Xiaogang, Anhui: Can You Hear the Roar of Prosperity from China’s Quiet Revolution?





One of the most touching and courageous moments in China’s recent history is depicted in the painting shown here of a secret meeting of farmers in a tiny village that few people have ever seen or heard of. It was the beginning of a quiet revolution, what one might call China’s Second Revolution, whose roar continues to inspire and strengthen this land. These farmers are gathered in a hut in a dark side room free of windows to keep the meeting hidden from spies. As the mostly illiterate farmers touched the red ink pad to sign an illegal contract with their fingerprints, they were putting more than ink onto paper: they were putting their lives on the line. That moment in 1978 marks the birth of a revolution that has changed the world and blessed hundreds of millions in this land. It’s a story rich in basic lessons that the West may need to relearn in order to survive.

Xiaogang Signing

The village is called Xiaogang (pronounced like “Shau Gong”). It’s a tiny dot on the map in Anhui Province about an hour away from the major city of Bengbu, a city most Westerners have never heard of because, of course, it only has the population of Chicago. But Xiaogang Village is really small, I’d guess around a thousand people or less, and that’s counting the outsiders who work here to staff their gargantuan tourist buildings that commemorate the economic revolution that began here. After learning about the dramatic but not frequently shared story, I finally made a pilgrimage in 2017 to what is now a sacred spot.

The story basically is that the village of Xiaogang had been suffering from the effects of the Great Leap Forward and then the Cultural Revolution, along with some bad weather, perhaps. The old system of that day left people with relatively little incentive to work hard and produce more. They were starving. Whether they worked hard all day or just slept, they would still get inadequate food and risk starvation. Why bother? But they suspected there was a better way. Led by a brave man, the farmers met and agreed to implement a bold new (but actually very ancient) system. The contract they signed agreed to give a portion to the government and then they would get to keep the surplus for themselves. In the article “Xiaogang, Anhui,” Wikipedia describes the Xiaogang miracle this way:

During the Great Leap Forward, Fengyang County, along with much of the rest of the country, experienced a period of famine. A quarter of the county’s population, 90,000 people, died of starvation. In Xiaogang village alone, 67 villagers died of starvation out of a population of 120 between 1958 and 1960.

In December 1978, eighteen of the local farmers, led by Yan (NPR’s name is a typo, there is no YEN in Chinese romanization) Jingchang,[2] met in the largest house in the village. They agreed to break the law at the time by signing a secret agreement to divide the land, local People’s Commune, into family plots. Each plot was to be worked by an individual family who would turn over some of what they grew to the government and the collective whilst at the same time agreeing that they could keep the surplus for themselves. The villagers also agreed that should one of them be caught and sentenced to death that the other villagers would raise their children until they were eighteen years old.[2][3] At the time, the villagers were worried that another famine might strike the village after a particularly bad harvest and more people might die of hunger.

After this secret reform, Xiaogang village produced a harvest that was larger than the previous five years combined.[2] Per capita income in the village increase from 22 yuan to 400 yuan with grain output increasing to 90,000 kg in 1979.[3] This attracted significant attention from surrounding villages and before long the government in Beijing had found out. The villagers were fortunate in that at the time China had just changed leadership after Mao Zedong had died. The new leadership under Deng Xiaoping was looking for ways to reform China’s economy and the discovery of Xiaogang’s innovation was held up as a model to other villages across the country. This led to the abandonment of collectivised farming across China and a large increase in agricultural production. The secret signing of the contract in Xiaogang is widely regarded as the beginning of the period of rapid economic growth and industrialisation that mainland China has experienced in the thirty years since.

This is dramatic stuff, and it’s been recognized by the Chinese government as a key moment in China’s history. Wonderfully, Deng Xiaoping embraced the Xiaogang miracle, which was vital inspiration for the economic reforms he introduced. The timing was just right, and as a result, when local police came knocking on the door of the main farmer behind the conspiracy, it was not to take him to his death as he expected, but to ask for help in expanding their illegal system across many more farms in China. He came away from the police station as hero, not as a criminal, and China awoke to a revolution that continues to roar. Some of you will call that capitalism and an abandonment of Chinese socialism, but over here I think it’s more officially viewed as an important modification in socialism, part of the unique Chinese approach, that overcomes empty “bubble talk” and lack of commitment to work that many faced. However you want to package it, it was a huge step for China. I have seen the burden of poverty in this country and yearn for China’s economic success, and applaud the brave farmers who started the revolution and the policy makers who recognized and learned from their wisdom. What a revolution it has been.

