Steadily Advancing Rural Revitalization
The Fifth Plenary Session of the 19th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) held in 2020 set out major strategic plans on steadily promoting common prosperity, and proposed making clearer substantive progress in this regard by 2035. At the Central Rural Work Conference in late 2020, Chinese President Xi Jinping introduced his important concept of "rejuvenation of the nation and revitalization of the countryside" and called on the entire Party and the whole of society to promote rural revitalization. At the tenth meeting of the Central Commission for Financial and Economic Affairs in August 2021, President Xi emphasized, "The most arduous tasks associated with promoting common prosperity are those in rural areas." These pronouncements demonstrate the great importance that President Xi and the CPC Central Committee he leads consistently attach to work related to agriculture, rural areas, and rural residents. We must thoroughly abide by the guiding principles set out in President Xi's speeches and treat the all-round promotion of rural revitalization as a major historic task in our endeavors to build China into a modern socialist country and promote prosperity for all. We must also pursue sure and steady progress through protracted efforts to promote high-quality and efficient agriculture, make rural areas better places to live and work, and make rural residents more affluent.
I. Necessity and urgency of rural revitalization in the new stage of development
Since the 18th National Congress of the CPC in 2012, the Party has led the people of the whole country in achieving victory in a battle against poverty that was unprecedented in history in terms of its scale, intensity, and the number of people who have benefited. The Party has brought a historic resolution to the problem of absolute poverty in the countryside, helping hundreds of millions of rural residents to achieve moderate prosperity and taking a giant stride toward the goal of prosperity for all. With the goal of building a moderately prosperous society in all respects complete, the main concern with regard to rural residents has shifted from ensuring basic necessities to ensuring quality of life. They have greater expectations regarding fair development opportunities, sharing in the fruits of development, and raising their standard of living. This makes the tasks of comprehensive rural revitalization greater and more challenging. Not one person was left behind on the path to building a moderately prosperous society in all respects, and not one rural resident or rural area can be left behind on the path to common prosperity.
The key to solving imbalanced and inadequate development lies in agriculture, rural areas, and rural residents.
The uneven development of China's urban and rural areas and insufficient rural development are prominent manifestations of major social problems. Regardless of how the economy develops and how society progresses, hundreds of millions of people will continue to live in rural areas in the future, and more than a billion people will still rely on farming to make a living. Our ability to strengthen agriculture and rural areas will have a direct bearing on the quality of socialist modernization and the effectiveness of our drive to achieve prosperity for all. It is vital that we push ahead with the modernization of agriculture and rural areas in an integrated manner. We must also adopt a uniquely Chinese path of rural revitalization, prioritize the development of agriculture and rural areas, and ensure that agriculture and rural areas keep pace and do not fall behind in the course of modernization.
The untapped strength for creating a new development dynamic lies in agriculture, rural areas, and rural residents.
The countryside is our greatest growth area for expanding domestic demand and cultivating a complete domestic demand system. An increase in rural residents' income levels and the development of rural social undertakings will unleash a huge amount of investment and consumer demand. In terms of overseas flows of agricultural products, China is the world's largest importer (worth more than US$170 billion in 2020) and the fifth largest exporter, so trade in agricultural products plays a crucial role in managing our international balance of payments. In line with our efforts to create a new development dynamic, we must urgently expand and facilitate domestic economic flows and fully unleash rural domestic demand potential. We must promote the dual drivers of rural revitalization and urban renewal and make good use of both domestic and international markets and their respective resources to further strengthen the resilience of industrial and supply chains.
Our ability to cope with domestic and international risks and challenges depends on agriculture, rural areas, and rural residents.
Reinforcing agriculture, rural areas, and rural residents will ensure that they act as an anchor as we cope with changing circumstances and create new prospects. In the last couple of years, despite the impacts of Covid-19 and severe regional natural disasters, we have had abundant supplies of food and important secondary agricultural products, and our rural areas have remained harmonious and stable, which have been vital in maintaining steady economic and social development. External uncertainties and instability are growing, so the role of agriculture, rural areas, and rural residents as an anchor is also growing. For major issues such as food security, we must adopt a macro-historical perspective, maintain our strategic resolve, and be more mindful of worse case scenarios in order to shore up our agricultural base and provide staunch support and room to maneuver for our overall economic and social development.
