China’s Agricultural and Rural Development

From: English Edition of Qiushi Journal Updated: 2012-07-04 14:00
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I. Great achievements in agricultural and rural development

The CPC has always placed great emphasis on its initiatives in regard to agriculture, rural areas, and rural residents. Committed to balancing the development of urban and rural areas, the Party has implemented a series of policies with a view to strengthening agriculture, benefiting rural residents, and allowing people in rural areas to prosper since the convening of its Sixteenth National Congress. These efforts have been met with remarkable advances in China’s agricultural and rural development.

China’s grain output has grown steadily for consecutive years, and overall progress has also been made in farming, forestry, animal husbandry and fishery. The development of agriculture is our number one priority and the key focus of our macro-control policies. On this basis, we have acted quickly to adopt a series of effective policies aimed at boosting agriculture. China’s national grain output has recorded eighth consecutive year of growth, which is a very rare achievement. Grain output reached 571.2 million tons in 2011, a whole 140.5 million tons greater than the output recorded in 2003. Increases have also been witnessed in the output of other major agricultural products in China. Moreover, the mix of agricultural produce in China’s agricultural sector has been further optimized, and the application of advanced technologies and equipment in agricultural production has been enhanced. In addition, we have stepped up our initiatives in ecological conservation by a considerable margin, leading to the rapid growth of forest resources and the forestry industry.

Rural incomes have continued to rise rapidly, bringing about significant improvement in the living standards of rural residents. We have continued to regard the increasing of rural incomes as a core task of our initiatives in rural areas. On this basis, we have made every effort to create additional means of income for rural residents. The per capita net income of rural residents has increased steadily over the past several years, and is expected to have exceeded 6, 900 yuan in 2011. This represents a significant increase of more than 4,400 yuan over that recorded in 2002, and equates to an average annual increase of 7.9% according to comparable prices. On a particularly positive note, the income gap between urban and rural areas began to show signs of narrowing in 2010. Generally speaking, the living standards of rural residents have improved significantly, and are continuing to improve.

Rural areas have undergone transformation, presenting a portrait of harmony and stability. We have identified the development of public programs in rural areas as an important means of narrowing the gap between urban and rural areas. On this basis, constant efforts have been made to improve the state of infrastructure in rural regions. Over the past nine years, we have built and upgraded total 2.72 million kilometers of rural roads, brought safe drinking water to 326 million rural residents, supplied additional 30 million rural households with methane, and renovated dilapidated houses for over 4.6 million rural households. In addition, we have devoted efforts to making up for the deficiency of social programs in rural areas. As a result, compulsory education is available to 130 million rural students free of charge, our new rural cooperative medical care system covers 97% of the rural population, and over 53 million rural residents are included in the system of basic living allowances. Moreover, trials for a new type of pension insurance for rural residents have already been launched in 60% of China’s counties, with 78 million rural residents being eligible to receive pension payouts from the government. Constant progress has been made in the development of grassroots organizations and in the enhancement of democracy and the rule of law in rural areas. In turn, both public security and relationships between the Party and the public and between cadres and the general public in rural areas have been notably improved.

  

The terraced fields of Hanyin county,Ankang City,Shaanxi Province,stretch out over dozens of kilometers.Dating back to the years of Qianlong in the Qing Dynasty,the terraces were built over the course of more than 100 years./Photo by Xinhua reporter Tao Ming

The years since the convening of the Sixteenth National Party Congress represent a period in which huge historic changes have occurred to agriculture and rural areas and rural residents have enjoyed almost unprecedented tangible benefits. This period has been yet another golden era for the development of agriculture, rural areas and rural residents in China. In turn, the smooth development of agriculture and rural areas has laid down solid foundations for our efforts to overcome various risks, provided strong support for the steady and rapid development of the national economy, and made a significant contribution to the preservation of social harmony and stability.

Our hard-won achievements are the result of our enduring dedication to agricultural and rural initiatives. China has suffered from frequent natural disasters over recent years, especially droughts and floods. At the same time, we have also been confronted with problems such as the loss of arable land, the transfer of the rural labor force, rising agricultural production costs, and the increasing pressure of international competition in agriculture. In spite of these circumstances, however, China has been able to keep its agricultural and rural development steadily on track. The fundamental reason for this is that the central government has adopted the right policies and taken effective measures. At the strategic level, we have identified the resolution of problems in regard to agriculture, the countryside and rural residents as the number one priority in the agenda of the entire Party. On this basis, we have formulated the policies of nurturing agriculture through industry, supporting the countryside through urban initiatives, and increasing investment, relieving burdens, and loosening constraints. At the same time, we have also identified the fundamental requirement of promoting the modernization of agriculture in step with industrialization and urbanization and accelerating the integration of economic and social development in urban and rural areas. We have defined a path of agricultural modernization with Chinese characteristics as our basic approach, and outlined the strategic tasks of accelerating the development of modern agriculture and building a new socialist countryside. To accomplish these tasks, we have taken active steps to adjust national income distribution and balance the interests of urban and rural areas. The focus of infrastructure development and social programs has been shifted towards rural areas, and a major proportion of additional government investment in education, health, culture, and fixed assets has been allocated to rural areas, thereby allowing rural areas to benefit more from public finance. We have also made unremitting efforts to promote reform and innovation in rural areas, leading to major breakthroughs in certain key aspects. In recent years, we have focused our efforts on resolving issues affecting the long-term development of agriculture and rural areas as well as the immediate interests of rural residents. In many cases, these efforts have led to milestone achievements.

