Dazhai, Shanxi, China
Portraits of Mao Tse-tung still occupy the place of honor in many homes here in Dazhai. Peasants remain grateful to Mao for freeing them from landlordism and encouraging them to stand on their own two feet. But whereas the late Chairman stressed the importance of collective endeavor, Dazhai today is set firmly on the path to individual as well as collective wealth.
The richest man in Dazhai today is a peasant who owns a secondhand minivan. He transports apples and other produce all around the county and to many towns beyond.
Typically, he was out the day we called at his arch-facaded home, but his fellow-villagers expect him to make close to 10,000 yuan ($5,000) this year.
As a collective, Dazhai runs a coal mine with 38 workers. Dazhai is also part of a larger entity, a commune, which is also called Dazhai and which operates a deer farm atop Tigerhead Mountain behind the village.
The deer are raised not for their meat but for their antlers, which are harvested twice a year. They bring 800 yuan ($400) per catty (1.1 pound).
''A male deer will produce an average of 1 1/2 catties of antlers per year,'' said Li Yinfa, manager of the farm. ''We started raising horses and cows, and we still do to some extent, but deer antlers are much more profitable.''
Bees and silkworms are another sideline of the farm. The deer farm benefits all the villages in Dazhai commune, but the coal mine belongs to Dazhai village itself.
''We started it last year with an investment of 20,000 yuan ($10,000) and we are already making a profit of over 4,000 yuan ($2,000) per month,'' said party secretary Zhao Suheng.
''Twenty-two of the miners are our own villagers, and in addition we hired 16 experts and helpers from outside.''
''How did you find the mine?'' I asked Mr. Zhao.