Self-propelled swathers cross a rice field at Jiangchuan Farm of Beidahuang Group, August 29, 2021. A pacesetter in China's agricultural modernization, the group has already achieved total mechanization, and is now exploring new approaches to agricultural development using smart and digital technology. PEOPLE'S DAILY / LIU SHUAIYE
II. Shouldering political responsibility for food security
President Xi has emphasized the need to resolutely maintain the initiative in our food security and increase food production each year. Guaranteeing national food security is a task of paramount importance in rural revitalization.
The key to ensuring national food security is a production strategy based on farmland management and the application of technology, while also focusing on the vital roles of cultivated land and seeds.
Seeds are the microchips of agriculture, and they have a direct bearing on industrial and food security. China's seed industry suffers from insufficient protection and utilization of germplasm resources and weak independent innovation capabilities. It is vital that we strengthen the protection, development, and utilization of germplasm resources and engage in collaborative research on relevant key and core technologies to transform the seed industry in China. This will ensure that Chinese bowls are filled with Chinese grain and that Chinese grain is grown primarily from Chinese seeds. Farmland is the lifeblood of food production, but there are issues with it being converted to non-agricultural uses and farmers moving away from planting grain, which need to be curbed. We must strictly adhere to the red line of maintaining our total area of farmland above 120 million hectares, adopt measures with the necessary powers and authority to compel adherence, and implement the strictest system of farmland protection. We must develop all-weather farmland with high and stable grain yields, and protect our chernozem soil, known as the "giant panda of farmland soils" due to its critical condition. We need to develop mechanisms to safeguard food security that both reward farmers and hold local Party committees and governments accountable. In accordance with the concept of underwriting the capital outlays of grain farmers with state policies and increasing their incomes by changing how they operate, we will adhere to and improve the system of setting minimum prices for state grain purchases, stabilize and strengthen methods of subsidizing grain farmers, and expand the scope of pilot programs on insuring the capital outlays and income of farmers. We will also make sure that local authorities take responsibility for local grain production whereby Party committees and government agencies shoulder equal responsibility for food security by making both provincial governors and provincial Party secretaries responsible for China's grain supply. This will ensure that major grain producing regions, major grain purchasing areas, and regions where the production and sale of grain are balanced shoulder joint political responsibility for food security.
To ensure our food supply, we must not only ensure that we have sufficient quantity, but also that we have diversity and quality, the key to which is deepening supply-side structural reforms of agriculture.
Ensuring diversity means meeting consumer demand for a wide variety of agricultural products as well as adjusting and optimizing the structure, regional layout, and product structure of agricultural production. It also means coordinating the production of important agricultural products and secondary products, such as cotton, oil, sugar, meat, eggs, milk, fruits, vegetables, and fish, and improving the versatility of supply systems. Ensuring quality involves vitalizing agriculture by raising quality, promoting green development, and creating brands. It involves promoting the cultivation of excellent varieties and improving product quality, brand development, and standardized production. Lastly, it involves improving quality, efficiency, and competitiveness, so that farmers increase their incomes and become more affluent.
III. Aligning efforts to consolidate the results of the battle against poverty with rural revitalization
President Xi has emphasized that following our victory in poverty alleviation, we must comprehensively promote rural revitalization. This entails a historic shift in the focus of our work on agriculture, rural areas, and rural residents. We must consider the alleviation and elimination of poverty as merely the starting point of this new life and new struggle. We need to consolidate and expand the fruits of our poverty alleviation efforts and then link them with our efforts to achieve rural revitalization, so that we continue to promote economic and social development in poverty-stricken areas and improve people's lives.
We need to guard against a large-scale relapse into poverty.
