China's Rural Challenges
Reports indicate that China will have a grand celebration for the 40th anniversary of its reform and opening up initiative. President Xi Jinping will certainly deliver a speech, which is set to mention rural reform.
This is because reform and opening up, which began 40 years ago and is still ongoing, actually started in rural China. Various economic and social issues there have become more complex and acute. If not handled properly, they will not only hinder rural progress and farmers' wellbeing, but will also affect various other ambitious undertakings. In his last years, Deng Xiaoping expressed concerns that, though there will be many problems when a country doesn't develop, the country will face even more problems after achieving a certain degree of prosperity. That is precisely where China stands today, with rural development becoming an outstanding concern. Unless such problems are swiftly and properly dealt with, the Chinese countryside may become a hot potato.
Not long ago, two members of the Chinese Politburo Standing Committee, Wang Huning and Wang Yang, stated that the key tasks for 2018 are preventing and resolving various risks, forcefully pressing ahead with poverty alleviation, and making practical progress in environmental protection. No breakthrough will be possible without proper concern for the countryside. In other words, rural China will be a key factor in determining whether national reforms will succeed.
It was against such a backdrop that the Chinese government worked out its 2018 Document No.1, or "Opinions of the CPC Central Committee and State Council on Implementing the Strategy of Rural Rejuvenation". What are its aims?
First it aims to rid rural China of poverty. The remaining 30 million poor citizens of China are mainly located in the countryside. Poverty relief is an obvious precondition for rural rejuvenation. The document features a very meticulous, well thought-out timetable for eradicating poverty.
Promoting green development is also an important part of the rejuvenation program. In order to guarantee food safety and control air, water, and soil pollution, the Chinese government will work hard to gradually change rural residents' way of life and living habits, and comprehensively eliminate sources of pollution.
Among the strategic deliberations in the document, the most challenging task is comprehensive social administration in the countryside. Thanks to the impact of the market economy, as well as the population outflow into the cities, many rural areas have been disrupted and deserted. It was an awareness of this that drove the Chinese government to come up with the "combination blows" of cracking down on underworld forces, punishing corruption in poverty alleviation, establishing new governance mechanisms for rural communities, upgrading social security guarantee for rural residents, and promoting cultural prosperity. In an unprecedented attempt to enhance rural governance, the Chinese government is highlighting the role of traditional farming culture in improving public morale. In fact, long-ignored traditions and customs associated with rural gentry and clans are being re-evaluated for their positive functions in moral indoctrination.
Certainly it is unrealistic to expect too much from traditional farming culture, because the process of urbanization in China is irreversible. Therefore, it is imperative to reform the way Chinese agriculture is managed. Document No.1 made it explicit that the government attempts to make major changes and redefine ownership of collectively-owned land, rural households' corresponding contract rights, and the newly proposed management rights. With the latest management rights, which can be used for financing guarantee and joint-stock undertakings, Chinese agriculture will take a huge stride towards large-scale production and industrialization.
The article was first published on chinausfocus.com, March 1, 2018.