Logic and path of all-round rural revitalization

Source:Chinese Social Sciences Today 2023-05-31

As is stated in the report to the 20th CPC National Congress, “the most challenging and arduous tasks we face in building a modern socialist China in all respects remain in our rural areas.” This is a major conclusion drawn from China’s development and national conditions, reflecting the country’s deep understanding of the bottlenecks that are inhibiting national development.

The shift from “pursuing a rural revitalization strategy” proposed in the 19th CPC National Congress report to “advancing rural revitalization across the board” in the 20th Party congress report marks a historic change in the focus of China’s work relating to agriculture, rural areas, and rural people. 

Promoting all-round rural revitalization has become the main theme and a priority in China’s work relating to agriculture, rural areas, and rural people. It showcases strategic arrangements and active practices in all rural areas, many spheres of the countryside, and on all levels of agricultural work. The systematic project involves multiple dimensions and requires long-term efforts.

Urbanization and rural development

Advancing rural revitalization across the board emphasizes promoting sustainable development of the countryside in economic, political, cultural, social, and ecological terms, thereby rectifying urban-rural development imbalances and resolving inadequate development in rural areas.

However, rural development can never be confined simply to the countryside. Rural revitalization should extend beyond rural areas to consider urbanization, alongside function complementation and factor interaction between urban and rural areas. In China, rural revitalization and urbanization are embedded within each other. Together, they drive urban-rural integration. 

Urbanization is a universal phenomenon for countries to become modern. As urbanization advances, the urban population has a growing demand for rural products including food, natural environments, and culture. Urban industries offer more options for the reallocation of factors like the rural workforce, while economic growth, boosted by urbanization, sets the stage for strengthened capacities of government finance and increased transfer payments to rural areas.

Since 1978, China’s rural labor has flowed massively to non-agricultural industries in urban areas, enhancing efficiency in rural labor distribution and increasing the disposable incomes of rural people, which provides evidence that urbanization drives rural development. 

With this consideration, China should grasp the complementary relationship between urbanization and rural development, and regard rural revitalization amid urbanization as an important rule for transforming the urban-rural structure, and further improve institutions and mechanisms for market expansion, factor flow, and public good supplies in urban and rural areas, thus making steady progress in rural development under the broader framework of urban-rural synergy.

Agricultural and rural modernization

Rural revitalization is a systematic concept involving all fields in rural areas. Its general requirements include: thriving businesses, pleasant living environments, social etiquette and civility, effective governance, and prosperity, covering economic, political, cultural, social, and ecological advancement. In short, the fundamental objective of China’s rural revitalization is to modernize agriculture and rural areas. By extension, the relationship between the modernization of agriculture and rural areas is crucial to rural revitalization practices.

Logically, agricultural and rural modernization each has a focus, yet the two are correlated. Agricultural modernization entails high productivity and strong competitiveness in rural industries, leaning towards the industrial or economic dimension, while the modernization of rural areas implies that rural residents live a high-quality life, stressing the political, cultural, social, and ecological fronts. The former can provide productive forces for the latter, while the latter can create favorable conditions for the former. 

In China, however, the modernization of agriculture and rural areas remains imbalanced. Since the reform and opening up, the country has achieved significant progress in both agricultural and rural modernization, but many new scenarios have arisen in social governance of rural areas. This indicates that agricultural modernization doesn’t equal to or will not necessarily lead to the modernization of rural areas. As such, attention must be paid to the intricate relationship between the “two modernizations,” emphasizing two-way development and mutual promotion as well as factual differences between the two, in order to redress structural imbalances with multipronged measures.

Overall and targeted development

Advancing rural revitalization across the board encompasses all rural areas geographically and all fields in terms of specific content. After completing the building of a moderately prosperous society in all respects, China’s emphasis on “all-encompassing” rural revitalization is both necessary and feasible.

However, in practice, consideration should be given to the whole system and all the focuses, to plan rural development with all geographical regions and content fields covered, while striving to make targeted breakthroughs based on the structural characteristics of agriculture and rural areas. 

China’s rural revitalization involves all rural areas, but the degree of development varies from one village to another. The 2018–22 Strategic Planning for the Revitalization of Rural Areas divides Chinese villages into several types, including agglomeration and upgrading, urban-suburban integration, characteristic protection, and relocation and merger. The classification embodies the wide disparity.

