That is what Wang Liangcui did in the early 1990s, when she was 20. She landed in Shanghai, where she worked in factories, drove a taxi and hawked pancakes. All over China, people just like her moved to the city from similar hardscrabble hamlets, supplying the inexpensive labor that got the nation’s economy sizzling.
Now, thanks to President Xi Jinping’s push to create new opportunities for China’s have-nots, Ms. Wang is back in her hilltop hometown. Last year, she and her family returned and plowed their modest savings into a guesthouse they named “Meet Come Enjoy.”
China’s rural poor have been a tool of Communist Party strategy since Mao Zedong rallied them in his revolution, then herded them into communal farming, with disastrous results. Decades later, Deng Xiaoping sent them to urban construction sites and factories. Mr. Xi is pressing them into service for a third time. To narrow the gulf between China’s urban rich and rural poor, he is trying to populate rural towns with entrepreneurs and consumers.
Mr. Xi has pledged to eradicate extreme poverty this year ahead of the Communist Party’s centenary in 2021, a goal he considers critical to legitimizing his top-down approach to governance. To that end, he has directed a flood of party attention and state money toward places like Ms. Wang’s hometown, which languished while China’s big cities got rich on migrant labor. The president is billing the push as a leveler of inequalities that have become so glaring they threaten the legitimacy of the party.
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