First, we have abolished agricultural taxes and adjusted the distribution between the government and rural residents. The introduction of household contract system led to significant adjustments in rural distribution, allowing rural residents to enjoy much greater tangible benefits. However, rural residents not only still had to pay agricultural tax, but also fees for the operation of local governments and the development of public programs. Moreover, rural burdens were made even heavier by various unwarranted charges, fines and funds-raising, often being the cause of malicious incidents and conflicts between cadres and the public at that time. In an effort to find a fundamental solution to this problem, the government began trials for the reform of the rural tax and fee system in the year 2000. These efforts began with the standardization of taxation, the streamlining of fees, and the lowering of tax rates, and culminated in the eventual abolishment of agricultural tax throughout China in 2006. This marked the end of agricultural taxation in China, a practice whose roots can be traced back 2,600 years. The total abolition of agricultural tax has exempted China’s rural residents from 133.5 billion yuan in tax payments per year. Building on the successful reform of rural taxes and fees, the government set out to break the cycle of the Huang Zongxi Law once and for all, which sees rural burdens increase in a perpetual cycle. To do this, we proceeded with the comprehensive reform of rural areas, which brought both change and progress to the rural superstructure. Through a series of major reforms, we were able to standardize the distribution between the government, collectives, and rural residents, thereby ushering in a phase of recuperation for the rural population to regain its strength.

Second, we have subsidized agricultural production and stepped up efforts to support and protect agriculture. We have granted direct subsidies for grain production, subsidies for planting superior seed varieties, subsidies for the purchase of farm machinery and tools, and general subsidies for agricultural supplies. The central government made 140.6 billion yuan in payouts for these four subsidies in 2011. In addition, we have extended the scope of subsidies to cover animal husbandry, the forestry industry, grasslands, water-conserving irrigation, and agricultural insurance. The government has also offered awards and subsidies for counties with high outputs of grain, cooking oil, and pigs. A total of 25.5 billion yuan in central budget expenditure was assigned for such awards and subsidies in 2011. These policies have motivated rural residents and local governments to participate actively in the development of agricultural production.

Third, we have liberalized the purchase and sale of grain, taking a decisive step towards the market-based trading of agricultural produce. After successful reform trials in major grain purchasing regions and regions where the production and sale of grain are balanced, we took resolute action to liberalize the purchase and sale of grain on a nationwide basis in 2004. This was complemented by the enforcement of a minimum purchase price policy. This reform subjected the circulation of all agricultural produce to market forces, representing a huge achievement in the development of the socialist market economy. Moreover, these policies ensured that the market could play a basic role in the allocation of agricultural resources, thereby promoting the development of agriculture.

Fourth, we have reformed tenure in collective forests, encouraging rural residents to plant trees and protect forests. Trials for the reform of tenure in collective forests were launched in the year 2003. The trials, which granted rural households with rights to the operation of forestland and ownership over the trees therein, were successful in establishing rights to forestland, clarifying the ownership of trees, and putting the minds of the people at ease. Following successful trials, the reform of tenure in collective forests was implemented on a nationwide scale in 2008. By bringing forestland under the coverage of the household contract system, which had previously only applied to farmland, we were able to further enrich and enhance China’s basic system of rural operation. Furthermore, these reforms motivated millions of rural residents to participate actively in the building of an ecological barrier in China.

Fifth, we have reformed mechanisms to guarantee the funding of compulsory education in rural areas, making compulsory education genuinely free in China. Starting out with the reform of mechanisms to guarantee the funding of compulsory education in rural areas, we have gradually expanded the scope of public finance to cover teacher salaries and public expenditure in schools. After exempting tuition fees, miscellaneous fees, and textbook fees for rural students in impoverished areas, and granting living allowances to boarding students from poor rural families, we took gradual steps to make compulsory education free for all rural students. Recently, we have decided to offer healthy meal subsidies to students receiving compulsory education in impoverished rural areas. Due to our efforts over recent years, great progress has been made in promoting the balanced development of compulsory education in urban and rural areas, and we have essentially attained our goal of ensuring that all rural children are able to attend and stay in school.

Sixth, we have strengthened the social safety net in rural areas to provide rural residents with a stronger sense of security. We have introduced a new rural cooperative medical care system with a view to addressing the high cost and difficulty of securing access to medical care in rural areas. We have established a basic living allowance system to guarantee that the basic needs of disadvantaged people in rural areas can be met. We have also promoted a new type of pension insurance for rural residents in order to change the way that rural residents provide for old age. In the space of just a few years, we have managed to bring hundreds of millions of rural residents under the coverage of these three social safety nets. For the first time ever, Chinese rural residents are now able to receive a pension in their old age, receive medical care when they are ill, and receive aid if they are poor.

