abandoned house near Mutianyu (robert mcleod)
Early view of The Brickyard (fred he)
Great Wall at Mutianyu (robert mcleod)
Jim Spear's house at Mutianyu (robert mcleod)
Schoolhouse at Mutianyu (Robert_Mcleod)
Villager at Mutianyu (robert mcleod)
China today is one of the world's fastest urbanising countries. Thirty years ago over fifty percent of society was still rural. In recent years the migration towards cities has gained momentum. There are of course many costs with this - public services, for example, have to be created in the cities but in the rural areas there is the worldwide problem of young people leaving resulting in services such as schools disappearing. Villages become 'old' and too often are abandoned. China has many villages facing this problem particularly in mountainous areas where transportation may also be difficult. The challenge for these areas is how to exist alongside the modern urbanized world.
Jim Spears first came to China in 1981 from the U.S. to study at Peking University. Later he returned to work in the Capital.
Twenty years ago he was walking at Mutianyu, north of Beijing, where the Great Wall is really spectacular. A chance conversation with a local man led Jim to buying a house in the village. Ten years ago he and his wife decided to move permanently to the village. As he explains, the local mayor talked with him about ideas for stopping or reducing the area's population decline. The result was 'The Schoolhouse', successfully converting an abandoned local school into a restaurant and guesthouse using local farm produce and employing villagers. As we will learn in later features this project has attracted considerable interest from similar communities across China.