Just when I was about to be convinced that the Baoding Villages were, after all, a hoax, The Independent revived the story, written up by Clifford Coonan (“China’s new export: farmers,” 19 February 2010). If Coonan’s interview with Liu Jianjun is recent, then it seems that, despite all the flak he got, he is unwilling to keep quiet. But the article contains obvious inaccuracies that make the rest of it suspect too: Liu is promoted to former head of Hebei province’s foreign trade bureau, whereas in previous interviews he had only held that job for Baoding City. Coonan also mentions the story now apparently referred to under the sinister code name “The Chongqing Experiment”: remarks made in Chongqing by the head of China’s Export-Import Bank, Li Ruogu, suggesting the bank would provide loans to Chinese who want to open agricultural enterprises in Africa. This story is a few years old, the remarks were later retracted and no evidence of such loans exists, but for Coonan, the bank is “helping finance emigration to Africa as part of a rapid urbanisation scheme in the western Chinese city of Chongqing, already reckoned the world’s biggest metropolitan area with 32 million people.” Well, that’s clearly just rubbish, but then Coonan sails over to the deployment of Chinese warships in Somalia. You get the idea.
Coonan, who did not go to Africa, also interviewed returned “Baoding villager” Zhang Xuedong, “who spent about a year in Abidjan, the Ivory Coast capital,” and Li Zhu, chairman of Dafei International Investment and a friend of Liu’s. Li “bought 2,000 acres in Mbale in Uganda and is running a Chinese club there … he hopes to set up a farm and a tractor factory, and is teaching Africans planting techniques using machinery.”
I visited Kenya and Uganda. I ultimately chose Uganda, because the country is steady. The local government is very eager to develop the country, but they don’t know how to do that. So they want to learn from us. We provide ideas such as development zones. I also heard that there are some good mines, gold mines and quarries, in Uganda. The downside is
that we don’t know the countries and their local customs; corruption is a problem.
My guess: Baoding villages remain a mystery, and in the form described by Liu probably do not exist. But buying 2000 acres in Uganda is probably real, as are the development zones and mines.