Seventh, we have eliminated unreasonable policies and restrictions so that rural migrant workers may receive fair treatment. Despite having made an enormous contribution to China’s industrialization and urbanization since the launch of the reform and opening up drive, rural migrant workers have long been subject to unfair treatment in the cities where they reside, and their legal rights and interests have failed to be effectively safeguarded. Adhering to the principle of putting people first, we advocated that rural migrant workers should be well treated. In 2003, we took resolute action to scrap measures regarding the handling of indigent migrants, and set out to remove restrictions on the flow of the rural labor force, making it easier for rural residents to seek employment and do business in cities. In addition, we engaged in a large-scale effort to urge the settlement of wages owed in arrears to rural migrant workers and improve their working conditions. In 2006, the State Council promulgated a document concerning the resolution of problems faced by rural migrant workers, outlining the overall arrangements for our initiatives in regard to rural migrant workers. In recent years, rural migrant workers have come to enjoy an increasingly wide range of options for employment. Not only have wage levels gradually gone up, but faster progress has also been made in the resolution of problems concerning the schooling of their children in cities. Where rural migrants were once treated unequally, they are now entitled to fair treatment, and where they were once restricted from entering cites, they are now eligible to benefit from public services. These fundamental changes represent a major advance towards social equality and justice.

Owing to our unremitting efforts over recent years, we have not only created vast material wealth and promoted the development and progress of rural areas, but have also made significant theoretical achievements and accumulated a wealth of valuable experience in regard to resolving problems concerning agriculture, rural residents and rural areas. On this basis, we have formulated an initial group of policies to strengthen agriculture, benefit rural residents, and allow people in rural areas to prosper, established a basic framework of institutions geared towards balancing the development of urban and rural areas, and progressively expanded an approach to agricultural and rural development that is suited to China’s national conditions.

II. Major issues concerning agricultural and rural development

China will continue to undergo a rapid process of industrialization and urbanization for a period of time to come. Therefore, our main task should be to synchronize the modernization of agriculture with industrialization and urbanization and develop a new socialist countryside in accordance with the rules of economic and social development and the fundamental realities of China and its rural areas. This is a major task that will have a bearing on China’s overall modernization and the reform and opening up drive. I have given much thought to this subject, and would like to take this opportunity to talk about some of my thoughts.

1. The development of modern agriculture

As a country with a large population, self-sufficiency in the supply of grain and other major farm produce will always be the first priority of national governance and security. For this reason, we cannot neglect the modernization of agriculture as we push forward industrialization and urbanization. Various factors indicate that we will face an even greater challenge in balancing the supply and demand of agricultural produce in the future. On one hand, China’s population will continue to grow, the rate of urbanization and levels of consumption among urban and rural residents will constantly rise, and agricultural produce will be used more widely by industry. These trends will drive up the aggregate demand for farm produce, and lead to higher expectations regarding the quality and safety of produce. On the other hand, the stable development of agriculture will be increasingly threatened by shortages of farmland and water, the increasing cost of agricultural production, the decline of the young labor force, environmental pollution, and ecological degradation. At the same time, the supply, demand, and prices of farm produce in our market are strongly influenced by worldwide farm output, changes in the price of oil, capital speculation, and exchange rate fluctuations. Promoting agricultural development and ensuring the supply of grain and other farm produce are no easy task. The only fundamental solution is to accelerate the development of modern agriculture and continually enhance our comprehensive production capacity in agriculture.

First, we must persist in implementing the strictest possible farmland protection and water resource management systems. Over recent years, we have resolutely and strictly implemented a series of measures to protect arable land. Despite this, however, hundreds of thousands of hectares of farmland are still appropriated for nonagricultural purposes every year. As industrialization and urbanization continue, we will face increasing pressure in the protection of arable land in the period ahead. Thus, we must continue to implement the strictest possible system of arable land protection and conservancy. This is vital to the survival and development of the nation and the long-term livelihood of our future generations, so there can be no compromise. We should learn from the successful practices of some local governments in establishing compensation systems for farmland protection and improving the quality of arable land, so that we can accelerate the establishment of a long-term mechanism for the protection and development of farmland. At the same time, we should step up efforts to upgrade low and medium-yield farmland and increase the proportion of high-yield arable land. China faces a shortage of fresh water resources, and this shortage is set to become more severe in the future. The central government has made overall arrangements for reform and development initiatives concerning water conservancy, and all local governments must thoroughly implement the policies of the central government. Governments at all levels must strictly control total water consumption and water efficiency, and limit the total amount of water pollutants that drain into different water function areas. Moreover, we should focus on improving weak links such as the construction of farmland irrigation facilities. By engaging in a major effort to develop water-saving irrigation, we will strive to overcome the constraints that water shortages have on our agricultural development.

