Accelerating the Development of a New Socialist Countryside

From: English Edition of Qiushi Journal Updated: 2011-09-20 10:54
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 The Proposal of the CPC Central Committee for Formulating the Twelfth Five-Year Plan for National Economic and Social Development (abbreviated as the Proposal below) identifies the modernization of agriculture in synchronization with the progression of industrialization and urbanization as a major task of the Twelfth Five-Year Plan. It states that we must attach the highest level of importance to solving problems concerning agriculture, rural areas and rural residents, coordinate the development of urban and rural areas as a whole, adhere to the policies of nurturing agriculture through industry, supporting the countryside through urban initiatives and increasing investment, relieving burdens and loosening controls, make efforts to strengthen agriculture and benefit rural residents, solidify the foundations of agricultural and rural development, increase the level of agricultural modernization, and raise the living standards of rural residents in order to create ideal homes for rural residents. This has further clarified the fundamental direction and strategic tasks in the push to accelerate the development of a new socialist countryside.

I

 Developing modern agriculture is the foremost task in the development of the new countryside. The Communist Party of China has clearly identified developed production, affluent standards of living, civilized rural communities, clean and tidy village surroundings and democratic management as the general requirements for the development of the new socialist countryside. The steady development of agricultural production is not only the foundation for the development of the new countryside; moreover, it is an essential element in the development of a moderately prosperous society in all respects and the realization of modernization. Considering the fact that we are now highly unlikely to see any significant increases in the amount of natural agricultural resources that are available to us, the only way that we can continuously increase the comprehensive production capacity, risk prevention capacity and market competitiveness of China’s agriculture is to adhere to the path of agricultural modernization with Chinese characteristics and accelerate the transition from traditional agriculture to modern agriculture. 

  January 8, 2011, China’s first play to depict the lives of college graduates who take office as village officials is performed at Beijing Jiaotong University.College Graduate Village Officials, which is divided into five acts, tells the true story of university graduates who become outstanding village officials in the outskirts of Beijing. Set amidst the backdrop of China’s drive to develop a new countryside, the plot follows the exploits of newly appointed officials as they embrace their surroundings with eagerness, mature as individuals, gradually win the recognition of the locals, and eventually find their feet in the outskirts. / Photo by Xinhua

  First, ensuring the food security of the country must be regarded as our primary target. Despite the fact that China’s total grain output has achieved six consecutive years of growth since 2004 and reached a new historical high in 2009, the problem of imbalance in terms of crop structure and regional structure still remains, and the current per capita share of grain is actually lower than the levels recorded in the mid to late 1990s. For this reason, the Proposal unequivocally calls for the implementation of a plan to increase grain production capacity by 50 million tons, which will ensure that China’s annual grain production capacity will steadily exceed 550 million tons by the year 2020. It is essential that we increase investment in and raise the comparative efficiency of grain production if we are to increase our production capacity. In this regard, the Proposal clearly demands increased investment in and compensation to major grain producing regions. Effectively ensuring food security in our country with a population of more than one billion people will only be possible once the entire country attaches a high level of significance to grain production.

 Second, we need to take stringent steps to protect cultivated land and develop high-yield farmland. In China, the amount of cultivated land per capita is less than 0.1 hectare, which is only equivalent to about 40% of the world average. Therefore, it is essential that we persist in implementing the world’s most stringent farmland protection system and ensure that the total area of cultivated land is no less than 120 million hectares by the year 2020. In addition to strictly safeguarding the quantity of cultivated land, we must also endeavor to increase its quality. The Proposal clearly demands that we must accelerate land consolidation and reclamation efforts and engage in the large-scale development of farmland that meets high drought and flood resistance standards. In view of weaknesses that are visible at present, the Proposal clearly points out that the focus of rural infrastructure construction should be placed on water conservancy. On this basis, efforts should be made to significantly increase investment, improve construction and maintenance mechanisms, promote the fortification of small-scale dilapidated reservoirs, accelerate the renovation of supporting facilities in large and medium-scale irrigated areas, engage in projects to provide water sources for drought-relief, improve small-scale and micro water conservancy facilities in rural areas to strengthen the development of water conservancy for farmland in all aspects.

 Third, we need to vigorously promote scientific and technological innovation in agriculture. Considering the fact that notable increases in the amount of natural resources available to agriculture are now unlikely, the development of agriculture in the future will rely on scientific and technological progress and enhancements in the skills of laborers. Therefore, the Proposal points out that we need to promote scientific and technological innovation in agriculture, improve the public agricultural technology extension system, develop a modern seed industry and increase the pace of agricultural mechanization. 

