Adhering to the Chinese Socialist Approach to Rural Revitalization
In a keynote speech at the Central Rural Work Conference on December 28, 2020, President Xi Jinping addressed major theoretical and practical issues regarding why we must promote rural revitalization as well as how we should promote it at this historic juncture as we work toward achieving the Second Centenary Goal while balancing domestic and international imperatives. In the speech, President Xi took the helm and charted a course for implementing all-round rural revitalization.
I. Historic achievements in developing the cause of agriculture, rural areas, and rural residents
Since the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in 2012, the CPC Central Committee with Xi Jinping at its core has made solving issues related to agriculture, rural areas, and rural residents a top priority in the work of the whole Party. In the years that have passed, our Party has achieved a decisive victory against poverty and launched the rural revitalization strategy, putting food security firmly in the hands of the Chinese people and helping hundreds of millions of rural residents and people across the country realize moderate prosperity in all respects. Historic achievements and changes in agricultural and rural development have bolstered China's overall economic and social development and provided strong support to building a moderately prosperous society in all respects.
We have made great progress in the modernization of agriculture and reached a new height in overall agricultural production capacity.
The food crop production strategy based on farmland management and application of technology has been thoroughly implemented, with the focus on the two key areas of seeds and arable land, leading to an increase in overall agricultural production capacity. In 2021, the contribution rate of scientific and technological progress to growth of the agricultural sector exceeded 60%, and the rate of mechanization of crop planting and harvesting was above 72%, covering all the main crop varieties, and helping develop 60 million hectares of prime farmland. Vitalizing agriculture by raising quality and promoting green development have become key themes of modern agriculture. In 2021, grain output reached a record high of 683 million metric tons, an increase of some 13.4 million metric tons over the previous year, marking seven consecutive years with annual grain production of more than 650 million metric tons. Output of major agricultural products per capita in China is well above the world average, at 483 kg. The Chinese people have access to plentiful supplies and a rich variety of agricultural products, with the highest outputs of meat, eggs, vegetables, fruit, and fish in the world. With just 9% of the world's arable land and 6% of its freshwater resources, China has achieved the impressive feat of feeding nearly 20% of the world's population. Regardless of changes in our external environment, we have ensured that more than 1.4 billion Chinese people have increasing food security and can enjoy better quality food.
Farmers are busy laying plastic mulch on over 433 hectares of corn fields in Yigongcheng Village, Linze County, Gansu Province, March 11, 2022. PHOTO BY WANG JIANG
We have achieved a comprehensive victory over poverty and reached a historic solution to the problem of absolute poverty.
The goals of our poverty alleviation mission for the new era were completed on schedule, resulting in all 98.99 million rural residents living below the poverty line, all 832 poor counties, and all 128,000 poor villages being lifted out of poverty and the elimination of regional poverty. This is a miracle in humanity's battle against poverty. We must align our efforts to consolidate and make further progress in poverty alleviation with rural revitalization, establish timely monitoring and assistance mechanisms to prevent people from falling back into poverty, and provide preferential support to 160 counties identified as vital to national rural revitalization. We must also deepen east-west cooperation within China, provide on-going support to targeted poor areas and people relocated as part of the poverty alleviation drive, and create links between work mechanisms, policy measures, and relevant offices and personnel, in order to guard against a large-scale relapse into poverty.
In recent years, Tongjiang County in Sichuan Province has carried out renovation projects in mountainous areas to make fragmented, irregularly shaped, and hilly land plots accessible to agricultural machinery. The picture shows renovated land plots interplanted with corn and soybeans in Zhongling Village, Tongjiang County, March 14, 2022. PHOTO BY CHENG CONG
We have deepened all aspects of rural reform and made solid progress in integrated urban-rural development.