Liyuan New Village at the foot of colorful mountains in Linze County, Gansu Province, August 24, 2021. In recent years, the county has integrated its zero-garbage policy with the initiatives to build a beautiful China and promote rural revitalization. All the people have put hard work into improving the environment and appearance of villages. PEOPLE'S DAILY / WANG JIANG
Although all areas and people in China have been removed from poverty, our development foundations remain weak, so we must face up to the arduous task of consolidating our achievements to prevent falling back into poverty. The CPC Central Committee has set out a five-year transition period for counties that have completed their poverty alleviation objectives and extricated themselves from poverty. During the transition period, major assistance policies will remain largely in place to ensure help is at hand and to prevent a large-scale return to poverty. To guard against this, we must improve dynamic monitoring and assistance mechanisms to provide early detection, early intervention, and early assistance to the most vulnerable. For those able to work, we will continue to offer development-oriented assistance aimed at helping them to work their way to a better life, and for those unable to work, we will ensure their basic living needs are met. We will also continue to use resettlement as a follow-up option and ensure that resettled people have stability and employment and that they gradually become better off financially. In addition, we will provide centralized support in the areas of finance, banking, infrastructure, and public services to counties that are instrumental in national rural revitalization and key counties designated by provinces, so as to consolidate the results of poverty alleviation.
We need to use rural revitalization to accelerate rural development.
An artisan displays newly made bamboo strips at a poverty alleviation workshop producing woven bambooware in Chishui, Guizhou Province, October 24, 2020. The city of Chishui has leveraged its ample bamboo resources to set up such workshops, and hired master weavers to provide training for women relocated from inhospitable areas, free of charge, as a way of helping local people escape poverty and earn more income. XINHUA / PHOTO BY WANG CHANGYU
Vitalizing rural areas and making rural residents prosperous ultimately depends on development. We should rely on the unique resource advantages of agriculture and rural areas to accelerate the development of rural industries, develop and expand industries that help people and villages to prosper, and allow rural residents to play a bigger role in industrial development and share in value gains. We need to enrich rural residents' pockets, but we also need to enrich their minds. We must raise cultural and ethical standards in rural areas, continue to discourage undesirable customs and habits, and foster civilized villages, fine homes, and honest individuals, in a bid to achieve both material and spiritual prosperity. We need to thoroughly summarize and learn from valuable institutional achievements and inspiration obtained during the battle to alleviate poverty to improve our policy system, institutional system, and work concerning rural revitalization. We also need to smoothly transition from concentrating resources to support poverty alleviation to using them to promote rural revitalization.
IV. Pursuing solid and steady progress in rural development
The important decision to launch a rural development campaign was made at the Fifth Plenary Session of the 19th CPC Central Committee, and this represents an important starting point for advancing the modernization of agriculture and rural areas. Rural development must be implemented through specific projects, supported by genuine funding, and actively and steadily promoted. We need to strive to achieve visible results during the 14th Five-Year Plan period (2021-2025) and ensure that rural areas gradually obtain the necessities of modern living.
We must adopt the correct approach to rural development.
In 2021, President Xi has issued instructions for furthering the "toilet revolution" in rural areas, with the emphasis on quality not quantity, results not targets. These requirements apply not only to our campaign to improve sanitary conditions, but also to rural development as a whole. They are the basic concepts and specific methods behind the advancement of rural revitalization. Rural development is being conducted for rural residents, and we must not forget their central role. The government must not monopolize services or overstep its bounds when offering assistance. Rather, we need mechanisms to implement bottom-up village development that is both governed and participated in by villagers themselves.
We must ensure we plan thoroughly and act in accordance with regulations in the course of rural development.
Government plans are the blueprints for rural development. We need to accelerate the formulation of county-level village layout plans and development plans and rationally determine village layout categories. We also need to stay patient, clarify the order of development, and avoid inefficient investment and waste posed by hollowed-out villages. Rural development does not need to entail large-scale demolition and construction. The focus should be on building upon the existing layouts, structures, and features of villages, with small-scale renovation and upgrading to gradually improve the living environment, strengthen intrinsic functions, and improve quality of life. We should also focus on protecting traditional rural housing and the roots of China's farming culture.
