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«Juanwen Yuan Thesis committee Thesis supervisor Prof. dr. A. Niehof Professor of Sociology of Consumers and Households Wageningen University Thesis ...»

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1.2 Setting the stage for the research Chinese rural households have experienced many changes after the introduction of the Household Responsibility System (HRS) in 1978. HRS allows farming households to organize their own agricultural production on contracted land, which enables them to work more efficiently and get more benefits, as compared to the situation during the collective era. Because of market liberation, an increasing number of small enterprises can absorb the surplus labour, and many men migrate to earn cash. This entails changes in gender roles in the rural areas, leading to a feminization of agriculture (see, for example, Zuo, 2004) and women becoming de facto household heads. Household landholding, land use and livelihoods are changing, while social differentiation is increasing. As a consequence, farming The Household Responsibility System (HRS) means that collective land is allocated to 1 rural households to manage, which started in China at the end of 1970s.

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households’ needs for agricultural extension are increasingly diverse and can no longer be accommodated by the traditional top-down extension system.

The Household Responsibility System (HRS) was introduced in 1978. At the center of the HRS was the allocation of parts of the collective land to households to manage autonomously. Through this allocation, each household member is entitled to an equal piece of land. The household became the unit of production. It gets all the production benefits after the taxes to the collective and the state are paid. The land contract period was 15 years at the beginning of HRS, but was later extended to 30 years (Christiansen, 1990; Guan, 1987; IFAD, 1995; Lin, 1987a). However, the collective still is the owner of the land, while the household only has usufruct rights. By the end of 1983, over 97 percent of the collective teams in China had been converted to the HRS (Lin,1991a).

After the introduction of the HRS, a large number of other policies were formulated and regulations implemented, like, for instance, market liberalization policies and the one-child policy, which had strong impacts on rural households.

Rural households are still undergoing many changes with regard to structure, composition, function, gender roles, division of labour, and livelihood strategies (Bossen, 2002; Chen, 2004a; Christiansen, 1990; Cohen, 1992b; Goldstein, et al. 1997;

Judd, 1990; Kertzer, 1991; Murphy, 1987; Vermeer, 2006; Whyte, 1992). It is a complex change process. The HRS is interrelated with many other new policies, and a diversity of factors play a role in how the system functions in reality. As a result, in rural areas, socio-economic differences are increasingly becoming larger, leading to social change and shifts in power balances (Benjamin and Brandt, 1999a;

Guan, 1987; Murphy, 2000a). There is a lot of research on social differentiation, but the focus tends to be on the macro-level, and only little research is focusing on analyzing its relationship with household changes. The All-China Women’s Federation (ACWF, 1991) did research on the impact of economic reforms on women and reports that the proportion of nuclear families is increasing, comparing the impacts for two generations. Chen (2004) studied the division of labour within the household between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law before the HRS and after the implementation of the HRS. Wang (2003b) examined the change of the household structure, and concludes that the joint household ceased to exist after the 1990s. Mallee (1996) discussed the relation of migration to both the household life cycle and the household structure. Christiansen (1990) analyzed changes in rural households in Jiangsu province since 1978, and concludes that these changes are influenced by both exogenous and endogenous socio-economic factors. According to Short (1996b), the implications of these changes for Chinese families and households are not well understood. Thus, research on these questions is highly relevant.

Migration of young migrants (both men and women) and older migrants (men) increased during the past decades as well (ACWF, 1991; Fan, 2003a; Mallee, 1997), leading to more de facto female household heads(International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)), 1995). Increasingly, women are involved in agricultural production, leading to the feminization of agriculture (Zuo, 2004) and women’s increased decision-making power on farming issues (Chen, 1996); Song, 1998; Song and Jiggins, 2000). Sometimes, women continue to act as the household head even after the husband returns (Goldstein et al., 1997). A lot of households

2 Chapter 1

engage in migration (Christiansen, 1990; Mallee, 1997; Song, 1998) and livelihood diversification is increasing, extending to off-farming and non-farming activities.

Agricultural production is becoming a sideline activity for an increasing number of households and, as a result, the income from agricultural production is frequently decreasing (Christiansen, 1990). Rural households continue to practice agricultural production as a form of household security. Sometimes, however, they cannot get (enough) benefits from it and need to invest in off-farm and non-farm incomegenerating activities (Mallee, 1997).

Landholding began to change under the HRS. Some households rent their land out, while others rent in. Land is consolidated to some extent, but also lies fallow because of labour shortages (Goldstein et al., 1997). With the HRS, women’s entitlements to land became an emerging issue. Although the law entitles women to land from the collective to cultivate, they often lose access to the land when they move to the husband’s place after marriage (Fan, 1991b; Li, 2003; Zhang, 2002a).





Land use practices are increasingly diversified, especially among the pure farming households and low-income households. High-income households and households with better-educated members are inclined to mono-cropping and cultivating cash crops (Ouyang et al., 2004). These processes also raise questions about the adequacy of agricultural extension. However, the communication between farming households and the extension sector is weak, and the role of the government in agricultural extension is decreasing (Lin, 1991a).

These changes provide the opportunity to examine the interrelationships between household, gender, livelihood, and social change. Existing research may target only one or two aspects, such as the effects of out-migration or changes at the individual level, or in gender roles. Comprehensive research as has been conducted in this study, which takes into account all these aspects and their interrelationships and looks at how different cohorts of women and households are affected by these changes, is still missing. To date, there is only one study on social change that uses a cohort approach to investigate the change in women’s position in rural China (ACWF, 1991). This study is the first that applies the cohort approach and uses a gender perspective to gain insights into the changes in farming households since the introduction of the Household Responsibility System.