Second, we must take unswerving measures to stabilize and improve the basic operation system in rural areas. Our two-tier management system of agriculture based on household contract system and a combination of unified management with independent operation represents our fundamental system for rural operation. We have remained committed to two principles whilst developing this system. The first principle is stability. Stability is important because this system is not only suited to the socialist market economy, but also accords with the characteristics of agricultural production and the will of rural residents, acting as the cornerstone of the Party’s rural policies. The second principle is constant improvement. As agricultural productive forces continue to develop, agricultural production relations must keep up with them. In fact, we have made constant efforts to improve this system. For example, in terms of income distribution, income from farming used to be divided between the government, collectives, and farmers, but now farmers can retain all of their income from farming. On the other hand, the first term for household farmland contracts was 15 years, the second term was extended to 30 years, and now we have made it clear that these contracts are permanent. As for the relationship between unified management and independent operation, in the past the only form of unified management was village collectives. However, unified management now includes cooperation between rural residents and a diverse, multi-faceted system for operation and services. However, as industrialization and urbanization progress rapidly, we are now beginning to face new challenges in agricultural development. With the constant transfer of the rural labor force to cities, some rural areas are experiencing labor shortages during the busy farming season. At the same time, the rural labor force is showing clear signs of ageing, and farming as a part-time profession is becoming increasingly common. As this occurs, we will face an increasingly serious problem of who will farm and how they will farm. To solve these problems, we should maintain a solid grasp of three aspects. First, we should devote major efforts to developing specialized farmer cooperatives and a variety of organizations to provide services for agriculture, so as to provide rural households with low-cost and convenient services to support their production and operation. Second, we should encourage rural households to transfer contracted land-use rights legally, willingly, and in exchange for compensation, and use this as a means of developing various forms of moderately large-scale operation in agriculture, including large farming households and family farms. Though we will see increasingly diverse forms of operation in the future, the most fundamental form will always be household operation. The government encourages industrial and commercial enterprises to provide rural households with services before, during, and after the production process, but does not advocate the leasing of large areas of farmland from households for cultivation on a long-term basis. Third, we must promote modernization and large-scale production in agriculture. To do this, we need to foster a new breed of farmers. We need to develop vocational education in rural areas and encourage young and middle-aged farmers who are well educated and skilled to stay in rural areas. This is vital to the long-term development of agriculture, and therefore must be approached as a fundamental task.

Third, we must remain committed to promoting the advance of agricultural technology. The development of agriculture in China has now reached the stage where we are becoming more reliant on the application of science and technology to overcome environmental and resource constraints and realize sustained and stable development. Therefore, greater emphasis must be given to science and technology in agriculture. We should devote major efforts to strengthening our capacity for technological innovation in agriculture, increase support for research into cutting-edge and foundation agricultural technologies, develop biotechnologies, and place a particular emphasis on the cultivation of superior crop varieties so as to ensure that we are able to seize the high ground in the development of advanced agricultural technologies. We should accelerate the reform of the scientific research system and promote the integration of resources in order to effectively address the problem of technological innovation being divorced from agricultural production. We should strengthen the development of the agricultural technology extension system, promote the steady and robust development of public agricultural technology extension institutions at local levels, and step up our efforts to encourage various sectors of society to provide services related to agricultural technology. By doing do, we will be able to overcome the final obstacle preventing us from placing agricultural technologies in the hands of farmers. We should actively develop a modern seed cultivation industry and accelerate the development of large-scale seed enterprises that integrate the cultivation, reproduction, and distribution of seeds. We should energetically develop the farming machinery and equipment industry, increase subsidies for the purchase of farm machinery and tools, and advance the level of agricultural mechanization in accordance with the changes that have taken place in the structure of the rural labor force.

Fourth, we should continue to step up our efforts to support and protect agriculture. The development of modern agriculture will not be possible without the support and protection of the government. This is because under the backdrop of urbanization and industrialization, the comparatively low profitability of agriculture can easily lead to the decline of agriculture. Moreover, government support is also necessary because agriculture performs a number of functions, playing a fundamental role in economic and social development that cannot be replaced. China’s agriculture has entered a period of high operating costs. During this period, not only must we safeguard the economic interests of rural residents and motivate them to engage in production, but at the same time, we must also consider the capacity for medium and low earning urban residents to cope with rising costs. Therefore, we must identify the constant increase of agricultural subsidies as a long-term policy. In addition, we should continue to increase investment in agriculture using government spending, state fixed assets investment, income from the transfer of land, and credit funds.

Since China’s entry into the WTO a decade ago, in addition to rapid increases in the export of labor-intensive farm produce, there have also been considerable increases in the import of certain varieties of land intensive farm produce, a trend which is illustrative of China’s large population and its shortages of land and water. Within moderation, the import of varieties of agricultural produce in short supply will allow us to mitigate resource shortages and ensure market supply in China. However, the quantity of such imports should be kept at a rational level. As a nation with a population of over one billion people, we must adhere to the principle of relying on ourselves to feed our population. As our agricultural sector becomes more open to the outside world, we will be required to further enhance our capacity to make coordinated use of domestic and foreign markets and domestic and foreign resources. By enhancing our strategic planning and the mechanisms we employ to regulate the import and export of farm produce, we should plan ahead, make the best use of favorable conditions, avoid risks, and seize the initiative.

