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Insights & Inspirations | The Grand River Civilization (Yellow River Culture)


Liang Xiaosheng
Famous Contemporary Writer and Playwright

Ladies and gentleman,

Rivers, lakes and seas, as well as springs and streams, have a close, intimate, and dear relationship with human beings. They expect nothing of humankind, and the absence of humankind does not affect their existence at all. But once out of the water, human life will be in the greatest survival crisis. The relationship between human beings and water can be roughly summed up in three words: survival, production and living. If we protect the water system, it will reward us with a better life, otherwise, it will punish us and take revenge on us.

China is a country where the rural population accounts for the majority of the population. The topics of our forum may be enriched by reviewing the fate of Chinese farmers in the past. Before the 1980s, more than 90% of people had no idea about traveling, while the few who wanted to travel could not afford it. Farmers who left their villages for cities would be deemed as jobless migrants; strangers from the cities who showed up in the countryside taking pictures with their cameras looked suspicious. Before the 1980s, Chinese people, whether urban or rural, could hardly travel in other counties or cities without the approval of the city authorities and without a letter of introduction and food stamps. Before the 1980s, whether you were a Chinese or a foreigner, if you left a Chinese city (no matter how big or small), you would probably find yourself in the dilapidated countryside just about 10 or 15 kilometers away, where the farmers living in the mountainous hinterlands were often poorer than fictionists could ever imagine. So now, thoughts throng my mind when I see such a scene – Chinese and foreign friends are gathering here to talk about tourism, to promote the culture of grand rivers, and to paint a vision of a better life for the people. During a visit to Yan’an in the 1960s, Zhou Enlai, the then premier, wept as he said to the locals: “Please, I can’t even fall asleep in Beijing when I think about how poor our farmers are.” In the 1970s, Deng Xiaoping said on a national working conference that “the living standards of some farmers have regressed to those before liberation.” What he said was true. In the 1980s, the system of “entrusting the farmland owned by the village collective to individual households” was gradually practiced in rural areas throughout China, which marked the end of the People’s Commune Movement. But policy-makers at the time were deeply divided over whether to pursue the system.

This move has been proved right, which at least satisfied the farmers’ desire to decide what to grow. But still, they had to turn in public grain to the state. In the 1990s, I joined the China Democratic League, and was selected as a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). The Democratic League, to which I belonged, has always been very concerned with issues concerning agriculture, rural areas and farmers. Specifically, we have been exploring how to change the dirty, disorderly, and dilapidated appearance of most rural areas, how to increase farmers’ income, and how to improve the education in rural areas. To address these issues step by step, we must first reduce the burden on farmers. So, a proposal was put forward to end land taxes on farmers, but differences remained. Some claimed that paying taxes had always been the obligation of all citizens at all times and in all over the world, farmers should not be an exception, their tax might be reduced or exempted due to disasters, but the responsibility of paying tax could not be abolished. While others argued that farmers have been paying public grain to the state for thousands of years, the grain they delivered accounted for nearly a third of their total yield, and that their duty had long been fulfilled. The production and living burden of farmers could hardly be reduced if the land tax was not abolished. And land tax was one of the cruxes to addressing the issues concerning agriculture, rural areas and farmers. I sided with the latter. The farmers rejoiced when they learned of the abolition of the land tax. It is said that for most Chinese, our ancestors, going back more than three generations, were farmers. Those who opposed it might have no relatives in rural areas by that time, while the vast majority of supporters might still have some, such as parents, siblings, cousins and the like. Therefore, I think, the abolition of land tax is not only the embodiment of national feelings, but also a victory of the collective appeal of folks in China. Since then, the life and production of Chinese farmers have experienced another favorable change.

In 2000, the urbanization began to advance, which made farmers leave the land on which they had been living for generations. Again, opinions differed among government agencies, people’s congresses and CPPCC bodies at all levels, as well as those concerned about the issues of agriculture, farmer and rural area. First, land-lost farmers faced with different situations: some would lose their land forever after one-time compensation, some were partially compensation but could still get profits and dividends from the occupied land in the future. Second, the attitudes of farmers were also different: some people’s children had already settled in cities, so neither they nor their children cared about the existence of their land or home in the countryside, nor they care much about the dividend. While some were very concerned about both, as their children might just be migrant workers who made a living in cities temporarily, and they had to make plans for their children’s future. In general case, most governments at all levels would probably buy up land use rights forever during land acquisition. The practice might be accepted if the compensation was high enough, or rejected if the compensation was too low. Farmers preferred the commercial transfer of land, which allowed them to get some rent, settle problems with the land and get some dividends at the end of the year. Such case happened actually, but rarely. And it did happen to the farmers in here. Things became different after 2010. The theory that “lucid waters and lush mountains are invaluable assets” has been proved gradually: the once heavily polluted environment in rural areas has been changed; the mountains have turned green; and the water quality has improved, which has driven countryside tourism; targeted poverty alleviation has also achieved initial results; even the rural areas in the deep mountains have taken on a new look and may attract tourists from all over the world. “Make the rural people get rich, the countryside more beautiful, and agriculture a promising industry” has proved to be not only an idealistic slogan, but also an achievable goal.

But there were also different opinions in this regard. Some politician argued that the money spent on poverty alleviation in rural areas would not make any sense, which could not change the rural areas fundamentally. Moreover, their children would not choose to return to the countryside to become farmers after the old generation died, and some rural areas were even doomed to decline and disappear, which could be proved by some examples. But the good news is that the countryside near the cities has indeed attracted some of the sons and daughters of farmers to return home to start their own businesses, and they have done a good job. I’m on the optimistic side.

Today, China still has a rural population of more than 600 million, roughly equal to the entire population of China in the 1970s. In the future, at least 200 million people will be converted into urban population. Can you imagine what that’s like? It would take more than 20 large cities with a population of 10 million or more to accommodate these people. This is an extremely challenging task. So the future might be: the county-level cities would strive to develop towards mega-cities with a population of more than one million, the prefecture-level cities would expand to accommodate millions of people, and the provincial capitals would become uninhabitable. What would China look like if hundreds of beautiful new cities with a population of 600,000 or 700,000 people are scattered between the existing cities and rural areas? Some experts believe that 100 small and medium-sized cities cannot provide as many job opportunities as a dozen big cities with a population of more than 10 million. This is reasonable, but is it true? Yesterday, I heard Mr. Zhang Fuming talk about the fact that there were nearly a hundred agritainment in the beautiful countryside around Linfen were doing a good job even during the COVID-19 pandemic, as long as the situation becomes better. So the question is which one would be better: to have hundreds of beautiful countrysides scattered between cities, or to create a megacity with a population of more than ten million people between cities? In my opinion, for China, I would like to see more and more beautiful countrysides emerge, which may be more in line with China’s national conditions.

Furthermore, from the perspective of development, is the rural area a place where farmers have to live for generations? Is it possible for urban people to yearn for a home in the countryside, just as the descendants of farmers yearn for urban life? Is agriculture necessarily the main business of farmers? Is it possible for the countryside to attract the children of urban people to create a career in the future? How can we do this? What policy support should be provided? These issues, I think, can also be discussed in our forum. A dynamic forum should be the one that could solve the current bewilderment of people in their production and lives and provide forward thinking in the meantime. In this regard, we should all learn from General Secretary Xi Jinping.

At last, I wish the forum a better future. Thank you all.