The Chinese government says its debt problem is under control, but the people of Pianpo village have cause to disagree. Over the past year they have seen their water cut off, rubbish pile up in the streets and their wages go unpaid as debt has mounted.
An elevated motorway soars over the villagers' concrete homes, meant to connect them to central Guiyang, one of China's fastest-growing cities. Instead, the slip road to Pianpo ends in a patch of gravel.
The state-owned company building the road took on too much debt and could not pay its construction workers. Water pipes were dismantled when the roadworks began but were never repaired when cash ran short. A couple of times a day, Chen Xiuxiang, 75, trudges up a hill to fetch his weight in water – 120 pounds – from a working tap, carrying two buckets on a wooden pole across his shoulders. Most of his neighbors do the same.
"They keep promising they'll fix things but they never do," says Mr Chen.
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For most of its past 30 years of growth averaging 10.5 percent, China did not rely on credit. But it has become ever more reliant on debt since the global financial crisis, drawing on banks, bonds and an array of lightly regulated institutions to keep its economy roaring.
This debt dependency has put China at a dangerous crossroads. If the government is serious about containing financial risks, growth may slow sharply as it weans the country off debt, burdening the global economy. Yet that prospect is less frightening than the alternative. If the government loses its nerve, the debt bubble will continue to expand, raising the specter of economic turmoil.
"Risks over China's financial stability have grown. Credit has grown significantly faster than gross domestic product," Fitch Ratings gave warning this year when it cut China's sovereign rating, the first such downgrade by a big international agency since 1999.
Total debt in China – government, corporate and household – has shot up from 130 percent of gross domestic product in 2008 to nearly 200 percent today, or more than Rmb 100 trillion ($16.3 trillion), according to Chinese central bank data. Such a rapid increase in borrowing has historically led to crises in countries from Argentina to South Korea.