Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Chinese Farmers Revive Old Art of Tax Dodge Moves Protest State Control over Agriculture

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Chinese Farmers Revive Old Art of Tax Dodge Moves Protest State Control over Agriculture

Article excerpt

HAIL and flooding have often ravaged rice paddies and fortunes in Haibin. But this year, if village leader Ma Kaixin has his way, bad weather will keep away the tax man.

Like millions of rural Chinese, Mr. Ma has been rudely jostled in recent months by tax collectors digging deeper into peasants' pockets than they have in many years.

High-handed officials, ranging from village bosses to county leaders, have been emboldened by a 22-month policy of retrenchment that has renewed state controls over the economy, peasants say.

The officials have levied a slew of new fees while proffering phrases like "new collective economy," "moderate-scale farming," and other Beijing-sanctioned euphemisms aimed at masking the revival of state control over agriculture, the peasants say.

Beijing's policy of strict austerity has apparently compelled low-level officials to make up for smaller state disbursements by gathering more revenues from farmers and villages.

Chinese farmers today must pay at least 10 percent of their income on fees imposed by local officials, or twice the amount allowed by law, the official newspaper China Daily reported recently, quoting sources in the Agriculture Ministry.

The ministry recently ordered an end to the arbitrary fees. Also, some 28 provinces and other administrative regions have set up agencies to investigate reports of onerous taxes, say official press reports.

But Ma, who runs the village when not tilling his half-acre rice paddy, won't count on the bureaucratic clout of Beijing.

Rather, like peasants before him who dodged official abuses for centuries, he will rely on subterfuge.

Since 1988, when Beijing launched its policy of economic austerity, county officials have sought to squeeze $55,100 from the 2,600 residents of Haibin village, or 44 percent more in taxes than in previous years, Ma says.

But in 1989 "big hail storms, awful rains, and other terrible natural disasters seriously hurt our crops so we couldn't pay the extra taxes," Ma says. …

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