 Fourth, we need to accelerate the development of a modern industrial system for agriculture. Modern agriculture embodies more than merely the simple pursuit of growth in agricultural output. It also involves enhancing the diversity and quality of agricultural produce as well as strengthening the capacity of agriculture to guard against risks and achieve sustainable development. Therefore, we need to accelerate the development of a modern industrial system in agriculture. The Proposal points out that we need to develop high-yield, high-quality, high-efficiency, eco-friendly and safe agriculture, promote the large-scale production of horticulture, livestock and aquaculture products, accelerate the development of protected agriculture and industries for the processing and distribution of agricultural produce, promote specialization, standardization, large-scale development and intensive operation in agricultural production, press ahead with the building of demonstration zones for modern agriculture, develop water-conserving agriculture, promote clean and environmentally friendly methods of production and rectify non-point source pollution in agriculture.

II

 Affluence of country life is one of the key features of the new socialist countryside. Therefore, the development of a new countryside is very much a process that will involve efforts to promote the sustained and rapid increase of rural incomes. Rural incomes per capita increased by 8.3% per year during the first four years of the Eleventh Five-Year Plan period, making this one of the fastest periods of growth for rural incomes in Chinese history. However, promoting the rapid increase of rural incomes and gradually narrowing the earnings gap between urban and rural areas will continue to be one of the most arduous tasks in the development of a new countryside.

 The Proposal identifies the expansion of avenues for the increase of rural incomes as a major task. It clearly demands that the professional skills and capacity of rural residents to generate income need to be enhanced and that the incomes of rural residents should be increased through multiple channels. At present, family-based income from farming represents the bulk of earnings in the income structure of rural residents, averaging at about 50% of their net annual income. Therefore, increasing the income of rural residents from farming is still a major target of efforts to promote the increase of rural incomes. The key to realizing this objective lies in encouraging rural residents to optimize the mix between livestock and crops and increase efficiency. Moreover, the only way that we can continually raise the efficiency of agriculture and increase the income that rural residents derive from farming is by fostering a new breed of rural residents who are well educated, skilled and capable of operating a business, and then encouraging them to continuously optimize their production structure in line with market demands and be resolute in ensuring the quality and safety of produce. Agriculture is a special industry in that it faces risks from both the market and from nature. Therefore, in addition to the efforts of rural residents themselves, government support and protection are also essential factors in increasing the capacity of agriculture to guard against risks. The Proposal clearly calls for the improvement of supportive and protective systems such as agricultural subsidies. This is both a necessary step in order to stabilize the supply of agricultural produce as well as an important measure to promote the sustained and steady increase of rural incomes through fiscal transfer payment.

 As industrialization and urbanization continue to progress at a rapid pace, the proportion that wage income accounts for in the earnings structure of rural residents has increased steadily, accounting for about 40% at present. The Proposal requests that we develop non-agricultural industries in rural areas, bolster county level economies, encourage rural residents to take up non-agricultural employment, and increase the proportion of wage income among rural residents. On one hand, we need to rationally adjust our economic layout, increase non-agricultural employment opportunities in small cities and towns at the county level, and encourage rural residents to take up non-agricultural employment in nearby areas in accordance with requirements to coordinate the development of small towns and large, medium-sized and small cities. On the other hand, we need to channel surplus rural labor into cities in an orderly fashion, provide greater opportunities for rural residents to take up employment, and expand the avenues through which they can gain income. The Proposal states that we need to place emphasis on protecting the rights and interests of rural migrant workers through institutional measures and regard the assimilation of eligible rural migrant workers as permanent city residents as an important task in promoting urbanization. With the gradual decrease of the rural population, laborers who remain in the countryside will be in an ideal position to gradually expand the scale of agricultural operation, increase efficiency and gain higher levels of income from agriculture. 

III

 The gap that exists between urban and rural areas is more evident in the quality of infrastructure and the standard of public services. Therefore, strengthening the construction of infrastructure and raising the standard of public services in rural areas is not only an essential step in gradually narrowing the gap between urban and rural areas, but is also a key measure in promoting the development of a new countryside.

