “poor”, but we felt fortunate, stable, and we lived for a goal. There are many reasons for this: idealism, very little exploitation, don’t have to put up with officials and the wealthy, and everyone was equal.
But really, were the laobaixing in the Mao era really that “poor”?
Anyone above the age of 40 lived through that period. During the Mao Era, people in the cities enjoyed free health care, universal health care, government-provided housing. Tuition for elementary school and middle school was very low, and university tuition wasn’t only free, students even received a stipend from the government. How much are these benefits worth in today’s prices? I took a rough guess at estimating it, might be too accurate, but you can use it as reference.
– Health care: using a random city’s 2004 costs as the standard, every person’s average medical costs every year is 1434 RMB. If we assume 4 people per household, that translates into 4302 RMB per household. People born in 1964 have a life expectancy of 75.85 years, so this translates into a total expenditure of 75.85×4320 = 435046 RMB.
– Education: using a random city’s 2004 costs as the standard, every household’s average expenditure on education is 5510 RMB. Over 75.85 years, this translates into 417934 RMB.
– Housing: In the 80s, average urban-dwellers had a housing space of 3.6 square meters. If we calculate at a cost of 3000 RMB/m2, and if every household lives in 1.3 homes, that translates into 56160 RMB.
All three things added together, that adds up to 909140 RMB! That is, the total amount of benefits an average family would’ve enjoyed over their life-time would’ve been equal to almost a million RMB!
Household income: using a random city’s 2004 standard, employed people had average income of 10009 RMB, and average subtracting average living costs, had savings of 5800 RMB. Every household consists of 1.6 workers, and each worker works an average of 35 years over the course of their life. So, total lifetime savings for an average family is 324800 RMB.
That means the benefits every family would have received is 2.8 times what they actually earn! Even if you work your entire life, it still wouldn’t be worth more than the benefits provided during the Mao Zedong era! Is the Mao Zedong era really that poor? If it was that poor, why were laobaixing enjoying such advantages?
And when Chairman Mao passed away, our country had no internal or external debt!
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