Down on the Farm; A Rural Crisis Is Forcing Beijing to Reconsider the Idea of Private Property

Newsweek International, May 15, 2006 | Go to article overview

Down on the Farm; A Rural Crisis Is Forcing Beijing to Reconsider the Idea of Private Property


Byline: Melinda Liu and Jonathan Ansfield

The minutes of the March 4 meeting--ostensibly convened by Communist Party policy advisers to discuss economic reforms and rural poverty--were supposed to be secret. But last month they leaked out on the Web, and ideological sparks have been flying ever since. What started out as a discussion by officials, economists and legal experts about deadlocked legislation on property rights has morphed into a fierce debate about the future of reform in China. Its outcome could determine how--and whether--Beijing will manage to bridge the widening gulf between the country's haves and have-nots. And its intensity is a gauge of how alarming that income gap--in large part an urban versus rural divide--has become.

When Deng Xiaoping began introducing market reforms nearly three decades ago, his aides quickly broke up rural "people's communes" into family farms, triggering a dramatic rise in peasant incomes. Today, however, the small farmers who make up the majority of China's population (849 million out of 1.3 billion people) are suffering. Last year rural per capita income was about $400 while the average city dweller's income reached $1,300. "This 3.22 to 1 ratio represents the worst urban-rural income gap in the modern history of China," states the advance draft of a study into rural land issues conducted by Chinese and U.S. researchers under the aegis of Beijing's Rural Development Institute (RDI). (The study, made with the help of Renmin University and Michigan State University, is slated for publication this fall in an American academic journal.) That problem has Chinese policymakers facing the sorts of divisive social and economic issues that fueled China's civil war and propelled Mao Zedong's peasant armies to power in 1949. Only this time the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) finds itself the status quo power, scrambling to rein in corrupt cadres.

China's rural residents are hurt by a simple fact: The country still lacks private-property rights. Chinese cannot legally own land. They can only obtain land-use rights--for 70 years in cities and 30 years in the countryside. On top of that, urban residents are allowed to sell those rights, while rural residents in practice have a much harder time doing so. The Rural Land Contracting Law, passed in 2002, was designed to end the tradition of reallocating rural land among households to reflect population changes--a practice that left farmers uncertain how long they would retain their plots and reluctant to invest in greenhouses, fisheries or other improvements. The law also gave leaseholders the right to initiate legal action to protect their leases. But the villages, and the CCP officials who run them, still retain ultimate authority over rural leaseholds, and land grabs by unscrupulous developers are a menace. "What happens when local officials want to sell off your farmland?" asks lawyer Wu Ge, a prominent Beijing-based rights attorney. "How do peasants fight the government?"

The answer is, with fists and fury. More and more Chinese are reacting violently to practices such as illegal eviction, inadequate compensation and rural land confiscation at the hands of powerful vested interests. Social unrest has escalated so dramatically in recent years that Beijing leaders acknowledge the stability of the regime itself is at risk.

Chinese authorities are scrambling to alleviate rural poverty--and have made it Beijing's top priority. The government has said it will eliminate agricultural taxes, improve rural health care, and provide free primary-school education. Yet these are clearly stop-gap measures. The most dependable way to boost rural incomes, say experts, is to grant farmers the rights to buy, sell and mortgage their land. Without such long-term property-rights guarantees, Chinese farmers will continue to lag far behind economically.

But genuine land reform would not erase a basic economic truth: Too many Chinese are chasing too little land. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Down on the Farm; A Rural Crisis Is Forcing Beijing to Reconsider the Idea of Private Property
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.