I hope you’ll consider a trek to Xiaogang someday. (I might even join you if you give me advance notice.)

Getting there wasn’t too difficult from Shanghai. It required two or so hours in a high-speed train, often reaching 300 km/hr, to reach Bengbu, and then about an hour in a taxi to reach the village. The town is pretty much just one side road on the main highway. But it has a big arch as you enter, and then a giant tourist center, and then you find that the tourist center is not about the historical event that should make this town famous, but about its current geography, agriculture, climate, etc. Not what IO came for, but nice to have, I suppose.

Only after inquiring did we learn that the place celebrating the key historical event is on an even bigger building about one kilometer down the only side road off the main highway the the town seems to have.

When my wife and I with two other Western friends finally arrived at the primary building about the Xiaogang miracle, I was amazed at how large it was. And what a thrill to finally be there! But where were all the crowds? The place was obviously built with the expectation of big tour groups, but it seemed rather vacant on the Saturday when we showed up. Never mind, I was so excited to finally be here.

As we entered and paid a small fee, it was about 11:50 AM, and the staff informed us that it would be lunch in 10 minutes and we would have to leave until lunch was over at 1:30 PM. Since we had a 3 PM train to Nanjing for additional plans and would need to leave by 2 PM, waiting until 1:30 would be a huge set back. I politely pleaded our case: “We are foreigners who have traveled a long way to see this vitally important site in Chinese history. We have looked forward to this for so long and now are here on a tight schedule. We have to go to Nanjing this afternoon and would not be able to see all the museum if we wait until 1:30. We won’t cause any trouble and don’t need any help. Can we please just stay and look around during your lunch? Please?” No, sorry, we are closed at noon. Come back at 1:30. We didn’t get anywhere with diplomacy, so we rushed in and started looking and shooting photos. A friend suggested we just stay and keep looking. But soon a staff member came to escort us out and right at 12:00 the lights went out. China has made huge progress in customer service attitudes during my six years here, but sometimes there is still room for progress. Tourist sites that close in the middle of a Saturday for lunch (or naps) represent an opportunity for progress, IMHO.

The memorial had some frank information though it was very tactfully presented and balanced with reminders of the positive impact of officials over the years that greatly cheered and motivated the workers.  But repeatedly we can see hints about the excesses of the Cultural Revolution. The scene below from the museum is of a landowner being harassed for having taken the “capitalist road.” Those scenes could be very tragic.

During our 10 minute spree through the building, we realized it was just a museum and didn’t look like it housed the site where the economic revolution began. On our way out, though, we asked some more questions. “Oh, you want to see the old hut? It’s just down the street, about 200 meters, and it’s open during lunch.” Ah hah! Glad we didn’t spend all our time in the museum to miss the most important site. There was the hut where it all began, and the side room with the table where the contract was signed. We sat there and put our fingers to the pad and thought of the brave farmers, tired of watching loved ones die of starvation, risking their lives for the right to keep a reasonable chunk of what they produce. Economics 101, but forgotten by too many in our world.

The result of the conspiracy was a sudden boom in prosperity. About a 600% increase! It went viral and lifted one of the poorest parts of China. Farmers rose out of poverty and could afford luxuries like a television, a ceiling fan, and a sewing machine.

The leader of China today, Xi Jinping, paid tribute to Xiaogong with a 2016 visit. Of that moment in history and of those brave farmers, he said this:

“The daring feet that we did at the risk of our lives in those days has become a thunder arousing China’s reform, and a symbol of China’s reform.” 

Whatever you think about the politics of China and the revolution that gave us the nation of China, I think all of us Westerners can embrace and learn from this second revolution of China that has lifted so many of its people and brought so much opportunity and hope. At this time of thanksgiving, the courage of those who brought about the Xiaogang miracle is one of the things that I am grateful for. And how grateful I am that I could visit that site and meet some of the locals of Xiaogang. Sadly, I was the first foreigner they had seen there for months, one worker told me. Wish more of you would come by and experience the spirit of this place.