We must make improvements to people's wellbeing in rural areas that are fundamental, inclusive, and ensure basic needs.
In recent years, the state has constantly increased investment to greatly enhance production and living conditions in rural areas and to fundamentally resolve infrastructure problems with accessing administrative villages. The next step is to ensure naturally formed villages are covered by infrastructure and work to extend facilities toward individual rural households. We must continue to focus on the construction of public infrastructure in rural areas, launch the five-year Green Rural Revival Program, and solidly revolutionize sanitary conditions in rural areas. We must also comprehensively improve infrastructures for water, electricity, roads, gas, and housing as well as for flood control and drought relief. All localities must proceed from their realities, formulate standards for public infrastructure and basic public services, and focus on building infrastructure that improves people's quality of life and boosts productivity, such as roads to naturally formed villages and cold chain logistics, so that China's rural residents get a real sense of gain from rural development.
We must focus on both the "hardware" and "software" of rural development.
Urban and rural areas have started to merge their basic public service systems, and standards should be raised during the 14th Five-Year Plan period based on what is required and possible. In doing so, we will continue to promote equitable access to basic public services in urban and rural areas. In response to changes in the rural population structure and the layout of villages, we must accelerate the integration of urban and rural development within counties; optimize the allocation of public resources, such as education, medical care, the arts, and elderly care, within counties; and address issues at various administrative levels. Rural development is the process of organizing and guiding rural residents as well as the process of strengthening and improving rural governance. By continuously improving the rural governance system that is led by community-level Party organizations and combines self-governance, rule of law, and rule of virtue, we will create good governance in the countryside.
V. Furthering rural reform in the new stage by encouraging small-scale farmers to adopt modern agriculture
China has always had a large agricultural industry made up of small-scale farms. To promote the prosperity of rural residents and areas, the priority should be to increase the adoption of modern agricultural practices among small-scale farmers. During the 14th Five-Year Plan period, we must intensify efforts to achieve bigger breakthroughs and make good use of the tool of rural reform. We also need to improve the system of rural ownership rights and the market-based allocation of factors of production to give farmers more property rights and stimulate the vitality of resources and factors of production in rural areas.
We need to consolidate and improve the basic rural operational system.
The task to determine, register, and certify rights to contracted farmland is basically complete. We should capitalize on the results of this work to implement the pilot policy of extending second-round rural land contracts by another 30 years upon expiration, so as to keep land contracting relationships stable for a long time to come. We need to advance the system for separating ownership rights, contract rights, and usage rights for contracted rural land, develop a variety of suitably scaled-up agricultural operations, and focus on supporting the two types of agricultural businesses of family farms and farmer cooperatives. Household agricultural production suits China's national and agricultural conditions, particularly to produce bulk crops such as grains, as it is adaptable and possesses great vitality. We need to develop and expand commercial agricultural service organizations and guide small-scale farmers to adopt modern agriculture practices by providing more diverse, multi-level, and low-cost commercial agricultural services. We should further the reform of the rural collective property rights system and develop and expand the new type of rural collective economy.
We must deepen rural land reform.
The new round of the trial to improve the rural residential land system has been steadily rolled out in 104 counties, cities, and districts, as well as three cities with municipal districts. Following completion of the work to determine, register, and certify rights as well as improve the management system, we need to obtain substantive trial results and explore effective ways to separate ownership, qualification, and usage rights for residential land. We also need to develop a sound system for market trading of rural collective land designated for commercial development. In response to difficulties encountered in rural land use, we need to improve policies on land use for rural development and tap land use potential within rural communities. We should also explore flexible and diverse new methods of supplying land and give priority to ensuring land is used for rural industrial development and rural construction.
We must promote institutional mechanisms and policies for integrated urbanrural development.