Rural reform has been driven to a deeper level, with the focus on properly handling the relationship between rural residents and land, leading to mature, well-defined institutional achievements that will produce long-term benefits. Following on from the household contracting system for farmland, the separation of ownership rights, contract rights, and land use rights for contracted rural land is another major institutional innovation in rural reform. The policy of extending rural land contracts for another 30 years when second-round contracts expire will dispel the concerns of rural residents for the foreseeable future. The development of the new operational framework for agriculture is accelerating, guiding the many small-scale farmers in China toward modern agricultural methods. The reform of the management of arable land, construction land, and residential land in rural areas is progressing in depth, and significant headway has been made in the reform of the collective property rights system. Price-setting mechanisms and the purchase and storage systems for agricultural products have been further improved. The income of rural residents has doubled compared with 2010 and rural per capita disposable income reached 18,931 yuan in 2021, an increase of 9.7% in real terms, while the urban-rural income ratio narrowed to 2.5:1. Steady advance has been made in equitable sharing of basic public services between urban and rural areas, unified systems of basic old-age insurance, basic medical insurance, and critical illness insurance for rural residents and non-working urban residents have been established, and significant strides have been taken toward granting urban residency to the rural migrant population.
We have ensured a good start to rural revitalization by basically establishing its main framework and key pillars.
Since the proposal to implement a rural revitalization strategy at the 19th CPC National Congress in 2017, the institutional framework and policy system of rural revitalization have been basically put into place with the proposal and application of the Guidelines of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and the State Council on Implementing the Rural Revitalization Strategy, the Rural Revitalization Strategy (2018-2022), the Regulations of the Communist Party of China on Rural Work, and the Law of the People's Republic of China on Promoting Rural Revitalization, which have helped to achieve progress in the key tasks of rural revitalization. Rural industries have good development momentum, with new industries and business models constantly emerging and thriving. Rural development is advancing steadily. The three-year campaign to improve rural living environments was completed on schedule, which notably improved the dirty, disorderly, and dilapidated appearance of rural areas. Village infrastructure has been significantly upgraded, and education, culture, healthcare, social security, and other undertakings related to people's wellbeing in rural areas are continuously being developed. The effectiveness of rural governance is also constantly improving. A rural governance system, under the leadership of the Party and combining self-governance, the rule of law, and the rule of virtue has taken shape, undesirable rural customs and habits are being abandoned, and rural society has become stable and peaceful.
II. Understanding the historic position and strategic standing of promoting rural revitalization in the new stage of development
President Xi has emphasized that, "Only by deeply understanding issues related to agriculture, rural areas, and rural residents can we better understand our Party, our country, and our nation." In this historic confluence between the Two Centenary Goals, President Xi has stated, "The work of agriculture, rural areas, and rural residents is still extremely important on our new journey. We must not relax for a moment; it must be done quickly and properly." His entreaty reflects the need to accurately grasp the historic position and strategic standing of rural revitalization.
Promoting rural revitalization is an important task in the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.
Looking back on our Party's century-long struggles, issues related to agriculture, rural areas, and rural residents have always been fundamental in each of the periods of revolution, reconstruction, and reform, during which our Party has led hundreds of millions of rural residents in achieving the history-making leaps from emancipation, to taking care of basic needs, to poverty alleviation and, finally, to enjoying moderate prosperity in all respects. The proof of whether China has truly achieved moderate prosperity in all respects lies in its rural areas. Realizing all-round moderate prosperity means fulfilling our solemn promise not to leave any region or group of people behind. As we embark on our new journey toward becoming a modern socialist country, we must not leave agriculture or rural areas behind. This is a crucial point that must be handled properly, as it affects the quality of our modernization. We need to continue to prioritize the development of agriculture and rural areas and to further narrow the gap between urban and rural areas by comprehensively promoting rural revitalization and accelerating the modernization of agriculture and rural areas, to ensure that rural areas close the gap with national development as quickly as possible.
Promoting rural revitalization is the key to coping with changing circumstances and creating new prospects.
For many years, the stable development of agriculture, rural areas, and rural residents has provided vital support to achieving the remarkable combination of rapid economic development and long-term social stability in China. Our external environment is complex and changing, with instability and uncertainty increasing by the day, so it is essential that we stabilize our agricultural sector and rural areas to seize the strategic initiative and give ourselves room to maneuver as we respond to risks and challenges. It should also be noted that, as our economy and society develop, the many functions of agriculture and the diverse value of rural areas are becoming increasingly apparent. Boosting rural revitalization is an important measure that can unleash rural domestic demand, facilitate urban and rural economic flows, and create a new development dynamic.
Promoting rural revitalization marks a historic shift in the focus of work on agriculture, rural areas, and rural residents in the new stage of development.
