Given both of these versions of China's countryside and all the in-betweens, you can indeed escape China's big cities and enjoy visiting villages and smaller towns. It's important to be cognizant that beyond the glitz and glamor of many of China's big cities, and the monumental infrastructure you'll find upon visiting many parts of China (shiny new airports and train stations, smooth new super-highways, high-speed rail connections), there are millions of poor all over the country and especially in the countryside. But this doesn't mean you shouldn't or can't seek out the countryside and visit it.
In the following pages I'll highlight some accessible parts of China that are in the countryside - or at least aren't part of a big city. It is really worth trying to visit some of these places since it will give you a memorable and completely different perspective on China. There are tour operators that specialize in taking people off the beaten path and into the countryside. Wild China is one that specializes in sustainable tourism and prides itself on taking folks to some of the most beautiful, unvisited countryside in China. Discovery Tours is an operator in China that specializes in tours in Sichuan Province, a place that has some of the most beautiful mountains and national parks in China.
Being a tourist in the countryside will not be the same as in the city. You won't find the same amenities as you will find in big cities, obviously. Depending on where you go, you may be more of an attraction yourself if you're traveling to a place that doesn't receive a lot of visitors. In any event, you should tread lightly, but you needn't be shy. Ask questions, talk to people, enjoy the interaction with locals that you may not have access to in other parts of the country. Eat the local specialties, visit the local markets. Enjoy a slower pace of life in China's countryside.