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Nation looks back and forward, 30 years after landmark reform
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In the past three decades, China's annual gross domestic product (GDP) grew at 9.8 percent, more than three times the world average.

It was also a critical era for China to embrace globalization. It became a full member of the World Trade Organization and exposed itself to more opportunities and risks in the global financial system, including this year's global financial crisis.

Wang Gang had to return to his rural home in the central Henan Province in October,three months before the Chinese New Year. The electronic firm he worked for in Shenzhen was downsized. He didn't even buy gifts for his family this year as his wages were cut in half.

His parents are also suffering. Their home was stuffed with piles of corn they couldn't sell. "Prices for cotton and peanuts have also slumped," Wang said. "Again the financial crisis was cited as the reason. But it was the farmers that suffered the most."

The chills of the crisis have also affected Gao Hongtao, a farmer-turned consultant who helps farmers, like Wang, find manufacturing jobs in the booming southern Guangdong Province. Employers pay him 50 yuan (7.2 U.S. dollars) for each farmer he recruits.

Gao, 27, used to help 400 farmers find jobs a year, but this year, he helped less than 100 get hired. "When the United States suffers a bad cold, China is certain to start coughing. This is what happens in a global village." Gao is unsure if he will be able to help Wang secure a job after the holidays.

Despite this, Wang was still grateful to have seen other parts of China.

"My grandfather used to say the most powerful men were able to earn their meals in the county seat. Now I've outrun them all."

Wang, 22, has been to Shenzhen's fast-food restaurants, theaters and shopping centers. "Normally, my monthly wage is at least twice the farming income at home. I even bought my father a motorbike last year."

Now that he is back home again, Wang said he is shocked to see how poor his folks are. "Life is still tough here. How come those rich people are so rich in the cities?"

In Wang's home county of Zhengyang, his family of six grow crops on 0.3 hectare of land. "Even if we planted gold, what a meagre income could we make?"

The wide income gap, alongside the overall capacity to withstand financial risks and achieve sustainable development, will continue to challenge China's society in years to come, said Liu Yunxian, a researcher with the Executive Leadership Academy in Shanghai's Pudong New District.

"In decades to come, there's a lot China needs to do to maintain fairness and social harmony and improve people's livelihood," he said. "The reform and opening up has brought China's 5,000-year civilization to a new climax, but this is not the end."

(Xinhua News Agency December 18, 2008)

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