One-sixth of an acre per person -- that is the amount of farm land available for the 2,100 men, women, and children who live in Wugui, a mainly grain-growing community half an hour's drive from the metropolis of Chengdu.
Wayaowan, a vegetable-growing hamlet inside the city limits of Chungking, has even less land per person -- a little more than 1/24th of an acre.
Of course, one does not need as much acreage to grow vegetables profitably as one does for grain. But these figures show how crushing is the burden of population growth in China. They explain why communities such as Wugui and Wayaowan are urgently diversifying their sources of income into sideline occupations and nonagricultural enterprises.
Under the energetic reformist policies of Zhao Ziyang, Sichuan's Communist Party leader from 1975 to early 1980, this France-sized province with a population of 97 million -- nearly twice that of France -- was one of the first to encourage diversification. (Mr. Zhao became premier of China in September.)
In Wugui, a four-story office building thrusts its proud head from among the collection of thatched-roof cottages that at present house the headquarters of the production brigade. (Peasants in China are organized in three tiers: the commune of several tens of thousands of people; the production brigade of about 2,000, corresponding to the villages of pre-communist China; and the production team of 100 to 200, corresponding to hamlets within villages. The commune today is largely an administrative unit.)
Nearly complete, with over 2,000 square yards of floor space, the building is being erected by the brigade's own construction unit. It will house the headquarters and ancillary units.
Among these is a shoemaking enterprise temporarily housed in a couple of shacks, employing 36 or 37 young people. The shoes cost 16.5 yuan ($11) a pair and the leather comes from nearby Xindu. The soles are made from old tires stacked in the yard.
A visitor to Wugui will also be invited by Mrs. Zhang Yuzhen, the brigade's brisk 37-year-old vice-chairman, to see the woodworking shop, the basketmaking establishment, and the restaurant. In addition, there is a unit that repairs agricultural machinery and another that repairs clocks and watches.
"All in all," Mrs. Zhang said, "30 percent of the brigade's 520,000 yuan [$ 346,000] of income this year will come from sideline occupations such as pig farming and beekeeping and from nonagricultural enterprises."
"Next year, the proportion will increase to 40 percent and eventually, 50 percent," she added.
Liu Guangcung, whose family has a spacious thatched-roof house adjoining the brigade headquarters, works as an accountant at headquarters. Her family of eight has five wage earners, only two of whom cultivate the soil -- her father and her own husband. Mrs. Liu's brother is a beekeeper, while his wife works in the brigade's restaurant.
The family is well off, for aside from these occupations, it keeps ten pigs from which it derives an annual income of 800 yuan ($532). Like most of their neighbors, the Lius run their kitchen on marsh gas, derived from night soil and pig manure.
And, speaking of night soil, every morning before dawn 450 bicycles set out from Wugui for Xindu, the nearest town. Each bicycle carries two large wooden tubs strapped on either side of the rear wheel. Bringing back night soil from Xindu to the Wugui fields is the first daily task for most of the brigade's members who work in the fields. Chemical fertilizer is available, "but our fields are rich, and we feel we do best with organic manure, with some chemical fertilizer as a supplement," explained Mrs. Zhang.
The argument may have been more of a justification of the actual situation than a statement of the ideal, but it was a reminder of the intimate relationship between town and countryside in China and of how nothing is allowed to go to waste. China's streets are clean not just because there are street sweepers but because everything discarded, from orange peels to horse droppings, is carefully picked up and recycled. As for old newspapers, they have a thousand uses and no one would think of throwing them away.
The Liu family illustrates both the success of and the problems inherent in the government's drive for one-child families. "You'd better have one child only," a huge bill-board in downtown Chengdu admonishes. Of the Liu family's eight members, only two are children, while one, an uncle, is retired.
Mrs. Liu and her brother have obeyed the government's admonition and each has a one-child family, but their own generation is prosperous precisely because it has many wage earners. Many peasants still believe that, although having several children is a strain on family finances when the children are small, prosperity arrives when they reach wage-earning years.
Mrs. Zhang admitted to the problem, but said that those of her generation and younger all recognize the need to limit family growth. "Everyone understands one thing," she said. "Our families may grow, but our land does not." She herself has two children, both born before the present policy of one-child families came into effect, and she does not intend to have more.
Sichuan as a whole is in the forefront of the one-child-per-family movement. Population growth has thereby been reduced from 12 per thousand to six per thousand, according to an editor of Sichuan Ribao, the local newspaper. The editor denied that coercion is used, but there are rumors that couples are sometimes forced to abort a second pregnancy. Officially, two children are not welcomed but also are not forbidden.
As for Wugui, so far it has managed to keep ahead of population growth, and Mrs. Zhang said all young people arriving at working age have found jobs inside the brigade. This is important, for each community has its own population and employment problem and Wugui cannot solve its problem by sending excess workers into the cities of Chengdu or Xindu. One child per family can reduce the problems of future years. But to take care of children already born, the diversification Wugui exemplifies seems the only practical solution.