2. The development of a new countryside

In accordance with the arrangements of the central government, local governments have made active and pragmatic efforts to develop a new countryside and thus achieved remarkable progress. However, we must be fully aware that the gap between urban and rural areas is still the broadest developmental gap we face, and that the urban-rural dual structure is the most serious structural problem in China. Rapid urbanization has created sound conditions for the resolution of problems concerning agriculture, rural residents and rural areas in China. Despite this, however, rapid urbanization will not automatically bring rapid change to rural areas, and in a worst case scenario, could even widen the gap between urban and rural areas. At the same time, we must also be aware that China will still have hundreds of millions of rural residents even after the country has achieved a high level of urbanization, which is due to the huge size of its population. We must ensure that these residents are able to enjoy modern and civilized lifestyles. This is why we frequently emphasize the need to balance the development of urban and rural areas and build a new countryside whilst promoting urbanization. It must be emphasized that urbanization is not an alternative to the development of a new countryside. At the same time, the differences in economic and social functions that set urban areas aside from rural areas cannot and should not be discarded. We should not indiscriminately apply our methods in urban development to rural development, nor should we establish the same residential districts in rural areas that we have done in urban areas, thus forcing rural residents to move into apartment buildings. Rural areas should be developed in a way that preserves rural characteristics. This development should be conducive to improving the working and living conditions of rural residents, keeping rural scenery intact, and preserving sound ecological environments. In addition, we should balance economic and social development, satisfy the constantly rising material and cultural demands of rural residents, and create ideal homes for our rural population.

First, we should improve rural infrastructure on a constant basis. We should formulate plans that are more scientific and more oriented towards the future, fully consider trends in the distribution of the rural population, and pay attention to the integration of various infrastructures, with a view to optimizing their overall and long-term effects. We should improve rural infrastructure on a step-by-step basis. The construction of rural infrastructure is an ongoing process that cannot be completed in a single effort. Moreover, as the economy and society continue to develop, the requirements of rural residents will constantly increase. To meet these increasing requirements, we must continue to expand the range of the infrastructure that we construct and enhance the standards to which they are built. Equal emphasis should be placed on the construction and management of infrastructure. We should work actively to establish new mechanisms for the management and operation of infrastructure so as to reduce operational costs. By doing so, we shall ensure that pre-established infrastructure is able to play a long-term role. Funds should be raised through various channels. In addition to mobilizing rural residents, we should emphasize the role of public finance and identify the construction of rural infrastructure as our long-term priority in the construction of national infrastructure. We should step up efforts to oversee village planning and residential construction in rural areas, thereby enhancing the design and construction standard of residential houses in rural areas.

Second, we should further develop social programs in rural areas. The priority of all our initiatives in education should be to improve compulsory education in rural areas. With a view to improving the quality of rural compulsory education, we should step up efforts to ensure sufficient funding for schools in rural areas, devote major efforts to improving conditions in schools, implement the plan to provide free education to students studying in teachers’ colleges on a larger scale, and rapidly foster a large contingent of excellent teachers who are professionally capable and devoted to rural education. These efforts will ensure that children in rural areas are able to enjoy high quality educational resources. We should further consolidate and develop the new rural cooperative medical care system, bolster our contingent of physicians in rural areas, and direct high quality health care resources towards rural areas. We should improve public service networks for culture in rural areas and launch cultural activities according to rural characteristics, so as to satisfy the constantly rising non-material and cultural demands of rural residents.

Third, we should promote the integration of urban and rural social safety nets. We have established the framework for a social safety net in rural areas that guarantees basic needs, provides broad coverage, and is flexible and sustainable. However, there are still many problems to be resolved in the implementation of safety net policies in rural areas, and there is still a significant gap in the levels of assurance between rural and urban areas. Therefore, for a period of time to come, our general approach to social safety nets in rural areas will be to improve systems, raise standards, and gradually bring rural systems in line with urban systems. To improve systems, we must revise and improve our current policies and methods in response to the major problems that we have encountered during the process of implementation. To raise standards, we must provide social safety nets in rural areas with greater support, thereby ensuring that they can advance in step with economic growth. To gradually integrate social safety nets, we should coordinate the design of safety net systems in urban and rural areas, and gradually close the gap in standards between urban and rural areas. This way, we will move a step closer to the eventual integration of social safety nets in urban and rural areas.

