Thursday, August 7, 2014

Household Responsibility System: Changing the Face of Rural China

Deng Xiaoping
A nation mourned the death of its leader, Mao Zedong, and later would begin the revitalization of its agriculture. During the time of Mao, China’s farmers faced restructuring and famine. But upon the death of founder of the PRC, a new leader rose. A more practical and more pragmatic, Deng Xiaoping would fix the problems left by the previous regime. Among his priorities was fixing the livelihood of the many peasants in the Chinese countryside. His answer for lack of unproductivity and inefficiency was the Household Responsibility System.

Household or Agricultural Responsibility System was the solution for the long problems of agricultural stagnation that started during the time of Chairman Mao. In 1949, Chairman Mao announced to the world the new People’s Republic of China. Under the new regime, communist economic system was enforced. Private ownership eradicated, including private land ownership. Peasants in the countryside were then organized into People’s Commune were together they would work the land. State quotas were to be met or face starvation. And starvation did occurred. Because of Mao’s obsession with industrialization, all resources were spent into making steel. Agriculture was back track. Locust also hit the rural, devastating crops causing drop in production. The result was the disastrous Great Famine of late 1950’s and early 1960’s. Millions of Chinese suffered tremendous hardship, starvation, and finally, death.

Up against famine and death, in the early 1960’s, a village in Chengdu decided to against the tide. Going against the policies of the Chinese Communist Party, the village dismantled their People’s Commune and reverted back to household farming. The land of the Commune was equally divided and given into each family. Each would then be responsible for the tilling of the land. When the harvest season arrived, each household was obliged to give part of their harvest in order to meet the state quota. The incentive to produce more came from the surplus produce. After giving their share to meet the quota, all surplus that a household had was under their own decision. They could sell it in markets and earn more.

Eventually, the system was discovered by Beijing. In September of 1962, the government ordered the practice to stop and revert back to the Commune system. Fearing for the repercussions, the Chengdu village obliged. The system they pioneered would not appear again until the late 1970’s.

The late 1970’s were tumultuous period. In 1976, Mao Zedong was dead. Along his death was the illusion of pure communism. Succession became an issue. Hua Guofeng appeared to have the upper hand at first. However, a rival of Mao, Deng Xiaoping returned to political lime light. He moved quickly in order to become the paramount leader of the People’s Republic of China.

Deng was unlike Mao. He was a more liberal communist. He believed that a controlled form of capitalism in a communist system would help elevate the dire situation of China. Under his guidance, the nation’s slogan became “to be rich is glorious.” Reforms in the economy began. Along his agenda was the agricultural sector.

Deng had a keen interest when he learned about the Chengdu Household Responsibility System. In the late 1970’s, some of his protégés had experimented the same system within their jurisdiction. In Anhui Province, Wan Li led the experiment. And in Sichuan, trials were conducted by Deng’s close companion, Zhao Ziyang.

Meanwhile, opposition within the Party began. Conservative party elders showed their distaste of the system. They deemed it as capitalistic. They used their influence in order to push for resolution by the Party’s Central Committee to condemn any form of renting lands and any transactions made on the harvest.

But then, opposition was shoved. In 1979, Deng, the mighty leader of China, endorsed the whole idea and wanted all provincial leaders to emulate the system within their own jurisdictions. Under government rules, all lands were virtually still owned by the state. However, a 15 year lease were given to households to use the land for agricultural purposes. They only had to meet the state quota, and the rest was theirs. Eventually, the lease was extended. In 1993, it became 20 years. Then in 2003, it was extended further for 30 years.

Household Responsibility System boomed. By 1984, 24 million household subscribed to the system. Farmer income rose from mere $47 to $105 within the decade. Production rose 5% every year during the 1980’s. Also, new forms of specialized agricultural households appear. For example, cash crops and livestock form of the system also appeared. It transformed the face of rural China.

Because of the Household Responsibility System the lives of the peasants shifted from misery to something better and livable. The system shifted the paradigm from a strict Maoist ideas into a more liberal form of farming. From this, system modern China acquired a strong agricultural base that would feed its workers; drive the China forward.

See Also:
Mussolini's Battles: Battle for Grain
Special Economic Zones
Township and Village Enterprises

Dillon, M. (ed.). China: A Cultural and Historical Dictionary. Richmond: Curzon Press, 1998.

Fairbank, John. China: A New History. Massachusetts: Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1992.

Hsu, Immanuel. The Rise of Modern China. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Spence, Jonathan. The Search for Modern China. New York: Norton, 1990.

Sullivan, L. Historical Dictionary of the People’s Republic of China. Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 2007.

Wang, Yanlai. China's Economic Development and Democratization. Vermont: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2003. 

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