 The Proposal demands that we formulate a sound overall plan for the development of a new socialist countryside and improve working and living conditions in rural areas at a faster rate in accordance with general requirements to integrate economic and social development in urban and rural areas. Planning must come first in the development of a new countryside. We must endeavor to formulate long-acting mechanisms for the promotion of agriculture through industry and the development of rural areas with assistance from cities, and thereby channel urban funds, technology and personnel into rural areas. The Proposal states that we need to press ahead with the renovation of the rural power grid, intensify the construction of safe drinking water facilities, rural roads and methane generation projects, and continue to renovate dilapidated buildings in rural areas. In addition to significantly improving the working and living conditions in rural areas and putting the infrastructure needed for the development of a new countryside in place, these initiatives will also be able to directly boost the demand for investment in rural areas, drive on the rapid growth of consumer demand in the countryside and play an important role in increasing domestic demand. 

 The deficiency of public services in rural areas is a major weakness that is constraining the development of the countryside in China at present. This is a major obstacle that must be addressed if we are to achieve our goal of realizing the same level of public services on a universal basis. Since the turn of the century, the government has invested huge sums of money into efforts to accelerate the formulation of a basic public service system in rural areas, and has already established an initial structural framework underpinned by public finance in fields such as rural culture, education, medical care and social security. The major tasks in the Twelfth Five-Year Plan period and beyond are to further improve these systems, raise the level of social security and gradually realize the same level of basic public services in urban and rural areas. 

 In terms of culture, following years of efforts, much headway has been made in projects to screen films in rural areas and open rural libraries. Radio and television broadcasts are now able to reach 96.31% and 97.23% of the rural population respectively. Focusing on rural communities and central and western regions, the Proposal suggests that we should continue to implement cultural initiatives that benefit the rural population and essentially complete the formation of a public cultural service system. 

 In terms of education, the government has made vigorous efforts to enhance the formulation of a financial guarantee system for compulsory education in rural areas, and has successfully implemented a system dubbed “two exemptions and one allowance” first in rural areas. This system involves the exemption of tuition fees, sundry fees and textbook fees for rural students and the granting of living allowances to resident students from poor rural families. In addition, free secondary vocational education is now being offered to students taking agriculture-related courses and students from poor rural families. The Proposal demands that we improve the quality of compulsory education and balance the levels of development in the countryside, make further progress in providing free secondary vocational education in rural areas, rationally allocate educational resources, and reduce discrepancies in education more rapidly by giving priority to rural areas, border and poor areas, and ethnic minority areas.

 In terms of medical and health work, the government has vigorously promoted the establishment of a new type of rural cooperative medical system. At present, 833 million people are covered by this system, representing almost the entire rural population. The Proposal demands that we intensify the construction of the rural medical and health service network at the county, township and village levels and prioritize the distribution of newly added medical and health resources towards rural areas and urban communities.

 In terms of social security, the state has established a subsistence allowance system covering all rural areas nationwide. At present, nearly 50 million poor rural residents are supported by this system. Starting in 2009, the state launched trials for a new old age social security system in selected rural areas. The Proposal states that we should improve the social security system in rural areas, gradually raise the standard of social security, effectively link the cost of living allowance system with the policy to alleviate poverty through development, and achieve the total coverage of the new rural old age insurance system in rural areas.

IV

 The deepening of reforms and the improvement of systems and mechanisms will provide impetus for the promotion of rural development and the accelerated establishment of a new countryside. The Proposal has outlined the major tasks concerning the deepening of rural reforms and the improvement of systems and mechanisms during the Twelfth Five-Year Plan period.

 First, we need to adhere to and improve the basic rural operation system. The core element of the basic rural operation system is the contracting for use of rural land. The Proposal demands that we maintain the existing system for the contracting for use of rural land on a long-term basis. For this reason, we need to accelerate our efforts to confirm, register and issue certificates for the ownership of collective land and the contracted land-use right by households, thereby providing rural residents with more comprehensive and secure contracting rights. The Proposal also points out that we need to improve the market for the circulation of contracted land-use rights on the basis of improved services and according to the principles of transferring rights legally, willingly and in exchange for compensation. Moreover, we should develop multiple forms of operations on an appropriate scale, support the development of specialized farmer cooperatives and leading industrialized enterprises in agriculture, accelerate the improvement of the system under which various sectors of society provide services for agriculture, and increase the level of organization in agricultural management. While adhering to the principle of family-based land contracting, we need to vigorously promote the innovation of systems and mechanisms in agricultural operation and accelerate the transformation of agricultural operation modes. The two approaches complement each other in adhering to and improving the basic rural operation system.