3. Urbanization

Urbanization is an inevitable trend of economic and social development and an important indicator of modernization. Over the past 30 years, China’s permanent urban population has increased by 500 million, which is largely accountable to rural migrant workers. This mass movement of the population, totally unprecedented in scale, has not only changed the lives of millions of rural residents, but has also injected powerful vigor into China’s economic development. However, urbanization involves various social sectors and has a strong policy orientation, so we must be aware of the problems that we are currently facing, and fully evaluate the potential conflicts, difficulties and risks that we may encounter in the future. We should place emphasis on the following three areas:

First, we should regard the urbanization of the population as a major task. In recent years, China’s cities and towns have changed with each passing day, expanding at an extremely rapid pace. Moreover, the urban population has also grown by a significant margin. However, though most rural migrant workers are able to find jobs in cities, there are still many difficulties that prevent them from settling down in cities and towns. This reality goes against the will of most rural migrant workers, and especially the new generation of migrant workers. However, the assimilation of eligible rural migrant workers as permanent urban residents cannot be achieved by simply transferring their household registers. In our effort to promote population urbanization, there are two far-reaching problems that we must take into consideration. First, we should properly direct the transfer of the population. Large numbers of rural migrant workers have flooded into large cities, super-large cities and developed coastal areas. While this has promoted economic development, it has also increased the cost of population urbanization in these areas, even exceeding the capacity of local resources and environments. As the most populous country in the world, China cannot achieve population urbanization for such a huge population by relying on several city clusters and economically developed regions alone. Therefore, on one hand, we must take measures to accommodate eligible rural migrant workers as permanent residents in cities and towns. On the other hand, we should rearrange the layout of our productive forces at a faster pace to channel industries into inland areas as well as small and medium-sized cities and small towns, so that rural residents are able to seek employment in local cities. These are both major measures to promote population urbanization, and major aspects of our efforts to transform the pattern of economic development, adjust the structure of the economy, and balance the economic development of different regions. Second, we must consider the immediate interests and long-term livelihood of rural migrant workers that move into cities and towns. Contracted land use rights, residential land use rights, and the right to enjoy collective interests are property rights granted to rural residents by law. No one has the right to deprive rural residents of these rights, regardless of whether they stay in rural areas or move to urban areas, or whether they actually rely on these rights as a basic assurance or not. We should respect and safeguard the land-based property rights of rural residents under all circumstances. Rural residents should be allowed to retain these rights even after they have moved into cities. Alternatively, they may transfer these rights legally at their own free will and in exchange for compensation. With regard to rural migrant workers who are unable to become urban residents in the short term, we must attach importance to promoting universal coverage and standards in the provision of basic public services through institutional means in our effort to address the actual problems that these people face in regard to the payment of wages, the schooling of their children, public health, the rental and purchase of property, and social safety nets.

Second, we must promote the reform of the land requisition system. The current land requisition system is a product of history, having played an important role in China’s industrialization and urbanization. However, this system has also caused the rate of population urbanization lagging behind the rate of land urbanization in China. In addition, it has also been the cause of insufficient protection over the land property rights of rural residents as well as the excessive provision of construction land. In particular, some local governments have used the collective ownership of rural land as a pretext to occupy the contracted land of rural residents without engaging in prior communication or negotiation with the residents involved. This has damaged the legal rights of rural residents, leading to public dissatisfaction and a strong social backlash. We must accelerate our efforts to revise the Land Administration Law and reform the system for the requisition of collectively-owned land. This is vital to both the interests of rural residents and our industrial and urban development. We should recognize that our country’s level of economic development has already risen by a considerable margin and we can no longer sacrifice farmers’ land property rights for the sake of lowering the costs of industrialization and urbanization. We are now in the position to significantly increase the proportion of land value gains that is distributed to farmers, and this is something that we must do. In principle, the ideas embodied in the Regulations on the Expropriation of Buildings on State-Owned Land and Compensation, as well as the means by which these regulations are used to handle certain major issues, can be applied to the reform of the land requisition system. That said, however, the reform of the latter is a much more complicated issue. We must carefully formulate plans for reform, listen to the opinions and suggestions of the public on a wide scale, and accelerate relevant initiatives in line with the principles of safeguarding the interests of rural residents and conserving and intensifying the use of land. By doing so, we can increase the living standards of rural residents whose land has been expropriated, and ensure their long-term livelihood. The current government will issue laws and regulations pertaining to these reforms.

Third, we must properly resolve problems concerning the children, women and aged people who stay behind in rural areas while their relatives enter cities in search of work. This is a problem that has been experienced by many countries during the course of their urbanization, but it is particularly prominent in China. There are various reasons why many migrant workers are unable to move their entire families into cities in the short term, such as the unpredictability of their jobs, the high cost of living in cities, and the system of household registers. In recent years, there have been frequent accidents and infringements of rights involving people that have been left behind in rural areas. This made us deeply distressed. Therefore, we must step up our efforts to formulate relevant policies and measures. We must ensure the safety of children left behind in rural areas, safeguard their right to receive compulsory education, and ensure that they receive more love and care, so that they may live healthy and happy lives. In regard to women that stay behind in rural areas, we should help them to resolve their practical difficulties by various means, and work to enrich their non-material and cultural lives, so that they can live stable and happy lives. As for aged people left unattended in rural areas, in addition to incorporating them into the new rural pension insurance system, we should also develop a service system that accords with rural characteristics, and improve social welfare systems and social assistance systems for them. By doing so, we will ensure that elderly residents are able to spend their later years in ease and comfort. The fundamental solution to problems concerning people staying behind in rural areas, especially women and children, is to realize the modernization of agriculture and gradually address the issue of household registers for rural migrant workers during the course of urbanization. Though this will be a long-term process, we should actively create the conditions for progress to be made.

