Students of Class 6, Grade 2, of Hefei No. 8 Senior High School - including the 18-year-old Li Keqiang (2nd R, back row) - pose for a photograph at the Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, May 1, 1973.
In his role as Premier, Li Keqiang, is a global statesman but the seeds of his philosophy, and his focus on quality growth, were rooted in his time on the land as a 19-year-old farmer in 1974.
As the head of his production team, he spent four years working and living with farmers and was on the frontline of “keeping everyone away from hunger”.
The countryside experience helped nurture Li’s focus on “improving the well-being of farmers up to the average level of urban residents’’ in the following years as a young scholar and local official.
Li Keqiang examines crops planted in Qingbao village, Longfeng township, Enshi city, Hubei province, Dec 29, 2012.[Photo/Xinhua]
In a recent meeting, Li told heads of localities and branch departments that: “Most of us used to serve as farmers and experienced their life ... We should work for farmers with our heart and soul.’’
During a visit to the Italian headquarters of the World Food Organization in October, Li recalled the years of toil on the soil.
“The impression made upon me by hunger is forever unforgettable,’’ he said.
He also told reporters at a press conference during the Two Sessions in 2014 that “hunger was eliminated within a few years” after farmers were allowed to contract land and decide what they wanted to plant.
But Li also realized in his four years in the countryside the importance of local responsibility and delegating “power to the lower levels”.
Li Keqiang, then Party secretary of Henan province, during a field research trip to Hebi city in the province in June 2003.
As a post-graduate student and PhD candidate he understood that a modern approach was necessary to boost the living standards of farmers.
In his paper for his master’s degree, Li noted that the industrialization of China’s rural areas has “ushered in a new situation for the national economy’’.
Li underscored the importance, in his PhD paper, of “fulfilling industrialization first’’ for a country seeking to modernize.
Li Keqiang’s graduate theses for his master’s degree (left) and PhD (right).
When he was serving in Henan province, he proposed the vision of “developing the agricultural sector along lines of the industrial sector’’ to boost farm production.
Urbanizing the farmers, by raising living standards and bringing them closer to their markets, was a key initiative proposed by the Premier to boost economic growth.
In order to narrow the gap between urban and rural areas, the first step is to give farmers opportunities, enhancing their status and allowing them to further develop, Li observed.
Linked to this, Li has been a firm advocate for actively protecting the rights and interests of migrant workers from rural areas, and understands the necessity of boosting Internet access to farmers.
Li Keqiang, then Party secretary of Henan province, meets farmers in Xinxiang, Henan province, in August 2003.
Premier Li Keqiang meets residents of the village of Tanliang, Nanning, Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, July 9, 2013.
Premier Li Keqiang discusses issues related to wheat crops, at a family farm in Changshu, Jiangsu province, March 28, 2013. [Photo/Xinhua]
Premier Li Keqiang visits “left behind” children - whose parents leave home to work in the cities - in the village of Jin Po, Xunyang county, Ankang, Shaanxi province, Jan 27, 2014.
Premier Li Keqiang shakes hands with a migrant worker coming from rural areas at a construction site of a local pipeline project which aims to separate rainwater from sewage in Dezhou, Shandong province, Oct 24, 2014.
Premier Li Keqiang visits employees at a service branch of a delivery company in Yiwu city, Zhejiang province, Nov 19, 2014.
Premier Li Keqiang meets residents originally from rural areas in a residential community of Dezhou city, Shandong province,July 24, 2014.