In pursuing modernization, we have gradually created a new type of urbanization that is uniquely Chinese. A distinctive feature of China's urbanization is that hundreds of millions of rural residents are free to choose to engage in agriculture or industrial production, and even to switch between them, and they are free to move between rural and urban areas. This is not a temporary solution; rather, it is a long-term fundamental decision. We should adhere to this distinctive approach to integrated urban and rural development, which provides strategic leeway to respond to various risks and challenges. In addition, we must improve systems for supporting and protecting agriculture, fine-tune policies that support agriculture, and accelerate the construction of a rural financial system that accords with the principles of the financial market and meets the needs of agriculture and rural areas. We must implement the policy on increasing the proportion of proceeds from the transfer of land-use rights that goes toward agriculture and rural areas and ensure that it exceeds 50% by the end of the 14th Five-Year Plan period.
Rural reform must always adhere to the three basic requirements of maintaining public land ownership, sticking to the 120 million-hectare minimum for farmland, and not undermining the interests of rural residents. If there is uncertainty, we must move slowly; if there is certainty, we must act boldly. We must also respect community-level innovation, strengthen pilot projects, and fully mobilize the enthusiasm, initiative, and creativity of rural residents.
VI. Strengthening CPC's leadership of all endeavors related to agriculture, rural areas, and rural residents
The CPC plays a vital role in endeavors related to agriculture, rural areas, and rural residents. The strategy of rural revitalization is similar in depth, breadth, and difficulty to the strategy of poverty alleviation; therefore, we must capitalize upon the political advantages of the Party's leadership and China's socialist system to adopt robust measures that can amass even more formidable forces to promote rural revitalization.
We need to enhance the political competence of work related to agriculture, rural areas, and rural residents.
Rural revitalization will present us with many new situations and unfamiliar problems in a wider range of areas and involving more complex contradictions. We must familiarize ourselves with and consistently apply President Xi's important expositions on work related to agriculture, rural areas, and rural residents to guide and drive forward our initiatives. We must fully and faithfully implement the new development philosophy in every aspect and throughout the process of rural work. With a close focus on the fundamental interests of our country and ensuring the CPC Central Committee's decisions are carried out to the letter, we must continuously enhance our capacity for political judgment, thinking, and implementation, as well as develop a cohort of officials in charge of rural revitalization who have firm political beliefs, professional competence, and exemplary conduct.
We must strengthen the requirement and working mechanisms for Party committee secretaries at the provincial, municipal, county, township, and village levels to assume responsibility for rural revitalization.
We must thoroughly implement the Regulations of the Communist Party of China on Rural Work. We must improve the management system under which the central government formulates overarching plans, provincial governments assume overall responsibility, and city and county governments take charge of implementation. We must also make Party committee secretaries responsible for rural revitalization at the provincial, municipal, county, township, and village levels. In line with actual needs, we will use effective methods derived from poverty alleviation efforts to promote rural revitalization and establish a sound rural revitalization work system that links the top and the bottom and delivers on objectives. Party committees and governments at all local levels must shoulder responsibility for work related to agriculture, rural areas, and rural residents. In particular, county Party secretaries must function as frontline commanders in the battle to invigorate rural areas. We will ensure leading groups of Party committees on rural work at all levels assume the lead in overall planning and coordination and further develop Party committees' institutions for rural work.
We need to continuously strengthen community-level Party organizations in rural areas.
We must select and appoint capable leading officials of towns and townships as well as members of village Party branches and villagers' committees, especially secretaries of community-level Party organizations. We must fully leverage the role of rural community-level Party organizations as strongholds in the battle to develop rural areas and improve villagers' mechanisms for self-governance under the leadership of Party organizations. Where conditions permit, we should encourage secretaries of Party organizations in rural areas to serve as directors of villagers' committees through statutory procedures, but we also need to strengthen supervision of officials who serve as the heads of both village Party branches and villagers' committees. We must continue to carefully select first secretaries and work teams stationed in key villages. We must also funnel more resources toward towns, townships, and villages to reduce the burden on community-level organizations to allow community-level officials to devote more of their energy to helping rural residents solve practical difficulties.
Tang Renjian is Minister of Agriculture and Rural Affairs and Secretary of the Ministry's CPC Leadership Group. He is also Director of the Office of the Central Leading Group for Rural Affairs.
(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No. 20, 2021)