 Second, we need to accelerate the market development of factors of production in rural areas. The Proposal identifies that we need to increase the level of equality in the exchange of factors of production between urban and rural areas and direct income from land value increases and rural savings mainly toward agriculture and rural areas. This calls for deeper reforms of the land system and the financial system in rural areas. According to the Proposal, on one hand we must promote the reform of the land requisition system in line with the requirements of conserving land and safeguarding the rights and interests of rural residents to balance the allocation of the extra value that is generated after the government expropriates farmland for the purpose of construction, and thereby allow rural residents to enjoy the fruits of industrialization and urbanization to a greater extent. On the other hand, we need to actively and steadily promote the consolidation of rural land, improve mechanisms for the circulation of collective commercial construction land and improve mechanisms for the management of land used for private housing in an endeavor to strike a balance between the acquirement and compensation of cultivated land in the course of industrialization and urbanization, strictly manage rural land used for private housing and protect the usufructuary rights that rural residents enjoy over housing land in accordance with the law. In the meantime, we need to explore the establishment of a system for the public and standardized transfer of legally acquired collective commercial construction land through a unified and tangible land market so as to allow for increases in the value of idle collective assets. In regard to rural finance, the Proposal requires that we deepen the reform of rural credit cooperatives, encourage the establishment of community banks at the county level in areas where conditions permit, develop small financial organizations and microfinance in rural areas, improve the agricultural insurance system and improve financial services in rural areas.

 Third, we need to actively promote reforms in various other aspects relating to the countryside. The Proposal points out that we need to deepen comprehensive reforms in rural areas, promote the reform of tenure in collective and state forests, and improve the contract system for grasslands. Following years of efforts, we have made substantial progress in the comprehensive reform of rural areas. These reforms have primarily been focused on reforming the administrative structure in towns and townships, compulsory education, and financial management systems in counties and townships. Despite this, there are still a number of challenges ahead of us. Moreover, the deepening of rural reforms has also led to the emergence of new problems, such as the question of settling rural debts from compulsory education, the establishment of mechanisms to guarantee operational funds at the village level and systems to reward and compensate social welfare programs with fiscal funds at the village level. These things demonstrate that comprehensive rural reforms are far from complete. On the basis of in-depth trials at selected places, the central government has called for the comprehensive reform of the system governing tenure in collective forests. With the total area of collective forest land in rural China standing at 167 million hectares, it can be said that the reform of tenure in collective forests embodies the same level of significance as that of contracting cultivated land to households in the early days of the reform drive. The affirmation of household entitlement to tenure in collective forests has brought about rapid changes in the collective forestry and significant increases in the earnings of rural residents in the forestry industry. At present, tenures for 130 million hectares of collective forest land have been confirmed under households nationwide. We need to enhance our efforts and essentially fulfill the task of reforming the system governing tenure in collective forests by the end of 2011 as stipulated by the central government. Moreover, we need to initiate the reform of state-owned forests, support the construction of infrastructure in state-owned forests, and accelerate trials for the reform of the management system in state-owned forests and for reforms to realize the unified management of state-owned forest resources. In regard to the system for the management of grasslands, we must improve the system for the contracting of grasslands and complement it with other effective measures so as to protect and nurture the recovery of grassland ecosystems whilst at the same time promoting the development of the herding industry, the prosperity of pastoral areas and the affluence of herders. 

(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No.21, 2010)


Note: Author: Deputy Head of the Rural Work Leading Group of CPC Central Committee and Director of the Office of the Rural Work Leading Group of CPC Central Committee

  Related readings:

 Rural Work Leading Group of the CPC Central Committee

 The Rural Work Leading Group of the CPC Central Committee is an agency of the CPC Central Committee in charge of directing rural work and coordinating affairs related to the agricultural economy. The leading group is composed of leading comrades in the CPC Central Committee in charge of rural work and responsible persons from relevant rural and agricultural economic departments and is responsible for making decisions concerning major issues related to rural and agricultural economic work. The administrative body of the group is the Office of the Rural Work Leading Group of the CPC Central Committee.

 Development of a New Socialist Countryside

 The Fifth Plenary Session of the Sixteenth CPC Central Committee emphasized the importance of developing a new socialist countryside. The decision to carry out this important historic task was based on careful consideration and analysis of the current international and domestic situation and thorough understanding of the characteristics of the current stage of China’s economic and social development, taking into account the overall development of undertakings of the Party and the state.

 The overall requirements for developing a new socialist countryside are developed production, affluent standards of living, civilized rural communities, clean and tidy village surroundings and democratic management. The above represents the basic rights and interests and the strong desire of the many rural residents of the country and the main focus of work to improve agriculture, the countryside and the lives of rural residents for some time to come.

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