The shadow of Deng

  • 12 November 2013

It wasn't where I expected to find Deng Xiaoping, or more accurately a memorial to his exploits.

With a hugely significant meeting underway in Beijing which will chart the country's economic course over the next decade, we had come to Taiqian in Henan province. It's officially among the 500 or so poorest counties in China.

We were driving on the outskirts of the town when we spotted the memorial wedged between a crossroads and a field.

Monument in Taiqian
Deng Xiaoping began the reform process that saw China become an economic giant

The diminutive Deng Xiaoping was the architect of major economic reforms that laid the foundations for what is now the world's second largest economy.

The process was kick-started back in 1978. Since then more than half a billion Chinese people have been lifted out of poverty.

But the memorial wasn't dedicated to Deng's economic achievements - instead to his role in the revolution. Aided by locals who provided a boat and provisions, Deng and his troops crossed the Yellow River at this spot in 1947. Two years later the Communists took power.

Not everywhere has shared in China's wealth created by Deng's reforms. While Taiqian town has pockets of prosperity, when you visit the nearby villages you can find grinding poverty. About 100 million Chinese live on less than a $1.25 (£0.78) a day.

Toll collector, Taiqian
Many Chinese people are much better off - but some are being left behind

One man I met was a toll-collector working on a bridge over the Yellow River. As trucks full of stones and rubble rumbled past he told me he scraped by on $2 a day.

"The cities have developed enormously in the last 30 years, " he told me, "but the countryside has been left behind."

"The central government has good policies but there's never any action on the ground."

Back in Beijing, there's talk of President Xi Jinping unveiling "unprecedented" reforms. But it's hard to see how they could be as monumental as what came under Deng Xiaoping's watch.