Fuzhou, China — Peasants of Lusha production brigade on the outskirts of this city are competing with one another to see who can build the biggest house. So far, the winner seems to be Liu Wenxi, who recently completed an 18-room, three-story house for his family of nine. Not far behind is his cousin Liu Wenxiang, whose house, still unfinished, has 13 rooms.
''I ran out of money,'' explains the second Mr. Liu. ''By the time I am finished, my house will probably have cost me around 20,000 yuan ($10,000).''
Such a competition would have been unimaginable in the days before the third plenum - that is, before the policy of encouraging peasants to get rich triumphed at the Communist Party Central Committee meeting of December 1978.
Chairman Deng Xiaoping and his followers - Premier Zhao Ziyang and Communist Party General Secretary Hu Yaobang - are identified with this policy, which contrasts sharply with the egalitarianism of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76).
Peasants in many parts of China repeat this ditty: ''Mao Tse-tung freed us (from the landlords), Deng Xiaoping is making us rich.''
This correspondent visited both Mr. Lius during a recent visit to the coastal province of Fujian. The second Mr. Liu, who is a member of the party committee of the Lusha brigade and director of a brigade-run hardware factory, explains how, in the six years since 1978, the 2,420 people of Lusha had increased their income from 320,000 yuan ($160,000) per year to 2.2 million yuan ($1.1 million) last year.
''We have only 669 mu (553/4 acres) of cultivated land for our 520 households ,'' he says. ''In 1978 our total income was 320,000 yuan, of which two-thirds came from grain and one-third from subsidiary occupations,'' mostly fruit.
Some other communes close to large urban areas have increased their income by planting and selling vegetables.
But Lusha, Mr. Liu says, chose the industrial route to lift itself out of agricultural poverty.
''We started with a small hardware factory, which I ran,'' he says. ''Gradually, over the years, we diversified. Today we have seven factories, large and small.''
The largest, the brick kiln, employs 170 people. There are also workshops making quilts, plastic bags for fertilizers, and farm tools. There is a paper mill and a grain-processing mill. The most recent project is a contract to supply parts for an electronics enterprise in Fuzhou.
Today only 200 of the brigade's 1,000-strong work force are in agriculture. And less than 10 percent of last year's total income came from agriculture.
This brigade, Mr. Liu says, does not give land under contract to families, like other agricultural communities.
Instead, agriculture is used as a kind of dumping ground for surplus labor and for people in families - wives, for instance - who do not want to work full-time.
Agricultural work has peak periods when every available hand is wanted, but for much of the year there is not that much work to do.
The typical pattern for a family in Lusha is that one or two members work on the land and the others are all in industry or sideline occupations. Mr. Liu's son, for instance, drives a tractor that he rents from the brigade, paying a fee of 600 yuan ($300) a year.
In one day, Mr. Liu says, ''My son earns 50 yuan ($25) hauling goods on the rented tractor. He is busy all day: Did you notice how he just joined us for 15 minutes at lunch and wolfed down his meal?''
The path Lusha is taking is the one that the central government would like to encourage for all agricultural communities with any possibility of setting up industry. Lusha, which can offer cheap, well-trained labor power, is already talking directly with factories in Shanghai to do subcontracting work.