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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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and important to rural households’ livelihood strategies. Gender issues in livelihood portfolios are addressed at the end of the chapter.

Chapter 8 describes household changes of different cohort households after the implementation of the HRS. The changes include marriage, household formation, household composition, and residence. Changes also happen in terms of the household livelihood portfolio, land use, and cropping patterns. Gender roles change in different cohorts. This chapter also discusses the migration motivation for different households, the impact of the HRS on the 1970s cohort and 1980s cohort households, and the impact of migration on all cohorts. The issue of food security during the collective period and the early years of the HRS is addressed as well.

Chapter 9 describes the formal agricultural technology extension system, as well as villagers’ access to channels of information and their adoption of agricultural technology. It addresses the questions of whether the agricultural technology extension process matches the needs of the villagers and whether there are differences between older and younger cohorts of farming households in using extension services and adopting technologies. Furthermore, it will be pointed out that the migration context has an influence on the suitability of technologies and the feasibility of applying them.

In Chapter 10, the answers to the research questions can be found.

Conclusions based on the results presented in the previous chapters are formulated. The chapter also presents a general discussion on key aspects of the research.

–  –  –

This chapter sets the context for this research. It discusses the commune period (1958 to 1978) and the HRS period (from 1978 onwards). Then the discussion turns to the transition to a market economy, the issue of migration, agricultural changes, and rural development activities after the HRS. The chapter concludes with a discussion on family and gender in China.

2.1 The collective era In China, the institution of the commune was established after the land reforms and coop periods were completed in 1958. In that era, all land belonged to the commune and was under the management of the collective’s production team.

Farming households made their living by cultivating collective land. They only got a small home garden for private use. They contributed labour to the collective and got labour scores (work points) for this. Food distribution was based on these work points and the household size. According to the remuneration system, which is called the renqilaoshan system, each person received seventy percent of the food scores irrespective of working status, while the remaining thirty percent was based on the work points. Skill and physical strength determined one’s work points and better skilled work earned more points (Wertheim, 1973). The farming arrangement was controlled by the collective leaders. The government was completely responsible for any technology extension, and extension services were top-down. Households lost most of their productive functions (Vermeer, 2006). The villagers were required to work in the field every day. The production team leaders arranged all the agricultural activities. The production efficiency was very low and rural households suffered a lot of food shortage problems, especially during the famine period, which lasted from 1959 to 1961. Many people died during these years. Animal husbandry was also arranged by the collective.

Farming households only raised some poultry for their own consumption. From 1967 onwards, the government did not promote this because it was considered a capitalist trend.

According to Vermeer (2006), after 1949 the average household size substantially increased as a result of the land reforms. During the land reforms, land redistribution was conducted on a per capita basis, which led to an increase in average household size from 4.3 in 1953 to 4.9 in 1959. The government regulated the family’s functions and took on most of the costs of having children (including their education, health care, and creating employment). Taking care of the elderly, however, was seen by the government as the household’s responsibility, based on traditional values of filial obligation (Vermeer, 2006). In this collective period, the government proposed family planning and encouraged fertility decline, but not for ethnic minorities.

The farming households made their living by farming, except for a few family members who worked for the government. The farmers were treated as a homogeneous group and there was little social differentiation in rural society

7Historical and social context

(Barnett and Clough, 1986; Hu, 2005; Wang, 2003). The combination of endogenous forces and well-designed policies ensured that, at the local level, inequality would not rise significantly (Griffin and Vermeer, 1982). Nevertheless, village leaders might get more economic benefits during the distribution of resources. Households had different incomes because of differences in home garden management. The older women worked in the private home garden to generate additional income, while younger people worked in the collective fields (Wertheim, 1973). As Luong (1998:64) describes: “The main source of differentiation between neighbouring households depended upon the differing numbers of labouring hands in each family and the numbers of its dependents. Income differences between neighbours also resulted from the differing yields from household garden plots […] and the relatively meagre incomes earned by craft specialists and traders in the informal economy. Local cadres gained some slight economic advantages for themselves”.





The government has promoted gender equality since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. Since then, women’s status has improved.

Women were encouraged to work outside the household and attend collective production activities. Men and women were allowed to freely choose their marriage partners; marriage law prohibited arranged marriage.

In 1953, the government began to promote mutual assistance between rural households because some households could not manage the land allocated to them well enough. According to Potter (1990), in the initial form of collectivization introduced in 1953, in the mutual aid groups (huzhuzu), kinsmen, friends, and especially close patrilineal relatives helped each other, reciprocating a labour exchange within one or two years. The hosts usually traded the labour for food, so no formal payments were made.

2.2 The “Household Responsibility System” (HRS) The Household Responsibility System (HRS) started because of low agricultural production levels in the collective era and the inability of villagers to feed themselves. In the beginning of HRS, collective land was redistributed and allocated for management to every individual household, in such a way is that each villager was entitled to equal of land (Tan et al, 2006). The household became the production unit instead of the production team, as was the case in the collective era. Thus, the HRS restored the individual household and replaced the production team system as the unit of production and accounting in rural areas. The household was entitled to all the production benefits after paying taxes to the collective and the state. At the beginning, the land contract period was 15 years.