Rural revitalization involves energizing all areas, all workers, and all aspects of the countryside. It involves energizing all rural areas, including poor ones, and all rural residents, including people previously registered as living below the poverty line. It also involves implementing the "two assurances" and "three guarantees" (assuring the rural poor population that their food and clothing needs will be met and guaranteeing that they have access to compulsory education, basic medical services, and safe housing) and energizing rural industries, human resources, culture, ecology, and organizations. Compared with the poverty alleviation campaign, the objectives of rural revitalization are broader, its scope is wider, its requirements are higher and its difficulty is greater, and it will require a more protracted effort. Although rural revitalization is a long-term task, it is made up of incremental objectives. The central government has committed itself to achieving fundamental modernization of agriculture and rural areas within three five-year plan periods and completing their comprehensive modernization within six five-year plan periods. This is an ambitious objective that requires us to be active yet prudent and to make systematic progress.
Picturesque spring scenery in Tangzhuang Village, Hai'an, Jiangsu Province, March 11, 2022. In recent years, local authorities have carried out an ongoing project to create an ecological village with clear waters, clean roads, and beautiful courtyards, leading to remarkable improvements in the local living environment. PHOTO BY ZHAI HUIYONG
III. Striving to promote rural revitalization and achieve results
We must guarantee supplies of grain and important agricultural products.
This is the primary task of rural revitalization. The consumption structure of urban and rural residents is improving. In addition to ensuring they have enough to eat, people are concerned about whether their food is good-quality and healthy. Rigid growth in demand for grain and greater resource and environmental constraints will make it difficult to alleviate the tight balance between demand and supply in the short term. It is vital, therefore, that we prioritize the improvement of our overall agricultural production capacity. We must establish a "greater food" approach that ensures the quantity, quality, and diversity of food products, and widen the scope from arable land to all of China's land resources, and from traditional crops, livestock, and poultry to China's abundant biological resources. Once we have shored up China's grain supplies, we must guarantee effective supplies of other foodstuffs to ensure that the Chinese people's food security is firmly in their own hands and that Chinese bowls are filled with food predominantly produced in China.
Central to ensuring food security is the implementation of the production strategy based on farmland management and application of technology. Our key objectives with arable land are to ensure quantity, quality and management. In terms of quantity, we must guarantee the locational integrity of and ensure strict adherence to the minimum of 120 million hectares of arable land by issuing level-by-level requirements to local authorities on the goals and tasks for maintaining minimum area of arable land and permanent basic cropland protection. The central and local governments have signed pledges to protect arable land with strict inspections and lifelong accountability. In terms of quality, we will strive to develop prime farmland, promote the project to protect chernozem soil, classify and transform salinealkali soil, and improve the soil fertility of arable land. In terms of management, we will strictly prioritize the use of arable land for the production of agricultural products such as grain, cotton, oil, sugar, and vegetables as well as forage and feed, and we will resolutely curb its conversion for non-agricultural uses and farmers transitioning away from planting grain, especially on prime farmland. In terms of science and technology, we need to focus on overcoming key bottlenecks to energize the seed industry and improve its self-reliance and self-improvement as well as our independent control over seed production. We also need to address the lack of certain types of agricultural machinery and equipment in certain regions to strengthen the support provided by modern agricultural technology.
Grain security is not simply a matter of achieving a comparative advantage and prioritizing performance. We must get local Party committees and governments to take responsibility for grain production and issue annual grain production targets, in order to stabilize production of food grain and corn and increase production of soybeans and oilseed crops, thereby effectively adjusting the agricultural structure and ensuring measurable increases in the production of soybeans and oilseed crops. We must strictly conduct assessments of the food security responsibility system and ensure Party committees and government off ices bear equal responsibility for food security. We must promote a continuous increase in the overall production capacity of China's major grain producing areas, stabilize and improve the grain self-sufficiency rate of major grain purchasing areas, and ensure the basic grain self-sufficiency of regions where production and sales of grain are balanced. We also need to ensure farmers are motivated to grow grain, improve the mechanism that guarantees farmers a profit for growing grain, and strive to underwrite the capital outlays of grain farmers with state policies and increase their incomes by changing how they operate so that farmers are better rewarded for growing grain.
We must consolidate and expand upon the achievements of the campaign to alleviate poverty.
This is the premise of rural revitalization. Although poor areas and groups have been extricated from poverty, their development foundations are weak. It is vital that we continue our assistance policies to give people a leg up and ensure responsibilities are fulfilled, policies are implemented, and work is completed, in order to prevent a large-scale relapse into poverty.
