Chinese farmers remain marginalized economically
The National Bureau of Statistics vice director said he was "shocked" by the 10-year gap between the quality of life of urban residents and farmers -- the dominant force of China's gigantic 1.3 billion population, China Youth Daily reported
"It's not so beyond the imagination that, generally speaking, China's city population are much better off than their rural siblings," said a netizen speaking out on one of the nation's most popular news portals, Sina. "We prefer concrete measures to better farmers' lives over appalled officials. "
The income gap between city dwellers and farm workers has widened on and on since the year 1997. During the seven years through 2004, rural people's annual incomes per capita increased by 6.8 per cent to 2,936 yuan (about US$350) on average, nearly a quarter of the income of urban people.
These scanty earnings have also dragged down the education status in rural areas far behind cities, with farmers unable to send their children to school.
Only 10 per cent of rural people are now under the nation's social welfare umbrella for free medication, which, by contrast, covers some 40 per cent of city residents.
The life of farmers who mainly feed themselves off of what they grow has gotten even worse with the nation's persistent contractions in its expenditures on agriculture. The money earmarked for the agriculture development in 2003 shrank by nearly 7 per cent compared with that of 1978.
China has more than 800 million farmers, or nearly 60 per cent of its huge 1.3 billion population. Through last year, 26.1 million rural people were still fighting against absolute poverty and 50 million were living at the least sustainable level, officials estimate.
Such embattled living conditions for the nation's vast farming population have long been under the spotlight as relative administrations have spared no efforts to change the situation.
On the heels of the early 2005 annulment of agriculture taxes, the Ministry of Education is now mulling an overall exemption of education fees in underprivileged rural areas.
"Compulsory education will be completely free in the countryside by the end of the year," Zhang Baoqi, vice minister of the ministry, said on Aug. 29.