The man who founded Huaxi, known as “the richest village in China,” passed away this year in March.
But the sleepy farming community he helped turn into a Communist utopia still claims to be as strong as ever.
Much of what we know about the village, founded by the former secretary of Huaxi Village Communist Party Committee Wu Renbao, is media speculation or the word of Wu Renbao himself.
The original “registered residents” are even forbidden to speak with foreigners or the press, according to The China Chronicle.
It’s believed the descendants of the so-called model socialist village’s original residents are entitled to extraordinary amenities, including free healthcare, education, luxurious homes, cars, and at least $US250,000 in their bank accounts.
We also know the village is home to a “World Park” that is filled with replicas of the world’s most iconic landmarks, from the Statue of Liberty to the Arc de Triomphe, as well as a new glossy skyscraper that is the 15th tallest building in China.
But it’s said that life is not as idyllic as Huaxi would like visitors to believe. Residents supposedly work seven days a week, often in Huaxi’s industrial plants, and there is a rigid hierarchy between the 2,000 “registered residents” of the village whose families date back to the 1950s and newcomers to Huaxi who are paid standard wages and don’t share in the same luxuries like free healthcare, cars, and property.
Plus, if original residents leave Huaxi, they lose everything.
Welcome to Huaxi, the so-called richest village in China. No one is quite sure how many people live here: AFP reports 'tens of thousands' whereas the official tourism website for Huaxi claims 350,000 residents call the village home.
Though it may be the wealthiest village in China, Huaxi is tiny. Its total land area is only 240 acres, just over twice the size of the Vatican City.
The rural farming village started with only 600 people in the 1950s, but was transformed by Wu Renbao, the former secretary of Huaxi Village Communist Party Committee.
He set up 12 corporations in the village, ranging from textiles to steel, and even put Huaxi on China's stock exchange in 1998. When Wu died in March of this year, he was mourned with a 20-vehicle funeral procession with a helicopter flying overhead.
But even after his death, Huaxi will live on with the late leader's fourth son, Wu Xie'en, in charge. He took over as the village party chief in 2003, and at his father's funeral said he would 'truly turn Huaxi into a unique, special Shangri-La'.
Today, there are roughly 2,000 'registered residents' in the city, who enjoy privileges like living in villas, owning luxury cars, receiving universal health care and education, as well as free cooking oil. It's said that they have $US250,000 in the bank.
They do have to conform to strict social guidelines, however. Gambling and drugs are strictly forbidden, and there are no bars, clubs, Internet cafes or karaoke lounges. In fact, the village was designed so that people worked and then went home with no public 'hang out' spots.
It's said that if you leave Huaxi, you lose everything. 'Even if villagers do get rich, they can't take away their personal assets when leaving the village, so it's doubtful whether the assets belong to the villagers,' a lawyer named Yuan Yulai of the Zhejiang Zhixing law firm told AFP.
For those who stay, the amenities come at a steep price. Everyone works seven days a week with no weekends 'for the greater good of the village,' mainly in the city's industrial factories.
Roughly a third of the village's income comes from the iron and steel industry. Huaxi imports raw materials from India and Brazil, and then exports its products to more than 40 countries.
Another portion comes from the textile factory, where predominantly Huaxi's women work at sewing machines. The village now owns 80 factories and has expanded to swallow up neighbouring villages.
Not all of the workers are residents -- tens of thousands of 'waidiren' or out-of-towners come to Huaxi to work in its steel and textile factories, as well as the tourism industry. They do not share in the amazing luxuries Huaxi claims to offer original residents.
Huaxi hopes tourism will be its next booming industry. An estimated 2 million tourists come to the tiny Chinese village each year to see the 'model socialist village' for themselves.
No matter where you are, the theme of Huaxi is hard to escape since the village song is broadcast everywhere over megaphones and loudspeakers: 'The skies above Huaxi are the skies of the Communist party, the land of Huaxi is the land of socialism.'
The European-style model homes and villas all look identical, similar to American suburbia. These are some of the new villas that are being built for Huaxi's growing population.
Since the 7-day workweek doesn't allow the villagers much time for travel (and even if it did, their assets could be seized by the village if they left), Wu brought the world to Huaxi in the form of a World Park.
The park is filled with iconic monuments from all over the world, like the Forbidden City of Beijing, the Great Wall of China, and even European landmarks like the Arc de Triomphe.
Of course, not all areas of the village are upscale. Outside of the fancy villas and apartment buildings, there is a rundown public park, a few rows of shops, and a market.
There are also a few clothing stores, some low budget restaurants, and a few noodle houses. What's strange is that in a village that brags about being the richest in all of a China, there are very few stores that cater to wealthy residents.
And then there's Huaxi's latest attraction -- the new 1,076 foot high skyscraper that is now the 15th tallest building in China. The 74-story Longxi International Hotel cost the village $US470 million to build, and was created to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the village.
Inside, the hotel is luxurious with gold details, marble, columns, and magnificent views of the city.
It even claims to have a solid gold bull that weighs a ton in the 60th floor viewing room of the tower.
The viewing room at the top of the hotel is just one more way Huaxi is trying to amp up tourism. 'This skyscraper will give us the edge,' Wu told The Telegraph in 2011. 'No other village has one, and 3,000 people can work there. The next five years is critical, we are going to go from village to city.'
Huaxi hopes to one day grow into a city, but time will tell if its strange attractions combined with the Orwellian lifestyle of its residents will continue to prosper.
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