BEIJING — Along with urban expansion in the past decades, China has been paying special attention to rural development in hope of building the countryside into another economic engine.
China released the annual “No. 1 Central Document” on Feb 1, pledging to further coordinate the development of cities and villages and narrow their gap.
“It has become a key issue to consolidate the position of agriculture as the foundation of the economy against the current backdrop of slowdown,” noted the document.
The country will strive to transform the development mode of agriculture, boost policies that benefit farmers, push forward the building of “new socialist countryside”, deepen rural reforms and strengthen rule of law in dealing with rural issues.
Central authorities will upgrade infrastructure, improve public services and enhance living conditions in the countryside.
The document introduces measures to encourage grain production, nurture secondary and tertiary industries and increase farmers’ incomes, promising equal public services and opportunities for urbanites and migrant workers.
“China cannot turn all the countryside into cities and it must pursue a new path to sustain rural development economically and environmentally,” said Du Zhixiong of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
In Chinese history, rural people are normally depicted as leading a harsh yet peaceful life, toiling on the land. Many literary and art works illustrate an idyllic picture of the countryside.
Most Chinese people, including Premier Li Keqiang, suffered hunger decades ago. As a young man, the premier worked as a farmer in Fengyang County, central China’s Anhui province, where far-reaching rural reform began at the end of 1970s. Communal farming was ended and the “household contract responsibility system” came in its place.
From 1982 to 1986, the “No. 1 Central Document” targeted agricultural and rural issues, sketching out basic policies. A golden era began with rapidly increasing grain production and ballooning purse.
The central authorities then shifted emphasis to cities as rural affairs were believed to have been straighten out, until grain output decreased between 2000 and 2003 and urban-rural development gap widened.
A statement after the Central Rural Work Conference in December called challenges facing the agricultural sector “unprecedented”: rising production costs, limited arable land and fresh water.
Although the country has set a red line that cultivated land should not fall below 120 million hectares, pressure on arable land is still great.
More seriously, farming is rapidly waning as returns from the land are much smaller than those from working in cities.
As a result, a great number of ex-farmers are settling in cities, abandoning the elderly and weak in villages.
Migrant workers are deprived of many public services in cities while the left-behind are struggling with over-exploited and in some places seriously polluted farmland.