The Politics of Rural Reform in China: State Policy and Village Predicament in the Early 2000s

The Politics of Rural Reform in China: State Policy and Village Predicament in the Early 2000s

The Politics of Rural Reform in China: State Policy and Village Predicament in the Early 2000s

The Politics of Rural Reform in China: State Policy and Village Predicament in the Early 2000s


Based on a treasure trove of information collected through fieldwork interviews and painstaking documentary research through the Chinese and Western language presses, this book analyzes one of the most important reforms implemented in China over the past decade - the rural tax and fee reform, also known as the "Third Revolution in the Countryside". The aim of the tax was to improve social stability in rural China, which has become increasingly shaken by peasant protests, many of them large-scale and violent. By examining the gap between the intentions of the reform and the eventual outcomes, Göbel provides new insights into the nature of intergovernmental relations in China and highlights the ways in which the relationship between the state and the rural populace has fundamentally changed forever.

The Politics of Rural Reform in China will appeal to students and scholars of Chinese politics, governance and development studies.


Unjust exactions from the Chinese peasantry have been a driving force of China’s history. Most dynasties were founded on the pledge to improve the lot of China’s farmers, and began with good relations between those governing and those governed. Gradually, however, the administrative apparatus grew, and corruption set in. In order to satisfy their ever-increasing needs, the bureaucrats extracted more and more resources from the Chinese peasantry. Eventually, a tipping point was reached. Infuriated peasants led by disgruntled bureaucrats either brought down the regime themselves, or destabilized it just enough for contenders to the throne to take over. The new emperor drastically simplified the fiscal system, and the process started all over again.

This ‘dynastic cycle’ is a very strong image in Chinese political thought. Given that the People’s Republic of China was also founded on the pledge to liberate China’s farmers from feudalism and oppression, the current leadership has every reason to be concerned about China’s stability. For a country that claims to be socialist, income inequality is alarmingly high. China’s Gini index stood at 46.9 in 2007, on a par with countries such as Rwanda and Mexico. While the richest 10 per cent earned more than one-third of all income, the poorest 10 per cent have to get by with just over 1 per cent. As a consequence, social tensions have increased. According to official figures, the number of ‘mass incidents’ rose 28 per cent between 2003 and 2004. Besides rural protests, another worrisome phenomenon was observed in the beginning of the twenty-first century. As a result of falling market prices due to large-scale grain speculation, grain output dropped from 508.4 million tons in 1999 to 430.7 million tons in 2003. This alerted the central government that the country’s policy of self-sufficient food production could be undermined in the long run.

It is no coincidence that the beginning at the twenty-first century saw a shift in development priorities in the central government. The exclusive focus on economic growth came to be replaced by a pledge to sustainable development, which also entailed devising solutions for China’s manifold rural problems. In 2006, the central government started to devote large subsidies to an ambitious and costly rural development programme termed the ‘New . . .

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