Later on, in 1995, it was lengthened to 30 years (Christiansen, 1990; Guan, 1987;

IFAD, 1995; Lin, 1987). However, ownership of the land still rests with the collective, while the household only has usufruct rights.

After the introduction of the Household Responsibility System (HRS) in 1978, it gradually became the principal method of rural management. Towards the end of 1984, the system was reported to have been adopted by 98.3 percent of the country’s production teams. The agrarian communes ceased to exist and their agricultural lands were redistributed among their members. Rural households were free to organize their own time and resources and were encouraged to

8 Chapter 2

become rich if they could (Melvyn et al., 1990). The farming household became the production and consumption unit, with its own decision-making on land use. Even though the state draws up a mandatory plan for the production of both agricultural and cash crops, farmers have the freedom to decide on the proportions of crops sown (Hu, 2005).

2.2.1 Initiation and implementation The HRS was introduced from 1978 onwards. Its implementation started informally in the poorest provinces, such as the provinces of Anhui and Guizhou.

It was initiated by farmers. Some production teams had contracted land to individual households to manage for several years before the formal implementation of the HRS. Only in 1978 did the central government begin to allow the HRS to be put into practice in a formal way.

The HRS emerged because farmers wanted to manage the land more efficiently and have a better life. In the collective era, incomes were very low, no matter how hard people worked (Lin, 1987). Feng (2004) notes that the HRS solved the inefficient use of public property that prevailed in the collective era.

Christiansen (1990: 43) summarizes the situation as follows: “The farmer now has the right to use the land for agricultural production under the stipulations set out by the villagers’ committee. He or she is not allowed to change the use of the land without permission, and he or she is not allowed to abandon the land or to transfer it to other peasants for cultivation without the consent of the villagers’ committee, but he or she is free to decide on the type of crops, is responsible for all aspects of production and has to carry the risk of losses.” At the beginning, the HRS was restricted to poor and remote places (IFAD, 1995). Later on, however, after the formal implementation in 1978, the HRS quickly spread over the country, and agricultural production increased rapidly. At present, the HRS has already gone through the first and second round of the contract period. The first round was finished between 1978 and 1983, the contract period being 15 years. By the end of 1983, over 97 percent of the collective teams had been converted to the new system (Lin, 1991).

During the first contract period, the government put great effort into supporting the villagers to successfully implement the HRS. After fulfilling a state grain procurement quota obligation and making certain contributions to collective funds, the household could retain the rest of its production. These reforms resulted in an unprecedented success in agricultural production (Lin, 1991: 358).

Christiansen (1990: 47-48) summarizes this as follows: “The stipulation in Document 1 (1983) 2 urging the peasants to market their above-quota products through ‘many channels’ […] was a complete blow to collective control with land ownership […]; however, they [the peasants] were still responsible for the major part of the agricultural output claimed by the state in fixed quotas, acting as general contractors for the commune members. The relatively short contracting period of three to five years was even expanded to ‘more than fifteen years’ in Document 1 (1984) [...] In Document 1 (1985) the role of the collectives in trade was Every year, Document 1 is the first Chinese government document, stating the most 2 important issues.

–  –  –

finally abolished: the peasants, even those growing grain or cotton for the quota, had become producers for the market, signing contracts directly with the trade organizations.” In order to encourage households to manage the land sustainably, in 1993, the government lengthened the land contract period to 30 years and started the second round. The contracted land should not be redistributed, even if the household membership changed within this contracted period. In 1997, the central government issued the “Announcement about the further stabilization and improvement of the rural land contract system”. This announcement stated that the contract period is 30 years. The contracted land should not be redistributed completely; only small changes are allowed, based on the former contract. It also indicated that it is legal for the households to subrent the land for others to cultivate. The second round of land contracting formally applies from 1997 onwards. Some provinces redistributed the land on a small scale; many provinces did not do anything and only changed the contract period from 15 years to 30 years. In 2002, in order to stabilize the system, the Chinese Rural Land Responsibility Law was issued. It stipulated that the contract period was lengthened to 30 years, and that only small changes were allowed. The law allows subrenting and stipulates that, in contracting the land, women should have the same rights as men.

The implementation entailed many changes for the rural population.

Agricultural production increased (Christiansen, 1990; Lin, 1991), which could be attributed to an increase in inputs, technological change and institutional reform (Fan 1991: 266). At the beginning, rural household labour was allocated completely to agricultural production. The household management system has advantages of its own and is considered suitable for China (Lin, 1992). The income of the farming households increased a lot after the HRS, because the households could gain more if they produced more. This also motivates the farmers to use new technologies (Guan, 1987; Lin, 1991; Lin, 1992). Diversified income activities became possible because rural industries took off (Mallee, 1997). Many changes occurred, while some new issues emerged, too. These will be discussed below.



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