Evaluation of the Chinese Rural Transformation Strategies

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The core problems of widespread poverty, growing inequality, and rapid population growth originate in the stagnation and retrogression of economic life in rural areas. Therefore, for development to take place sustainably, it has to include rural areas in general and the agricultural sector in particular. The Lewis two sector models provides a good example of a theory placing emphasis on industrial growth fueled by the agricultural sector through surplus labor and cheap food. Today development economists have come to realize that the agricultural sector in particular and rural economy in general must play an indispensable part in any strategy of economic development. China is one of the countries which put this into practice after the 1949 revolution when it embarked on its rural transformation. During the past 50 years, China's leaders experimented with various measures to develop the country's rural areas. In the pre 1978 period, these measures were usually implemented in the form of mass mobilization campaigns, associated with various political and ideological movements. After the 1978 reforms, the measures consisted of legal and institutional reforms, as well as large-scale infrastructure projects mainly by the central government. There are eight rural transformation strategies which were employed by China these were: Land reform 1949-1953, Collectivization 1953-1956, Great Leap Forward, Agricultural Communes 1957-1961, Damage control 1962-1965, The Cultural Revolution 1966-1976, First phase of economic reforms: introduction of family farming 1978-1984, Second reform phase: price and market liberalization 1985-1989, as well as the Recent reforms of structural improvements 1990 – Present. This paper will therefore seek to critically evaluate the above-mentioned strategies which were employed by China. It will also show that not all of these strategies were employed by the Chinese were favorable but nevertheless they toiled until they managed to develop their countryside which has in turn led to China becoming an economic powerhouse which it is today.

When the People’s Republic of China was established in 1949, almost 90 percent of China’s population lived in rural areas and agriculture accounted for 65 percent of national income. The Chinese rural producers before the 1949 revolution were non-capitalist but toiled under a system which obliged them to turn their surplus to landlords. That system of land ownership created huge disparities between the rich and the poor. Lin (1990) pinpointed that “in the wake of the revolution nearly half of the land in rural China was owned by landlords and leased to peasants for cultivation. Rent was often as high as 50% of the output of main crops.” However, a new era was ushered by the 1949 revolution when the Chinese Communist Party took power. Upon achieving political power, the communist party in China embarked on a massive overhauling of the economy. The communist regime saw economic salvation in improving agriculture and accelerating the pace of industrialization (Mendoza 2009). Mendoza (2009) further highlighted that “when the communists took over in 1949, the revolutionary government led by Mao Zedong inherited a devastated economy resulting from years of civil war and the occupation of Japanese forces during Second World War. The communists embarked not just to rebuild the economy, but also to radically transform Chinese society in the process.” In the words of Chen Yung-fa, the Maoists tore down the “dichotomy between state and society” wherein “every Chinese belonged to a basic geographical unit, be it commune and production brigade in rural areas or street office and neighborhood committees in urban areas.”(Cheng 2003).

The communist government implemented numerous rural transformation strategies. The first step that the communist took was to give land to the poor. Rural transformation in China started with land redistribution after the promulgation of the law on...
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