Almost every home in the village - only a 40-minute car ride from Beijing - looks the same as theirs; windows framed in rough timber, covered in peeling paint or paper, a small courtyard full of vegetables with a blackened stove sitting in the corner, and an interior plastered with garage-sale-grade catholic iconography. Such was the home in which I was sitting on the first day of my weekend stay in Yanzikou village, a small community of about 260 farmers - now with internet access.
“Can I see the computer?” I asked the teenage boy and his older sister, and was taken to a room with a bed the size of a car seat, a few pieces of run-down furniture and a desktop computer jammed in the corner.
Just on the edge of the girl’s sea foam colored table, weathered and flaking from neglect was a pocket mp3 player, it’s red LED indicator blinking obliviously to its surroundings.
This is the modern age in rural China, I thought.
Material ambitions have outstripped the means to achieve them and while people may be living in houses without heat or proper plumbing, they have IP addresses and big screen TVs. That with Internet access comes the opportunity for all manner of enlightenment and apathy is no surprise, but against a rural, sometimes seemingly medieval backdrop, the change is more jarring.
In a small Chinese village most people are related and you do your social networking through your family, not your Facebook. Everyone in China gets referred to as “uncle” or “auntie,” but in these cases, the terms are literal and when you envision your friend’s you probably don’t see a thumbnail picture with their name under it.
As is the case most everywhere, the younger generation is more tech-savvy than their parents, but what that means is not only ability, but also access. Put simply, kids living in the village are no longer confined to it in terms of educational, cultural, or social horizons.
Take the girl for example: she not only uses the computer to earn a degree and one day pursue a job, but also keep up on her American sitcoms, and manage her social life. Not only that, but she also uses it to manage her spiritual life.
Her attendance of a school in the city keeps her from going to the Catholic church in the village, so she listens to sermons online for touch-of-a-button spiritual guidance. For the young student and aspiring professional the Internet has superseded, at the very least out of ease, her community as a source of council.
While their parent’s are more attached to the television as entertainment, the children and young adults have accepted the computer and the Internet as something much more – a cultural hearth.