What is poverty like in Kunming?

Forgotten by the economic miracle

The markets in Kunming are bustling with life. Flying vendors offer lychees or melons. In small street kitchens there are filled dumplings and other delicacies. Kunming is the capital of southern China's Yunnan Province. The city of three million is picturesquely surrounded by mountains on a plateau at an altitude of 2000 meters.

"I think there is a lot going on in Kunming now. I came here six years ago. Back then it was dusty and dirty and backward here."

The Englishwoman Hilary Wheadon works as a teacher in Kunming. There is no longer any sign of backwardness today.

"After my arrival, they completely changed Kunming, redesigned it. They widened the streets and unfortunately tore down many of the old houses. They completely changed the look of Kunming in just a year and a half. We had four million workers here. And as work was done, they were all sent back to the villages. "

The work for the rapid expansion in China is done primarily by people from rural areas who work as cheap migrant workers. In the province of Yunnan, a good third of the 48 million inhabitants live as farmers in unimaginable poverty. Most of the farmers are not Han Chinese, but belong to ethnic minorities: the Bulang, the Dai, the Naxi and many others.

"For many decades, the minorities have been neglected and pushed into the mountainous areas. Here in Yunnan we have 25 ethnic groups, 24 minorities and the Han Chinese. The minorities live on the subsistence level in the poorest mountain regions to integrate into modern society. We believe that education is the most important thing we can give them because then they have their own choice. Where there is no education, there is no choice. You stay where you are. "

"Schools for Yunnan" is the name of the project that Hilary Wheadon launched in cooperation with Chinese authorities. With donations from Europe and North America, she finances the building of schools in the villages. And through scholarships, it enables young people to attend secondary schools in the cities. Projects like this are possible since a few years ago suddenly there was interest in the minorities.

"Five or six years ago there was suddenly a lot of interest in the minorities. And the government said: We have to preserve the minorities, we have to preserve their cultures and make sure they don't disappear. The government has recognized that it is one Trades goods that can be easily sold to tourists. "
With the tourist marketing of the ethnic minorities, the rural province of Yunnan is looking for a connection to the Chinese economic miracle.

"I think the minorities have retained their individuality and are still very strong. But tourism is changing that. You can no longer see the real traditional costumes. That's really sad. Because they were much more beautiful. They changed them and they." made it more colorful. It all comes from the government in Beijing or the provincial government. I don't know what to make of it. "