III. Ensuring positive trends in agricultural and rural development in 2012

At present, we are facing complex and serious challenges in the macro-regulation of the economy. In particular, we are coming under the combined pressure of a slowdown in economic growth and rising goods prices. Under such circumstances, it is of specific importance that we deliver a good performance in our initiatives concerning agriculture and rural areas. Governments and departments at all levels must attach great importance to agricultural production in 2012, especially grain production. In order to ensure a good harvest this year, we should take effective measures to remain alert, stay focused on policies, keep up work initiatives, and increase investment.

First, we must devote efforts to grain production and agricultural production. We should continue to raise minimum grain purchase prices and increase subsidies for grain production in order to motivate farmers and keep our current crop acreage steady. We should spread the use of agricultural technologies, especially technologies used to prevent and mitigate natural disasters and technologies to stabilize and increase production. Moreover, we should launch a campaign to achieve high yields in the output of grain, cotton, cooking oil, and sugar, and thereby increase our output per unit area. We will continue to implement the plan to increase grain production capacity by 50 million tons, and boost the production capacity of 800 counties, cities, districts, and farms with high grain yields. We should carry out an in-depth campaign to steadily increase grain yields, integrate and intensify various policies, and effectively unleash the enthusiasm of rural residents, local governments and agricultural technological personnel. We should actively bolster the production of non-staple foods such as vegetables, pork, beef, and mutton, and devote efforts to the supervision of the quality and safety of farm produce. In addition, we must ensure that purchasing regions and the rural districts that surround major cities maintain the necessary production capacity.

Second, we should focus efforts on the circulation of agricultural produce and market regulation. We should formulate master plans for the layout of the facilities for the circulation of agricultural produce nationwide. We need to build and upgrade major nationwide and regional wholesale markets, develop facilities for the storage and distribution of bulk agricultural produce, and help specialized farmer cooperatives and large farming or breeding households to build facilities for the storage of produce. We should provide farmers with more information concerning the supply and demand of agricultural produce, promote the link between production and consumption, and support the development of direct supply and purchase between farmers and consumers. In addition, we should streamline various fees collected during the circulation of agricultural produce, so as to effectively lower circulation costs. On the other hand, we should strengthen the regulation of the agricultural produce market, further improve measures concerning the temporary purchase and storage of major agricultural produce, and improve the system for the stockpiling of grain, cotton, cooking oil, and sugar. We should strengthen regulation of the import and export of farm produce, thereby bolstering the immunity of the domestic market to fluctuations in the international market.

Third, we should increase investment. We are now facing significant pressure to provide funds for the many areas that require government investment. Despite this, we will ensure government spending on agriculture, rural areas and rural residents, even if this means reducing investment in construction projects and other areas. We should focus on supporting major producing regions, especially counties with high grain output or high pig output. We should effectively integrate government investment, raise the efficiency of fund use, tighten fund supervision, and be resolute in putting an end to and severely punishing acts in violation of regulations. We should direct more credit funds towards agriculture, rural areas and rural residents, and urge medium and large-sized banks to fulfill their obligations in serving these three aspects. In addition, we should accelerate the development of small-scale financial institutions in accordance with rural characteristics, and actively develop various forms of microfinance in rural areas.

Fourth, we should deepen rural reforms. We should promote the development of a fundamental system for the administration of rural land, and steadily promote our efforts to confirm, register and certify the ownership of rural land. In our efforts to reform tenure in collective forests, we should basically complete the tasks of clarifying the ownership of collective forestland and concluding contracts with individual households for forestry operations. Moreover, we should accelerate the reform of the contract system for grasslands. We will proceed with the comprehensive reform of rural areas, and work toward the clearance and settlement of public welfare related debts in rural areas. We should promote the reform of the agricultural science and technology system, and accelerate the establishment of a new mechanism for innovations in agricultural science and technology and the promotion of new technologies. In 2012, we must complete the task of establishing public service agencies at the levels of township, town or region for the purpose of introducing agricultural technology, preventing and controlling animal and plant epidemic diseases, and regulating the quality of farm produce. We should learn from our experiences in launching trials for the comprehensive reform aimed at balancing urban and rural development, and devote efforts to pilot districts for rural reforms.

Fifth, we must ensure and improve the public well-being in rural areas. We should steadily push forward the construction of safe drinking water facilities, roads and methane generation projects and the renovation of the power grid and dilapidated buildings in rural areas as we have planned. We should implement policies on developing compulsory education in rural areas, with the focus on resolving problems related to the safety and nutrition of rural students. We should accelerate the formulation of regulations for the safety and management of school buses, and implement plans for the improvement of the nutritional level of rural students. We should accelerate cultural development and launch various cultural schemes for public benefit in rural areas. We will further lighten the financial burden of medical services on rural residents. The per capita funding standard for rural residents covered by the new rural cooperative medical care system has been increased from 230 yuan to 300 yuan, of which the per capita government subsidy has been increased from 200 yuan to 240 yuan accordingly. We need to extend the coverage of the new rural pension insurance system to all rural residents. We should standardize the administration of the basic living allowance system in rural areas, thereby allowing this system to truly benefit those with financial difficulties.

