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China's aging rural farmers till the soil

David Gray / Reuters

A farmer and his wife plant their crops in their field located on the outskirts of the town of Zhucheng in Shandong province, China on April 20.

David Gray / Reuters

The wife of a farmer removes a board in the doorway of their home, which has the Chinese character "good fortune" pasted on the walls, located on the outskirts of the town of Zhucheng in Shandong province on April 20.

David Gray / Reuters

An elderly farmer walks through his field with his two grandsons as he takes a break from planting his crops on the outskirts of the city of Weifang, Shandong province on April 20.

Reuters today moved a series of pictures taken by photographer David Gray in China's Shandong Province last month, with this background information:

The fertile fields of Shandong Province in eastern China are an unlikely microcosm of the national economy. There is not a power plant or factory in sight, yet the area encapsulates as well as any industrial city some of the forces that are reshaping the country. People grumble about rising prices, adding weight to the authorities' concern that inflation could spark unrest. The virtual absence of any farmers under 40 speaks to China's urbanization, with youngsters decamping as soon as they can to work in towns near and far, leaving their aging parents to till the soil. With the rural labor pool shrinking, wages are rising. China's vast rural economy, home to over 700 million people, seems to be doing well. But urban China is doing much better, and the resulting inequality is a nagging concern for the ruling Communist Party. 

Read more about the demographic changes in China reflected in its recent census and view more images of the country on PhotoBlog.