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A tale of two very wealthy villages

(China Daily)

08:03, April 27, 2012

Rows of villas line the street in Changjiang village, Jiangyin, East China's Jiangsu province. Weng Lei / for China Daily

As China still marvels at a small oasis of prosperity and comfort created by its richest village of Huaxi, a powerful competitor has unintentionally stolen the limelight by giving each villager two 100-gram bars of gold and silver.

In mid-March, Changjiang, several hours by car northwest of Shanghai, fulfilled a promise made in 2009 to hand out the valuable metals, worth more than 40,000 yuan ($6,350), to each of its 2,858 permanent residents.

The gift, made in celebration of the 40th anniversary of the village-owned Jiangsu Xin Chang Jiang Group, drew enormous attention at a time when China's widening income gap and unfair wealth distribution increasingly cause social problems.

Recent polls by major Chinese news organizations showed that narrowing the income gap is seen as the highest priority topic that must be addressed by the country's leaders.

Yet Changjiang, a 6.5-square-kilometer village not far from the urban center of Jiangyin, seemed untouched by the problem and to be moving toward a utopia where residents share in the common prosperity.

Apart from the gift of gold and silver, residents said they have enjoyed a long list of benefits, including subsidized villas that were sold for 68,000 and 198,000 yuan starting in 2000.

"How is that different from a free handout?" asked Zhang Rongxian, a resident, showing the strikingly similar two-story villas with spacious courtyards.

Other benefits have included occasional handouts of cash, shares in village companies and annual dividends, as well as a quota of free water, electricity, gas and food coupons every month.

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