IV. Improving our ability to launch initiatives pertaining to agriculture, rural areas and rural residents

To tackle the huge task of launching initiatives pertaining to agriculture, rural areas, and rural residents under new circumstances, not only must we have a good understanding of theories and policies, we must also have a great deal of practical experience, and deeply cherish the people in rural areas. Cadres engaging in these initiatives need to understand the objective laws governing agricultural and rural development, balance various different relationships, and strive to make the development of agriculture and rural areas more scientific and more efficient.

First, we must continue to attach the highest level of importance to solving problems concerning agriculture, rural areas and rural residents. The central government has identified the resolution of problems concerning agriculture, the countryside and rural residents as the number one priority in the work agenda of the entire Party. This strategy will not only guide our current initiatives, but also our long-term efforts. Though both the proportion of agriculture in the economy and the scale of the rural population will decrease in the future, agriculture will always be a foundation of the national economy, and problems pertaining to agriculture, the countryside and farmers will always have a strong bearing on our overall situation. This should be emphasized both at the present and in the future, both in rural areas and in urban areas, and both in publicity efforts and in practice. Leading cadres at all levels should set an example in implementing the strategy of prioritizing the efforts pertaining to agriculture, rural areas and farmers.

Second, we should always respect the will of rural residents. We should maintain a sound attitude towards rural residents in terms of our understanding of them and our feelings for them. Regardless of whether we are making decisions or launching initiatives, we should put ourselves in their position and solicit their opinions. We should change our way of thinking and our style of work. We should not make decisions on behalf of rural residents, nor should we take coercive measures. We should give rural residents the chance to understand and accept our initiatives, and should not expect them to change overnight, even if what we are doing is for their benefit. We should not expect to make uniform progress across the board and get the job done in one go. As a group, rural residents have become increasingly diverse, with different people having different points of view and different demands. Therefore, we should not only pay attention to the wishes of the majority, but also take into consideration the special cases and reasonable demands of the minority, whilst carrying out our work in rural areas.

Third, we should always safeguard the rights and interests of rural residents. We should pay close attention to the material interests of rural residents economically, and effectively safeguard their democratic rights politically. This is an important guiding ideology that was adopted at the Third Plenary Session of the Eleventh CPC Central Committee, and has contributed to our great achievements in rural reform and development over more than three decades. We must adapt to social progress and the profound changes taking place in the relationships between different interests, and adopt new ideas and measures in order to better safeguard the rights and interests of rural residents. We must respect the material interests of farmers. Thus, we should not only work to increase their income from farming, but also place emphasis on ensuring their rights and interests in regard to land, property, employment, social safety nets, and public services. On the other hand, we should safeguard the democratic rights of rural residents. In addition to ensuring that rural residents are able to participate in the election of village committees at their own free will, we should also devote more efforts to expanding the scope of the autonomous administration of villages. Moreover, we should improve our system for the governance of townships, tailoring the system to the increasing will of rural residents to participate in the administration of political affairs.

Fourth, we must stay grounded in reality. The more progress we make in agricultural and rural development, the more important it becomes to maintain a clear head. The underdevelopment of our rural areas is a consequence of history. To turn this situation around, we need to work hard over a long period of time and resolve problems on a step-by-step basis. The realities in our rural areas are hugely diverse, which means that rural regions cannot follow a single development model. We must carry out work in consideration of local characteristics and in line with our capacity, and guard against seeking quick and easy gains or being rash. We must make efforts to stay fully informed about popular opinion and launch solid and careful investigations and studies in order to ascertain the actual situations in rural areas and the genuine demands of rural residents. These will allow us to better base our decisions and initiatives on reality. At the current stage of rural reform in China, it is necessary that we improve our top-level design. However, rural residents will always be the source of strength for reform. Therefore, we must protect and stimulate the creativity of rural residents to the greatest possible extent.

Fifth, we should always carry out initiatives in accordance with policies and laws. We must establish the idea of administration in accordance with the law. We should approach our work strictly in line with policies and laws, neither falling short of what is required nor overstepping our bounds. This is because policies and laws not only impose constraints, but also provide protection. We should be adept at bringing rural residents together, and uniting them behind the government and the Party through the careful implementation of policies. In addition, we should be adept in the application of laws, so that we can guide rural residents in safeguarding their rights and interests through legal means. This is conducive to social stability in rural areas. Those who are new to work concerning agriculture, rural areas and rural residents should step up their efforts to familiarize themselves with the policies and laws related to rural work, the history of rural reforms, and the evolution of rural systems and policies, so as to master the basics of rural initiatives.


(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No.2, 2012)

Author: Member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee and Premier of the State Council

This is an extract of a speech delivered by the author at the Central Conference on Rural Work on December 27, 2011.  

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