The Rural Vitalization Strategy:The Key to Our Efforts Concerning Agriculture, Rural Areas and Farmers in the New Era

By: Xi JinpingFrom:English Edition of Qiushi Journal July-September 2019|Vol.11,No.3,Issue No.40 | Updated: 2019-Nov-14 14:16
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Rural vitalization is one of the major strategies that were introduced at the 19th National Congress of the CPC. Our goals in conducting group study on this topic are to build deeper awareness and understanding of this important strategy, set clear approaches, and ensure that our work is performed well.

I. Implementation of the rural vitalization strategy: a historic task with wide-ranging implications for building a modern socialist China

I have consistently emphasized that without modernizing agriculture and rural areas, we will not be able to achieve modernization of the country as a whole. To a certain extent, how we balance the relationships between industry and agriculture and between urban and rural areas will determine whether the modernization drive succeeds or fails. Looking at other countries’ experience in modernization, there are those that failed to strike the right balance in these relationships, which led to lagging rural and agricultural development and insufficient supply of agricultural products. With agriculture unable to absorb the rural labor force, massive numbers of unemployed rural migrants flooded into urban slums in these countries, their rural areas and rural economies teetered toward depression and industrialization and urbanization fell into dire straits, consequently even leading to social unrest and ultimately getting caught in the middle income trap. The underlying causes of these problems were deficiencies in leadership and governance systems. I am confident that as a socialist country under the leadership of the CPC, China has the capacity and conditions necessary to effectively balance the relationships between industry and agriculture and between urban and rural areas in order to ensure smooth progress for socialist modernization.

We are now at a key historical juncture in our efforts to properly balance the relationships between industry and agriculture and between urban and rural areas. After the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949, we were forced by the historical context and international environment at the time to rely on ourselves and rest on the support of agriculture and rural areas as we pushed forward industrialization from a foundation of utter destitution. During this process, we gradually built up fairly sound systems for industry and the national economy. Since the launch of reform and opening up, we have achieved rapid progress in industrialization and urbanization with the backing of factors including rural labor, land, and capital, thus bringing vast changes to urban areas. China’s rural residents have contributed tremendously to the advancement of industrialization and urbanization. Throughout this process, significant achievements have also been made in rural and agricultural development. This has laid solid foundations for China’s reform and opening up as well as the socialist modernization drive.

The last few decades have proven that we have maintained an accurate grasp on how to balance the relationships between industry and agriculture and between urban and rural areas, and that our efforts in this regard have been effective. Over the years, we have seen harvests and rural incomes continuously grow, while rural areas have remained harmonious and stable overall. In particular, though hundreds of millions of rural residents have moved between rural and urban areas in a massive and extended migration, they have done so in an orderly and effective manner. Not only have they not brought social turmoil, they have become an important pillar of social and economic development.

At the same time, however, we must recognize that agricultural and rural development has been outpaced by the rapid advancement of industrialization and urbanization. This problem is now quite pronounced, with an effect comparable to trying to run with one leg shorter than the other. The greatest imbalance in China’s development is that between urban and rural development, while the greatest inadequacy exists in the development of rural areas. Since the 18th National Congress of the CPC in 2012, we have adopted a series of measures to encourage the industrial sector to reciprocate the help that the agricultural sector contributed to its development and promote the provision of support from urban areas to rural areas, in our resolve to adjust the relationships between industry and agriculture and between urban and rural areas. Meanwhile, the rural vitalization strategy decided on at the 19th National Congress of the CPC was aimed precisely at balancing the relationships between industry and agriculture and between urban and rural areas in an overall and strategic approach.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, also General Secretary of the CPC Central Committee and Chairman of the CPC Central Military Commission, speaks at the Central Rural Work Conference, held in Beijing on December 28-29, 2017. PHOTO BY XINHUA REPORTER DING LIN

It is an objective law that over the course of modernization, cities take up a larger share while the share of rural areas declines. However, the fact remains that China is a country with almost 1.4 billion people, and no matter how far industrialization and urbanization progress, our agricultural sector must continue to develop, which means that rural areas will remain and co-exist with urban areas over the long term; this is also an objective law. Even when China’s urbanization rate reaches 70%, there will still be over 400 million rural residents. If these people are left behind in the process of modernization and we end up with flourishing cities on one side and run-down villages on the other, then we will have neither lived up to our Party’s governing mission, nor the essential requirements of socialism. Such kind of modernization cannot succeed. Four decades ago, we began the reform and opening up drive by launching rural reform. We should adopt a similar strategy today, opening up a new stage for the modernization drive and integrated urban-rural development by vitalizing rural areas.