It is essential that we monitor and assess key groups who are at risk of returning to poverty or getting into sudden severe difficulties, such as rural households, as a first line of defense for preventing people from falling back into poverty. We need to take a timely and targeted approach to monitoring poverty relapses, with all susceptible groups who need to be monitored placed under proper supervision. Assistance and intervention measures must be implemented swiftly in response to issues with housing, compulsory education, and employment as well as sudden and severe difficulties due to disasters, illness, and epidemics to prevent them from escalating. To this end, operational procedures must be made more convenient and efficient, workflows need to be simplified, and the time taken to identify issues must be shortened. In critical areas, such as key rural revitalization counties and resettlement areas, preferential support will be given to shore up the foundations of poverty alleviation and make it more sustainable. We will concentrate resources on the implementation of projects to address shortcomings and promote development in key rural revitalization counties. We will also increase follow-up support in the areas of employment, infrastructure, public services, and community integration in resettlement areas to ensure that the process of resettling, creating a home, and moving toward prosperity succeeds.
The fundamental way to alter the backwardness of areas that have been lifted out of poverty is to develop them further. We must rely on continued development to consolidate and expand the achievements from the poverty alleviation campaign and raise poor people's standard of living a step further. We must focus on the key task of industrial development by targeting leading industries, utilizing the crucial role of village-stationed officials, accelerating the development of entire industrial chains, and promoting upgrading and improving quality and efficiency among industries that have played a decisive role in alleviating poverty. Employment is the primary source of income for people who have been lifted out of poverty, so we must help many of them to gain stable employment by encouraging labor cooperation between eastern and western areas of China, improving employment assistance workshops, and optimizing public-benefit jobs.
We must proceed with the key tasks of rural revitalization in a steady and orderly manner.
We must focus on industries to promote rural development and recognize that rural areas have unique resources and invaluable functions in the areas of food production, ecological conservation, and cultural heritage. We must fully expand upon the myriad functions of agriculture and tap the diverse potential of rural areas. We should promote the integrated development of rural primary, secondary, and tertiary industries and focus on developing agricultural product processing, leisure tourism, and e-commerce industries in rural areas. We should encourage industries beneficial to the people within counties that have obvious comparative advantages, that will drive the development of agricultural and rural areas, and that create large numbers of jobs. In addition, we must ensure that the key industrial elements of production, processing, sales, and consumption are in place and promote a rational spatial division of labor between county towns, townships, and central villages. We will also develop clusters of leading industries with unique features and links to both urban and rural areas and encourage rural residents to seek local employment to boost their incomes and become more affluent.
We will pursue solid and steady progress in rural development. We should focus on improvements to people's wellbeing that are inclusive, fundamental and meet basic needs, rectify and improve the living environment in rural areas, and boost infrastructure construction in the key areas of roads, water, electricity, the Internet and housing. We must also guarantee basic functions and solve outstanding problems to provide modern living conditions in rural areas. We should develop villages based on the footprints of existing villages and strictly regulate the arbitrary merging of villages to protect traditional villages and avoid the needless demolition of old villages or construction of new ones. We will establish mechanisms to implement bottom-up village development that are both governed and participated in by villagers themselves, in order to mobilize the enthusiasm, initiative, and creativity of rural residents to participate in rural development and management.
We will seek substantive results in the improvement of rural governance. We must do a good job of developing rural community-level organizations, strengthen the responsibility of county-level Party committees for improving townships and villages, and utilize the roles of first secretaries and work teams stationed in villages. We must also implement grid-based management, digitalization, and refined services in rural areas. We will improve the rural governance system that is led by Party organizations and combines self-governance, the rule of law, and the rule of virtue. We will implement the "four plus two" working method for deliberation and disclosure* and expand applications of useful experience and effective methods of points-based and list-based systems. We will be innovative with methods to raise cultural and ethical standards in rural areas, increase the supply of cultural and ethical products, and foster civilized villages, fine homes, and honest individuals.
* "Four" refers to the four-stage process of deliberation in which proposals are made by a Party branch, discussed by the Party branch and the village committee, deliberated by a general meeting of Party members, and decided on by a meeting of villagers or villager representatives. "Two" refers to the disclosure mechanism whereby all resolutions and the outcomes of their implementation are made public.
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. 7, 2022)