“When you see a mound of cabbage outside your front door, you feel confident that you won’t starve to death during the winter,” said Wang Jianrong, 62, a retired government worker standing proudly beside a heap of white-and-jade roughage.
In a city crowded with BMWs, upscale malls and produce-packed supermarkets, the stockpiling of cabbage is a vestigial impulse that speaks to an era of scarcity that still haunts Chinese of a certain age.
Older Beijingers vividly recall the hungry winters of the 1950s and ’60s, especially after Mao Zedong’s disastrous attempt to industrialize the nation during the Great Leap Forward, when state-rationed turnips, leeks and cabbage sustained millions. “Back when I was a kid, you never saw a fat person,” said Yang Renzhi, 60, a retired math teacher who was buying three dozen heads for her parents.
The hoarding begins in earnest each November, when farmers from the outskirts of the capital deliver tons of newly harvested cabbage to city sidewalks for a state-sanctioned sale. The green mountains draw armies of gray-haired bargain hunters, who squeeze and prod the vegetables with the intensity of a wizened diamond trader.
“Give me 200 jin of your crispest heads,” Zhang Libao, a 72-year-old former factory worker, barked one recent morning as Li Xueqing, a cabbage grower, loaded up the equivalent of 220 pounds on the back of a flatbed tricycle.
Even as they scoff at the hoarding, younger Beijingers are often forced to indulge their elders, many of whom rarely get through their cabbage reserves and are forced to throw out the moldering, mushy remains come spring.
Every winter, elderly Beijingers, scarred by the famines they experienced under Communist planning, stockpile the cabbage that sustained them in the 1950s and 60s. From the New York Times article, As Winter Nears, China is Blanketed in Green:
Author of Economics: The Remarkable Story of How the Economy Works