II. Implementation of the rural vitalization strategy: the focus of our efforts concerning agriculture, rural areas, and farmers in the new era

I outlined the rural vitalization strategy in the report to the 19th National Congress of the CPC, stating that we must prioritize the development of agriculture and rural areas, and pointing out that in order to build rural areas with thriving businesses, pleasant living environment, social etiquette and civility, effective governance, and prosperity, we need to put in place sound systems, mechanisms, and policies for promoting integrated urban-rural development, and speed up the modernization of agriculture and rural areas. The modernization of agriculture and rural areas is the general goal of the rural vitalization strategy; prioritizing the development of agriculture and rural areas is the general policy; and building rural areas with thriving businesses, pleasant living environment, social etiquette and civility, effective governance, and prosperity is the general requirement; while putting in place sound systems, mechanisms, and policies for integrated urban-rural development provides the institutional guarantees.

Our efforts concerning agriculture, rural areas, and farmers in the new era must be advanced in line with the general goal of modernizing agriculture and rural areas. For many years, we have devoted immense effort to advancing agricultural modernization in order to make sure that the Chinese people have enough to eat and secured considerable progress in this regard. Now, the rate of mechanization in the plowing, sowing, and harvesting of major crops throughout the country is over 65 percent, the contribution of technological advances to growth in agricultural production is over 57 percent, and output of major agricultural products per capita has surpassed the world average, with these products in abundant supply. However, compared with cities, rural areas lag far behind in terms of infrastructure, public services, and social governance. The modernization of rural areas includes modernization on both the material level and the personal level, as well as modernization of rural governance systems and capacity. We must remain committed to making plans that drive forward the modernization of agriculture and rural areas in an integrated manner, and complete the transition from a large agrarian country to a world-class agricultural powerhouse.

Upholding the general policy of prioritizing the development of agriculture and rural areas means that we must consistently make resolving issues concerning agriculture, rural areas, and farmers our top priority. We have constantly stressed the importance of increasing investment in agriculture, easing burdens on rural residents, and loosening restrictions on rural business in response to these issues, but the reality is that although we attach great importance to our work in this regard in discussion, it can easily become sidelined or even neglected in practice. We must counteract this tendency by adopting vigorous measures in areas such as capital investment, factor allocation, public services, and official assignments so that we may remedy shortcomings in the development of agriculture and rural areas more quickly and constantly narrow the gap between urban and rural areas. By doing so, we will turn agriculture into an industry with bright prospects, make farming an appealing occupation, and build rural areas into beautiful communities in which people live and work in peace and contentment.

The general requirement of building rural areas with thriving businesses, pleasant living environment, social etiquette and civility, effective governance, and prosperity reflects the broad scope of the rural vitalization strategy. At the beginning of the 21st century, when China had just achieved moderate prosperity for most of society and was facing the task of bringing about moderate prosperity throughout society, our Party introduced general requirements for building a new socialist countryside: advanced production, better living standards, a civilized lifestyle, clean surroundings, and democratic management. These requirements were in line with the realities of the time, but now rural residents have higher expectations as Chinese socialism has entered a new era and great transformations have occurred with regard to the principal challenges in both the agricultural sector and society as a whole. We therefore need to set higher requirements for the development of agriculture and rural areas. A thriving business environment is the basis for resolving all of the issues facing rural areas. The change from “advanced production” to “thriving businesses” reflects new requirements placed on the agricultural sector and the rural economy to adapt to changing market demand, accelerate optimization and upgrading, and boost industrial integration. Building pleasant living environment is an intrinsically necessary component of rural vitalization. The change from “clean surroundings” to “pleasant living environment” shows that efforts to develop an ecological civilization in rural areas have improved in quality, and that rural residents are determined to build beautiful communities. Fostering social etiquette and civility is an urgent task in rural vitalization. The key points of focus in this task are promoting core socialist values, protecting and passing on the fine cultural traditions of rural areas, augmenting the development of public cultural facilities and activities in rural communities, and improving the general disposition of rural residents by discouraging undesirable habits in order to imbue rural society with a greater degree of civility. Effective governance provides important backing for rural vitalization. The change from “democratic management” to “effective governance” is meant to promote the modernization of governance capacity and standards in the countryside so that rural areas are harmonious, orderly, and filled with vitality. Achieving prosperity is the main objective of rural vitalization. The change from “better living standards” to “prosperity” reflects rural residents’ ever growing needs for a better life.