History in the Making: The US-China IP Adjudication Conference, May 28-30, 2012, Beijing

After 3 years of planning and navigating complex political waters, a historic event finally took place in Beijing last week at China’s top university for IP law, Renmin University. Top justices, judges, lawyers, business leaders and academicians from the US and China gathered for 3 intensive days of sharing regarding intellectual property and the courts. There were over 1,000 people that attended, including numerous judges and IP thought leaders from China and the US. The number of judges from China was said to be 300, though most of the Chinese people I met were not judges but lawyers, business leaders, and students, though I did have lunch with a Chinese judge and met several in other settings during the conference.

The leaders and speakers of the conference included US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) Chief Justice Randall Rader, one of the most brilliant and influential minds in US patent law whose decisions have long been shaping US law and practice. He is a strong advocate of international collaboration and appears to have been one of the primary driving forces between this event. I was pleased to see a total of 7 Federal Circuit judges present, most visiting China for their fist time, including these 6 Circuit Judges: Raymond C. Clevenger III, Richard Linn, Timothy B. Dyk, Sharon Prost, Kimberly A. Moore, and Jimmie V. Reyna. Also playing prominent roles were Gary Locke, US Ambassador to China; David Kappos, Director of the US Patent and Trademark Office; Mark Cohen, the USPTO’s former Attaché to the US Embassy in Beijing; Steven C. Lambert, President, Federal Circuit Bar Association; and many others. Mark Cohen wowed the crowd by delivering his speech in fluent Mandarin, though his rather erudite citations of Chinese poetry and classics sometimes challenged the gifted translators who made this bilingual conference accessible to everyone present.

On the Chinese side, we were elated to have active participation by Chief Judge Kong Xiangjun, IPR Tribunal of the Supreme People’s Court. Also from the IPR Tribunal of the Supreme People’s Court were Deputy Chief Judge Jin Kesheng, Supervisory Attaché Zhang Shengzu, Presiding Judge Yu Xiaobai, Presiding Judge Wang Yongchang, Presiding Judge Xia Junli, and Judge Zhu Li. These judges, with the 7 from the US Federal Circuit, were part of an “en banc” panel discussing US and China law and IP adjudication. Fascinating! Also representing China was Chong Quan, Deputy Deputy China International Trade Representative and a leader of MOFCOM (China Ministry of Commerce).

In addition to many keynote speeches and panel discussions, there were also breakout sessions on such topics such as trademark law, patent litigation, pharmaceutical patent adjudication, and copyright law. Definitely one of the most interesting and information-packed IP conferences I’ve ever attended.

For many, the highlight may have been the afternoon of mock trials in which the same case was presented in an appeal to the US Federal Circuit and to the IPR Tribunal of the People’s Supreme Court of China. Judge Rader lead the 3-judge panel for the US mock trial. The mock trials allowed representatives of both nations to quickly grasp important differences in procedure, though both courts came to essentially the same conclusion in a genuinely interesting real case involving an advance in safety equipment for a circular saw. Following the trials, there was further exchange between the judges of both countries as they discussed their different systems and what they had learned from one another. What a tremendous learning experience and example of meaningful international cooperation.

The rapidity of China’s progress in IP law and adjudication has been breathtaking, in spite of the many complaints made by voices in the West, and the obvious need for further improvements. But from a historical perspective, to go from virtually no IP law in the early 1980s to a world-class system that is leading the world in patent filing now, with the ability of foreign plaintiffs to win against Chinese companies in Chinese courts, represents massive progress worthy of respect. Exchanges like this recent one in Beijing will influence the thought leaders of both nations to further learn from each other and strengthen our approaches to IP law. Many thanks to all those who made this monumental event possible.

In the closing session, I was able to ask a question to the panelists about what future impact they anticipated might come from this exchange. Chief Judge Kong kindly fielded that question and spoke eloquently of the growth of IP law in China and the rich opportunity they had to draw from the US experience and strengthen their system. There is no doubt in my mind that China is rapidly learning and growing and a visionary eye toward the future. I hope the US can keep up and remain a worthy partner and competitor!

