Another decree, another promise to roll out new reforms, and another sign that rural rage has the CCP scared out of their wits.
Faced with steadily increasing peasant unrest, the Communist Party has decreed extensive changes to improve the lot of farmers and stop rapid economic development from encroaching on their land.
The party declared rural reform a major goal of its new five-year economic program, which began this month. The government has also announced the abolition of an agricultural tax that is thousands of years old, free public school education for peasant children and new rural insurance to subsidize medical care for those among the country’s 800 million farmers who cannot afford to see doctors.
The swift sequence of decisions reflected the depth of concern in the party and government as farmers outraged by land grabs and pollution increasingly rise up in violent protests that senior officials have said pose a threat to stability and continued economic growth. The Public Security Ministry estimated the number of riots and demonstrations at 87,000 during 2005, up more than 6 percent from 2004 and quadruple what it was a decade ago….
Premier Wen Jiabao last month warned senior rural bureaucrats against making “a historical mistake” by failing to protect farmers and their lands, which he predicted would lead to more violence. In particular, he cautioned, towns should not violate the law in seizing land nor sell confiscated fields to businesses as a way to raise public funds.
“This is a key issue that affects the stability of the countryside and the society, and it must be clearly recognized by all levels of government and party committees,” he said, according to a text of his speech published last week by the party’s official People’s Daily.
President Hu Jintao drove home the message Friday in an address to the Politburo, urging resolution of the “major contradictions and problems we are faced with” in the countryside. “If we cannot succeed in developing agriculture and rural areas while helping farmers improve their lives markedly, we will fail to reach the goal of building a comparatively prosperous society,” he said, according to the official New China News Agency.
He’s certainly right about that. I hope to God they are serious this time. We’re talking about the bulk of China’s population here, the ones who traditionally create the revolutions. They can’t be treated like untouchables forever. Unfortunately, I remember getting my hopes up for reform with the publication in 2004 of the Zhongguo Nongmin Diaocha, which was then banned and the owners fined. So I take each new announcement of “sweeping reforms” with a hefty grain of sea-salt, and hope that maybe, just maybe, this one time they may really go ahead and do what they promise.
Read the rest of the article to see how so far all the pretentious talk about cracking down on officials who take away peasant’s land illegally have come to nothing. Absolutely nothing. Maybe this time it’ll all be different. Maybe.
Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.