From this we can see that rural vitalization is comprehensive, covering the vitalization of industry, talent, culture, the environment, and organizational structures, and that it serves as the embodiment of the “five-pronged” overall plan and the “Four Comprehensives” strategy in our work concerning agriculture, rural areas, and farmers. We must push forward coordinated economic, political, cultural, social, ecological, and Party development in rural areas. By doing so, we will promote the enhancement of agriculture, the improvement of rural areas, and the personal development of rural people in every way possible.

III. Following a distinctively Chinese approach to rural vitalization

In implementing the rural vitalization strategy, we must first act in accordance with objective laws. Bringing about rural vitalization in a country as large as China with almost 1.4 billion people is an unprecedented feat. With no ready-made model to emulate, we must rely on ourselves to forge a path forward.

The problem of limited land in relation to population is extremely pronounced in China, with the average amount of arable land per rural household equivalent to 2.5 percent of that in the EU, and just 0.25 percent of that in the US. The common saying “1.3 mu per person and 10 mu per family” is an accurate portrayal of the situation for agriculture in many areas throughout China. These resource limitations have made it so that we could not possibly use massive machinery to develop large-scale farming in the same way that they have in the US and Europe. Instead, what we need in most regions is to improve specialized agricultural services and link small rural households with modern agricultural development. Now and for the foreseeable future, we should focus on supporting the development of two types of agricultural businesses – family farms and farmer cooperatives – and give new meaning to the two-tier land tenure system in order to constantly make the agricultural sector run more effectively.

China’s long-standing and expansive agrarian culture represents the foundation of our fine cultural traditions. Many villages in China have hundreds or even thousands of years of history and have been preserved up to the present day. There are numerous local customs and village regulations that are steeped in cultural tradition and still play an important role today. While practicing self-governance and law-based governance, we should also lay stress on effectively exerting the role of virtue in governance, using China’s qualities as a land of ceremony and propriety with rich cultural traditions to complement the development of a law-based society and vice versa. We must continue exploring and innovating in this regard, and ensure that the experience we gain in the process is put to good use.

For the rural vitalization strategy to be implemented successfully, we must pursue integration between urban and rural development. Since the very beginning, we have talked about urbanization that includes cities and towns rather than cities alone because our goal is to promote integrated urban-rural development. Drawing on reform for momentum, we should speed up our efforts to develop systems, mechanisms, and policies for integrating development between urban and rural areas. We should build diverse mechanisms for guaranteeing investment, increase investment in agricultural and rural infrastructure development, move faster to ensure interconnection between urban and rural infrastructure, and promote bidirectional flows of factors such as talent, land, and capital between urban and rural areas. We should develop systems and mechanisms giving urban and rural residents equal access to basic public services and work to ensure that public services and social programs extend to and cover rural areas. We should boost reform of the household registration system, bolster basic public services for people who have become permanent residents of cities, safeguard the rights of rural migrant workers who have settled in cities with regard to farmland contracting, residential land-use, and proceeds from rural collective undertakings, and move faster to grant urban residency to the rural migrant population.

Winning the fight against poverty is our top priority in implementing the rural vitalization strategy. Poverty-stricken villages and the counties and towns in which they are located must make poverty alleviation the focus of their work and give this task their constant and undivided attention. Though we will have eliminated absolute poverty once we achieve moderate prosperity throughout society in 2020, relative poverty will remain for a long time to come. After 2020, we should gradually shift from our current poverty eradication measures targeting absolute poverty to regular assistance measures that target relative poverty, and incorporate these into the rural vitalization strategy’s framework. We should see to it that plans concerning this issue are made as early as possible.