Below are some photos of the event that I took.

Related resources: David Kappos’ blog, “China as an IP Stakeholder.”
 

Liu Yang, Exec. VP of the China Law Society, introduces speakers in the first session.  Also visible are Mark Cohen (USPTO), Chong Quan (MOFCOM), David Kappos (USPTO), and Shen De Yong (VP of the Supreme People's Court).

Liu Yang, Exec. VP of the China Law Society, introduces speakers in the first session. Also visible are Mark Cohen (USPTO), Chong Quan (MOFCOM), David Kappos (USPTO), and Shen De Yong (VP of the Supreme People's Court).

First panel.

First session. Left to right: David Kappos (USPTO), Shen Deyong (VP Supreme People's Court), Chief Judge Randall Rader (US CAFC), Chen Jiping (Executive VP, China Law Society), US Ambassador Gary Locke, and Chen Yulu (President, Renmin University).

Judge Rader

Chief Judge Randall Rader is one of the rock stars of IP--literally. I asked him if he was going to perform for us in the evening but sadly, he informed me that he had left his band behind in the US for this event. I took the opportunity to compliment Judge Rader on setting a great example by being visibly active in areas other than his profession alone. His pursuit of rock music with a real band, even while in the judiciary, is one of many attributes that makes Judge Rader one of the more interesting and likable people in IP law. His passion for China is also part of the Rader equation. Many thanks for making this historic event happen!

Jeff Lindsay in front of the Ming De complex at Renmin University where the Adjudication Conference was held.

David Kappos, head of the US Patent and Trademark Office, speaks. His support for this event was crucial and much appreciated.

Gary Locke, US Ambassador to China.

Gary Locke, US Ambassador to China.

Richard Rainey, Executive Counsel, IP Litigation, General Electric.

Richard Rainey, Executive Counsel, IP Litigation, General Electric.

By | 2016-10-24T05:58:01+00:00 June 3rd, 2012|Categories: China, Innovation, Patent law, Politics, Products, Relationships, Society|Comments Off on History in the Making: The US-China IP Adjudication Conference, May 28-30, 2012, Beijing

George Washington’s Farewell Address: Useful Resource

The Rhetoric of George Washington’s Farewell Address” by Halford Ryan (Speaker and Gavel, 2001) is a valuable essay on George Washington’s famous speech that helps provide insight into what he meant and where he borrowed ideas from others. I find it especially helpful for better understanding the origins of his neutrality policies and his warnings against being entangled in international (European) affairs. This speech is unique in being legislatively required to be read to both houses of Congress each year, though the House of Representatives abandoned this duty (like so many others!) in 1984. It is still read in the Senate.

Imagine how much more secure our nation would be if we had continued to heed the warnings of George Washington.

By | 2006-12-25T13:54:52+00:00 December 25th, 2006|Categories: Politics|Comments Off on George Washington’s Farewell Address: Useful Resource

Missile Defense: Isn’t It Time to Be More Aggressive?

Missile defense ought to be on everyone’s mind these days as rogue nations like North Korea develop nuclear weapons and missile programs. They don’t have missiles that can reach the United States – yet – but surely that will come next. But China, the real ally and builder of North Korea, already has that technology and has nuclear missiles that at least used to be pointed at the United States.

If our politicians really want to protect the United States, there are three things needed. One, seal our borders so terrorists can’t simply walk across and bring a dirty bomb into the United States. Second, build a powerful missile defense program to provide a strengthened defense system against nuclear missiles. And third, quit providing financial and technological support to nations that have weapons aimed at us or that provide help and support to nations like North Korea. Nations that help our enemies should not be getting our money. Any questions?

For insight into some of the issues around missile defense, see “Countering North Korea’s Missiles: The Missile Defense System the U.S. Should Have” by Baker , June 2006. It argues persuasively that it’s long past time for Congress to support an improved missile defense system for dealing with ICBMs, such as the foolishly abandoned 1991 Global Protection Against Limited Strikes (GPALS) missile defense plan. We have the technology. What we need are politicians who care more about defending America than they care about keeping our global “partners” happy.

