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Rural Development in China: Review and Reflections

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Part of the Research Series on the Chinese Dream and China’s Development Path book series (RSCDCDP)


Progress and accomplishments have been made in rural development reforms in China over the past three decades and a red line is running throughout the whole process: protecting the material rights of rural population, respecting the democratic rights of rural population, liberating and developing the productivity of agriculture and rural areas. In this chapter, we look back on rural development in China and the course of reforms in the two areas of economics and politics, summarize experience which may provide lessons, explain the current state of rural development and reforms, and lay out the prospects for future development trends.


  • Homestead Plots
  • Rural Financial System
  • Rural Grassroots Organizations
  • Rural Labor Migration
  • Township And Village Enterprises (TVEs)

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  • DOI: 10.1007/978-981-10-5646-8_1
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  1. 1.

    The word nongmin carries several meanings. It is composed of two characters, nong, which means both “rural” and “agricultural,” and min, which means “people.” Previously the term was almost translated as “peasant” in English, as China was formally a feudal society, in which nongmin means peasants as we conceive of the term in the Western sense. The term “peasant” is also applicable in the early history of the PRC, with political classes such as “poor peasants” and events such as “peasant’s movements.” The term now has a distinctly different institutional connotation to it, as under the current household registration system, all citizens are assigned either an “agricultural” or a “non-agricultural” registration. Those with “agricultural” registrations are allotted rural plots of land for farming and homesteading, belong to the rural social system, and were previously subject to very strict controls on movement and employment, which are being gradually relaxed. Those with “non-agricultural” household registrations live in cities and are subject to urban social systems. People with “agricultural” registrations are still referred to as nongmin, even in this book, although such people are no longer necessarily farmers, but may be entrepreneurs or work in cities as nongmingong, or “rural migrant workers.” As such, the English term “peasant” is no longer appropriate for the modern connotation of nongmin, and so in this book I translate the term almost exclusively as “rural population,” except when discussing historical periods when the term “peasant” is more appropriate—translator’s note.

  2. 2.

    The “three rural issues” or “san nong” in Chinese are issues of agriculture (nongye), rural areas (nongcun), and rural population (nongmin)—translator’s note.

  3. 3.

    Sometimes translated as “moderately prosperous society” or “well-off society,” this term, originally a Confucian ideal, refers to a society with a large, functioning middle class—translator’s note.

  4. 4.

    The traditional unit of land area in China, one mu is approximately equal to 0.06667 ha, so 6.69 billion mu ≈ 446 million hectares—translator’s note.

  5. 5.

    “New Rural Construction” is short for the undertaking of “Construction of a New Socialist Countryside”—translator’s note.

  6. 6.

    It refers to the four municipalities directly under the central government rather than under the jurisdiction of a province: Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, and Chongqing—translator’s note.

  7. 7.

    The term refers to the houses built by rural population on collective land that are tacitly permitted, but have no legal standing at all—translator’s note.

  8. 8.

    Please see chapter “Reforms and Development of the Rural Financial System”.

  9. 9.

    Chen, Xiyuan. “Three Focuses Must Be Grasped to Implement the Spirit of No. 1 Central government document,” 27 February 2016.

  10. 10.


  11. 11.

    Townships, towns, and ethnic townships are all of equal status—tier four—in China’s five-tier hierarchy of administrative divisions below the central level, which goes: (1) province, (2) prefecture, (3) county, (4) town/township, and (5) village. Townships are generally located in more rural, less populated areas, while towns are in more urban, populous areas. Ethnic townships are located in areas of mostly ethnic minority population—translator’s note.

  12. 12.

    Zhao, Shukai. (2008). “Study of the Historical Process of Reforms to Towns and counties.” Review of Economic Research, 32, 44–47.

  13. 13.

    Tong, Zhihui. (2008). “Thirty Years of Self-Governance by Villagers.” Review of Economic Research, 32, 54–56.

  14. 14.

    To charge additional fees which should not be paid by taking advantage of the government’s power—translator’s note.

  15. 15.

    Here “lines” refer to commands from a high-level authority that proceed directly downward to subordinate bureaus of the same department, for example orders from the Ministry of Public Security in Beijing that are issued to all public security bureaus in the country. “Blocks” are commands from a local authority that affect all authorities of all stripes in a given region, such as orders from a provincial governor or a county or town chief—translator’s note.

  16. 16.

    Xu, Chenggang. (2008). China’s Economic Growth and Regional Decentralization. In Masahiko Aoki & Jinglian Wu (Eds.), From Authoritarian Developmentalism to Democratic Developmentalism (pp. 185–203). Beijing: China CITIC Press.

  17. 17.

    Liu, Wenhai. (2008). “The Fiscal ‘Center of Gravity’ should be Appropriately Sent Downward, and the Government Should Spend Fiscal Budgets Well.” 24 September 2008.

  18. 18.

    Sheng, Hong. (1994). Transitional Economics in China. Shanghai: Shanghai Joint Publishing Company & Shanghai People’s Publishing House.

  19. 19.

    This phrase commonly refers to less investment, high profits, low risk and quick return usually in technological development. It is also used to describe the action to spike volleyball—translator’s note.

  20. 20.

    Marx, Karl, & Engels, Friedrich. (1848). The Communist Manifesto.

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Correspondence to Xiaoshan Zhang .

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Zhang, X., Li, Z. (2018). Rural Development in China: Review and Reflections. In: China’s Rural Development Road. Research Series on the Chinese Dream and China’s Development Path. Springer, Singapore.

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