To advance rural revitalization, it is essential to align agriculture-related policies and basic public goods within regions, while heeding tendencies of population flow and industrial concentration, and underscoring the driving role of central townships and villages within counties. Efforts are needed to allocate public goods with remarkable economies of scale and scope to areas where people aggregate. This targeted allocation will balance equity and economy in public good distribution. 

To foster and enhance endogenous development momentum, it is necessary to prioritize raising rural people’s incomes and narrowing urban-rural income gaps. The No.1 Central Document’s elaboration on broadening the channels for farmers to increase their incomes is a response to the rural revitalization priorities.

Market and government

All-round rural revitalization proceeds against the backdrop of economic restructuring in China, and the core of the economic restructuring lies in handling well the government-market relationship, to see the market plays the decisive role in resource allocation and the government better plays its role. In rural revitalization, the relationship between the government and the market should be leveraged to modernize agriculture and rural areas by combining the effective market and the facilitating government.

In fact, the urban-rural dichotomy in China is inseparable from lagging factor marketization and the long-term imbalances between urban and rural areas in public good allocation. Therefore, it is urgent to further market-oriented reform of factors like labor, land, capital, technology, and data in urban and rural areas, particularly removing institutional barriers facing rural laborers who go to work and settle in cities. 

Meanwhile, the government should better play its role in rural revitalization, especially strengthening farmers’ capabilities of agricultural product supply by improving subsidy policies. Based on the inclusive nature of basic public goods, the provision of basic public services should focus on areas relating to agriculture, rural areas, and rural people to increase rural residents’ access to basic elder care, basic medical care, and basic education, thereby accelerating the closure of urban-rural gaps in basic public good allocation.

Top-level design and local practices

All-round rural revitalization is an overall plan for national development and includes concrete local practices. There is no precedent for rural revitalization in the development history of China, or even humanity. The areas it covers and difficulties it poses are also unprecedented. As a super-large country, China should not only conduct overall deployment, long-term planning, and unification and coordination at the central level, but locally, tailored, timely, and diversely innovative approaches are also needed. The organic combination of top-level design and practical exploration is an important institutional underpinning for sustained rural revitalization in China.

With respect to top-level design, China must adhere to the leadership of the CPC and the socialist system, demonstrate the new development philosophy, aim at common prosperity across urban and rural areas, promote coordinated economic, political, cultural, social, and ecological advancement, and so forth. All these principles are nationally applicable and should be implemented by local governments. 

In terms of practical exploration, due to varying degrees of development in rural areas, and different endowments, industrial formations, and residents’ lifestyles in suburbs and exurbs of cities, diverse paths to rural revitalization should be actively explored according to each area’s actual conditions. For example, villages around megacities can push ahead with the integration of the primary, secondary, and tertiary industries based on urban needs, and exurban villages in the central and western regions can engage in large-scale agricultural operations by relying on land circulation.

Universal rules and Chinese features

Advancing rural revitalization across the board in China is concerned with the transformation of the urban-rural structure. On a global level, countries typically follow a number of universal rules in such a transformation, including rapid increases in urbanization rates, urbanization-driven agricultural development, scale expansion of agricultural operations, enhanced innovation in agricultural technology, deepened integration of rural industries, and convergence of public good supply in urban and rural areas.

The modernization of agriculture and rural areas in China has common features with other countries, so it is critical to value and draw upon these international experiences, following the universal rules to formulate implementation plans for rural revitalization. 

Nonetheless, it is inadvisable to directly copy these universal rules. Chinese characteristics should be considered as well. This is because China has many national features which distinguish it from other economies. It is a super-large country featuring development disparity across rural areas; it is socialist and aims at common prosperity for all; and it has a socialist market economy system, and rural land is collectively owned.

On this basis, China’s all-round rural revitalization must be based on local practices when drafting plans, choosing paths, and testing effects. The strategy must be regarded as a crucial component of Chinese modernization, to respond to the problem of imbalanced and inadequate development with the path of rural revitalization with Chinese characteristics. Only in this way, can agriculture-related systems and policies be improved in a more targeted fashion, and can continued, steady progress be made to the modernization of agriculture and rural areas. 


Gao Fan is a professor from the School of Economics at Fudan University.




Editor:Yu Hui

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