By | 2017-12-25T06:11:14+00:00 October 26th, 2006|Categories: Politics|Comments Off on Missile Defense: Isn’t It Time to Be More Aggressive?

Economic Slowdown = Decreased Tax Revenues, Accelerating Debt

A valuable and no-nonsense source of analysis on the economy is JS Mineset. Author Jim Sinclair’s commentary on inflation, debt, finances, mortgages, investing, and especially precious metals offers a savvy look at what most investors are gleefully ignoring. Most recently, he has exposed the foolishness of the media/government/Wall Street spin about the “Goldilocks economy.” What we are facing is much more painful and serious than the spin-masters would have us believe, but there are things you can do – or must do! – now to prepare yourself. Buying more stocks like Ford and General Motors is not the answer.

By | 2006-09-03T17:56:15+00:00 September 3rd, 2006|Categories: Investing, Politics|Comments Off on Economic Slowdown = Decreased Tax Revenues, Accelerating Debt

Another Opportunity for Lost Sovereignty?

Have you even heard about the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America? Very few Americans noticed this major initiative of the Bush Administration that was created without a vote of Congress. In fact, relatives of mine in Utah contacted the offices of their Senators to ask what they knew of it, and neither office had apparently heard of this either.  But there it is, a new international effort aimed at bringing Mexico, Canada, and the US together in the name of enhanced security and economic development. The kind of security this promotes is NOT the kind that most Americans think about, such as the security of actually protecting our borders in a time of war. Think more open borders. Think more power given to unelected officials without the bests interests of the United States in mind. Mmm, sweet security, here it comes.

By | 2017-12-25T06:07:27+00:00 August 6th, 2006|Categories: Politics|Comments Off on Another Opportunity for Lost Sovereignty?

Anger in America

Why Are Americans so Angry?” by Rep. Ron Paul of Texas raises solid questions about the disappointment and anger of many Americans over what is happening in Iraq. Here is an excerpt:

Some of the strongest supporters of the war declare that we are a Christian nation, yet use their religious beliefs to justify the war. They claim it is our Christian duty to remake the Middle East and attack the Muslim infidels. Evidently I have been reading from a different Bible. I remember something about “Blessed are the peacemakers.”

My beliefs aside, Christian teaching of nearly a thousand years reinforces the concept of “The Just War Theory.” This Christian theory emphasizes six criteria needed to justify Christian participation in war. Briefly the six points are as follows:

  1. War should be fought only in self defense;
  2. War should be undertaken only as a last resort;
  3. A decision to enter war should be made only by a legitimate authority;
  4. All military responses must be proportional to the threat;
  5. There must be a reasonable chance of success; and
  6. A public declaration notifying all parties concerned is required.

The war in Iraq fails to meet almost all of these requirements. This discrepancy has generated anger and division within the Christian community.

Some are angry because the war is being fought out of Christian duty, yet does not have uniform support from all Christians. Others are angry because they see Christianity as a religion as peace and forgiveness, not war and annihilation of enemies.

Constitutional and moral restraints on war should be strictly followed. It is understandable when kings, dictators, and tyrants take their people into war, since it serves their selfish interests– and those sent to fight have no say in the matter. It is more difficult to understand why democracies and democratic legislative bodies, which have a say over the issue of war, so readily submit to the executive branch of government. The determined effort of the authors of our Constitution to firmly place the power to declare war in the legislative branch has been ignored in the decades following WWII.

By | 2017-12-22T21:04:29+00:00 July 7th, 2006|Categories: Politics|Comments Off on Anger in America

Bush Threatens North Korea with Financial Payloads

President Bush issued a stern warning to North Korea today in response to the missile crisies, a warning that is expected to bring the North Koreans to the negotiating table:

“The United States is prepared to retaliate against North Korea with the full force of the United States Treasury. If North Korea will not abandon their missiles, then we are prepared to conduct precision bombing operations to deliver massive payloads of cash to enemy targets. (more…)

By | 2016-10-24T05:58:02+00:00 July 5th, 2006|Categories: Politics, Satire|Comments Off on Bush Threatens North Korea with Financial Payloads