Hongshan, China — WELL, wouldn't you be startled too if a bearded stranger bristling with cameras came walking through your quiet community? Hongshan (meaning ``Red Hill'') is a town of some 2,000 people down a dirt road about 16 miles from the nearest paved highway to Hangzhou. But the villagers were quickly assured when they saw that the child of one of their own neighbors was leading the strange foreigner around. Eight-year-old Jun Liwei held my hand tightly while he gave me a tour of his world.
As we walked through the intersection at the center of Hongshan, office workers left their desks to watch from upper-floor windows, owners and customers ran to shop doorways, and people cheered or chuckled as Liwei tugged on the visitor's sleeve to get him going in the right direction.
The boy made a beeline toward the village-owned textile mill -- to point out his mother, who was threading bobbins. Then he indicated that his guest should photograph the astonished people over at the weaving machines.
Throughout my visit, I continued to make photos of a family that includes the paternal great-grandmother, grandfather, and grandmother, Jun Yongfu (Liwei's father), Chen Yashen (Liwei's mother), and of course Liwei. They live in a two-story, four-bedroom house with tiled floors throughout, except for the two storage rooms, the pigpen, and two courtyards.
My bedroom, usually occupied by Mr. Jun's mother, was easily as spacious as many found in modern homes in the West. The sparse furnishings included a double-bedlike sleeping platform that had four posts to hold up the mosquito netting. The bathroom had a tiled tub that served also as a shower (the tub was filled by a hose). Grandfather Jun demonstrated how to make water flow over the overhead system of coils that heat water for the shower. But despite all this new bathroom equipment, the men of the family seemed to prefer bathing after dark in the pond out back.
Though Mr. Jun is a local Communist Party leader, his home differs little from dozens of others in this -- for China -- very wealthy farming community.
The first thing this visitor noticed was that Jun's wife, the textile worker, was not at home to help with the rather extensive meal preparation that went into having a guest. Head-of-the-house Jun and great-grandmother Xu Maoku did much of the work over a tiled stove fueled by crackly cotton stalks garnered from the nearby fields. During the kitchen activity, Liwei showed me one of the family's future moneymakers: the pig, who resided in a room adjoining the house.
Our midday and evening meals included fresh corn on the cob, boiled shrimp, fried fish, boiled pork strips, squash, fried eggplant, green soy beans in the pod, tea, orange drink, and boiled rice.
The next morning, Mr. Jun abruptly strode off to the fields, barely finishing his breakfast of left-over fish and eggplant. In the gray, humid dawn, he checked with some of the farmers on the progress of the rice harvest that was under way. The harvest and replanting period is a brief and intense period. As a local leader, Jun must keep villagers informed of market trends and farming methods that can boost production. Jun wore a white shirt symbolic of his rank among the common laborers. And though he was often in the fields, it was apparent that his work as a party cadre was relatively free of manual labor.