Turning a profit -- creatively -- in today's China
The Wayaowan production team rents out a field for use as an open-air movie theater. It also rents out good vegetable-growing land to a factory at a price 2 1/2 times what it could make from the same land were it growing vegetables.
These are some of the enterprising ways in which the production team, whose main business is growing vegetables, has diversified its income since following Premier Zhao Ziyang's behest to "emancipate your minds" and think of new ways to increase profits.
(Mr. Zhao pioneered economic reforms featuring increased incentives and decentralized decisionmaking while he was Communist Party leader in Sichuan from 1975 to early 1980.)
This year, nearly half of Wayaowan's planned income of 70,000 yuan ($46,669) will come fro nonagricultural sources. Vegetables, in fact, will account for only 22,000 yuan -- less than one-third of total income, according to the production team's veteran leader, Liang Haiqing.
Gravel-voiced Mr. Liang, a farmhand before the founding of the People's Republic of China, has been team leader since 1958. During the chaotic period known as the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) when Mao's wife Jiang Qing and her cohorts held sway, Mr. Liang was attacked many times as a "capitalist- roader," he said smilingly, but he managed to survive.
Today, in most agricultural communes in Sichuan, decisionmaking has been decentralized from the commune level to the brigade level and thence to the team level. "We aren't controlled to death any more," said Mr. Liang. "We can make our own plans."
Here are the details of how Wayaowan plans to make 70,000 yuan this year, compared to 50,000 yuan last year. The team's resources are:
Manpower, 83 persons. Cultivate land, 50 mu or 8 1/3 acres. (Six mu make one acre). A flour mill, a tractor, and some smaller machines. Team members also have private plots, but these are minuscule -- 360 square feet per person.
Income from these private plots is personal and is not included in the 70,000 yuan calculation. For vegetables, the team's principal occupation, 40 mu or nearly 7 acres are set aside. Thirty team members in two groups are assigned to vegetable production, each group being responsible for 20 mu. Income over the year from vegetables is expected to total 22,000 yuan ($14,666), the largest single item on the revenue side.
Five people are assigned to the fishpond, which will produce 12,000 yuan ($8, 000) in income. Pigs raised by team members and sold to the state bring in 2, 100 yuan ($1,400).
Six persons are assigned to the flour mill, which is new this year. The mill will yield 8,000 yuan ($5,322).
Finally, 40 persons work outside the team in factories and other enterprises. These enterprises pay the team a total of 3,200 yuan ($2,400) for the use of the team's manpower. In addition, the team makes 10,000 yuan ($6,666) a year from another new enterprise -- breaking rocks for construction.
The team also rents three mu -- half an acre -- to a factory at 3,800 yuan rent per year. "If we grew vegetables on it, we could make 500 yuan a year per mu. So we are getting over twice as much from the factory as we would from our vegetables," said MR. Liang.
"Why not give up vegetables and rent out all your land?" Mr. Liang was asked. "Or enlarge your fishpond, which seems so profitable?"
"No, no," he replied, "that would not be allowed."
"Our duty is to provide vegetables to Chongqing Shi [Chungking City]. We can engage in these other pursuits only after we have fulfilled that main duty."
So there is, after all, a limit on what production teams are allowed to do. Bearing this in mind, however. Wayaowan has shown remarkable ingenuity. It rents out a field for use as an open-air film theater, at 3,000 yuan ($2,000) per year. Finally, it collects pollution compensation of 4,400 ($2,932) from a watch and clock factory that harmed the waters of its fishpond.
Grand total: 71,000 yuan. And next year? "Oh, maybe we'll break a few more rocks,c said Mr. Liang.