1.3 Problem statement and research objectives

The problem statement of this research can be formulated as follows:

How did the introduction of the Household Responsibility System change farming households, gender roles and rural livelihoods, and what were the implications of these changes for agricultural extension and their consequences for social differentiation in rural society?

Hence, this research aims at identifying the changes in the farming household, gender roles, and rural livelihoods after the introduction of the Household Responsibility System (HRS) and at understanding the heterogeneous household land use practices in the context of diversified livelihood portfolios in a context of social change. It also aims at providing policy recommendations for agricultural

technology extension. More specifically the study’s objectives are the following:

3Introduction

• to gain insight into the changes in farming households after the implementation of the HRS;

• to analyze the relations between the changes in the household, gender roles, livelihood, and land use strategies, and their impacts on rural society;

• to indicate how agricultural extension policies can better accommodate the increasing farming household heterogeneity, particularly regarding household land use.

1.4 Relevance of the research The scientific significance of this research lies in its contribution to theory on livelihood, gender and social change, by providing insights into the interrelated dynamics of household changes, livelihood changes, and gender role changes, using a cohort approach.

In 1978, the implementation of the Household Responsibility System initiated changes that went beyond the household’s control over land and agricultural production, affecting livelihood portfolios (including migration), gender roles, and social differentiation. These changes allow us to examine the interrelationships between household structures and entitlements, gender, livelihood, and social change. Research has been done on the topics of household structures and gender roles, also in a development context (Kabeer, 1991; Kabeer, 1995; Moser, 1993); livelihood and gender (Hussein and Nelson, 1998; Niehof, 2004b); and women’s access to land in relation to land use (Agarwal, 1994b).

However, studies that focus on the dynamics of the relations between the changes in gender roles, household, rural livelihood, and land use are rare. Examples are an article on the changes in the effects of conjugal assets on the household division of labour in different socio-cultural contexts in Taiwan (Lu and Yi, 2005) and a study on the impacts of economic development on different cohorts of rural women in China (ACWF, 1991).

The research will apply a life course perspective and a cohort approach to the changes in the interrelationships outlined above, as was also done in an article on household and gender (Kertzer, 1991). The significance of the concept of cohort for the study of social change was first argued in an influential article by (Ryder, 1965). Ryder’s method will be applied to this study. In doing so, the combined experiences and lives of different cohorts of women will provide the insights into the mechanisms involved in the interrelated changes.

A final argument of scientific interest is that this study provides an opportunity to verify the notion of the household being a mediating agency between the individual and society at large (Pennartz and Niehof, 1999), because it assumes that the induced changes in household responsibilities and resources generate social change.

1.5 Location and timing of the research This research was conducted in the municipality of Kaizuo, a town in Changshun (also referred to as Kaizuo Township) County, in the Qiannan Prefecture, in the province of Guizhou. Guizhou Province is a mountainous province, ranked as the

4 Chapter 1

poorest province in China, located in Southwest China. Kaizuo is located in the southern part of Guizhou, counting 37 villages that belong to three administrative villages. There are 2127 households within a total population of 9620 (KPG, 2007).

The main fieldwork of this research was done from August 2007 to September 2008. The main research methods used in this investigation were key informant interviews, a household survey, focus group discussions (FGDs), the case study method, and participant observation. Secondary sources provided data on the research area.

1.6 Structure of this thesis This thesis includes nine chapters besides this first chapter. Chapter 2 pictures the historical and social context of the questions addressed in the research. The collective period (1958 to 1978) and the HRS period (from 1978 onwards) are discussed. Then, the introduction of the market economy, migration, agricultural changes, and rural development activities after the implementation of HRS are addressed. The chapter concludes with a discussion on family and gender in China.

Chapter 3 comprises a literature review and discusses key concepts and their definitions. The concepts discussed include household, family, kinship, livelihood, migration, gender, and social differentiation. The last section presents the conceptual framework, the research objectives, and research questions.

Chapter 4 gives a general description of Guizhou Province and detailed information about the study area, the municipality of Kaizuo. Topics included in the description are the demographic profile, natural resources, land use, livelihood, and cultural aspects.

Chapter 5 describes the study design, fieldwork process, and data collection methods and analysis. Because the temporal perspective and the cohort approach play a key role in the research, the way they were applied receives due attention. The end of the chapter presents a reflection on the fieldwork experience.

Chapter 6 starts with a discussion on the relationship between cohort and life stage. By following the stages in the life course of the different cohorts, it can be shown how women of different cohorts experienced the different phases of their household’s life course at different times. The next section looks more closely at marriage and household formation in the study area, now and in the past.

Subsequently, the topic of female-headed households is discussed since there are relatively many of them in the study area, and the incidence of female headship of households seems to be increasing. Labour migration plays an important role in this trend. The core of the chapter is formed by the presentation of the life histories of eight women, based on extensive interviews with the women concerned. The chapter concludes with a general discussion of social change and women’s lives, on the basis of the findings presented in the chapter.

Chapter 7 discusses human resources, physical resources, environmental resources and social resources of different cohorts in rural households. The livelihood portfolios and livelihood activities of four cohorts are discussed as well.

Land use strategies are included in the discussion. The second part of this chapter provides an in-depth discussion about migration, which is increasingly common

5Introduction



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