IV. Providing implementation of the rural vitalization strategy with strong political guarantees

In implementing the rural vitalization strategy, Party committees and organizations at all levels must step up their leadership and bring together the strength of the whole Party and all sectors of society. We must maintain a firm grasp on the political orientation of the strategy, upholding the system of collective land ownership in rural areas, developing a new type of collective economy, and pursuing common prosperity. We must help Party organizations in villages effectively exert their roles by ensuring that they are well established and have strong leadership bodies. Vulnerable villages should look to stronger Party branches for guidance in reaching toward brighter prospects, while well-off villages should do the same in order to improve further. Since the invigoration of talent represents the foundation for rural vitalization, we should introduce new systems and mechanisms in this regard, tapping into existing rural talent while also attracting more urban entrepreneurs and innovators to rural areas.

In implementing the rural vitalization strategy, we must focus on striking the right balance in the following relationships.

First, the relationship between short-term and long-term goals

Implementing the rural vitalization strategy is an arduous task that will take a long time to accomplish. Throughout this process, we must conform to the laws governing the rural development, and only take action after taking the long-term goal into consideration. We should stay committed to rational planning, put emphasis on quality, take our time to ensure the effectiveness of our initiatives, focus on the tasks at hand, look for the right opportunities, and set an ordered list of priorities. We should proceed step-by-step and year-by-year, working with persistent effort to accumulate small victories and gradually turn these into great successes. We need to be sufficiently patient and think ahead about problems that could potentially emerge. It is imperative that we stop ourselves from being overly ambitious and engaging in impulsive campaigns, and that we refrain from flip-flopping and getting off track.

Second, the relationship between top-level design and primary level exploration

Top-level design for rural vitalization has already been defined by the CPC Central Committee, so now it is up to localities to find the best ways to implement these designs by finding solutions that fit in with their own realities. In formulating plans for rural areas, we may neither simply copy those for urban areas, nor apply a single model without any adaptability. We must have a rational understanding of the differences that exist from village to village, and apply policies in ways that are suited to each of them so that all of their unique beauty shines forth. We should help the millions upon millions of rural residents exert their primary role and pioneering spirit, mobilizing their enthusiasm, initiative, and creativity. We should also become more adept at reviewing experience gained at the primary level and using this to constantly improve top-level design.

Third, the relationship between allowing the market to play the decisive role and enabling the government to better play its role

We must free our minds further and advance a new round of rural reform, starting with deep-rooted issues in rural and agricultural development and focusing on managing the relationships between farmers and the land, between farmers and collectives, and between rural and urban residents. Reform should also seek to define rural ownership rights more clearly, promote the market-based allocation of factors in rural areas, give more effective support to the agricultural sector, and advance the modernization of rural governance, while also raising the level of organization in order to stimulate endogenous momentum for driving rural vitalization forward. Taking market demand as a guide, we should further supply-side structural reform in the agricultural sector in order to constantly increase its profitability and competitiveness. We should improve the environment for innovation and entrepreneurship in rural areas, stimulate the rural economy by loosening controls, and foster new drivers of rural development. The government should play an active role with regard to planning and guidance, policy support, market supervision, and legal safeguards. Rural reform cannot be achieved overnight, but even though we may face temporary difficulties or have to make certain sacrifices, we must not deviate from our determined course. I have always stressed that no matter how rural reform is carried out, we must not take any actions that would do away with collective land ownership, reduce the amount of cultivated land, weaken our grain production capacity, or harm the interests of farmers. It is absolutely imperative that we hold fast to these bottom lines and avoid making disruptive errors.

Fourth, the relationship between bringing a stronger sense of fulfillment to our people and conforming to our current stage of development

With a focus on issues that are of greatest concern to rural residents and that impact them most directly in their everyday lives, we must move faster to remedy shortcomings in rural development and public wellbeing to bring rural residents more concrete feelings of fulfillment, happiness, and security. In order to establish long-acting mechanisms for sustainable development, we should rationally assess government revenue and expenditures, the strength of the collective economy, and the adaptability of the public, designate appropriate investment volume, funding channels, and debt levels, and set key tasks and targets that we can work toward incrementally. We must continue performing the best that we can with our current capabilities, and ensure that we do not get ahead of ourselves, lose sight of realistic objectives, or get caught up in going through the formalities and engaging in projects solely for the sake of appearances.

This was the speech made at the eighth group study session of the Political Bureau of the 19th CPC Central Committee, September 21, 2018.

(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No. 11, 2019)