After the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC), every year around the time of the Spring Festival, the ” No. 1 Central Document” guiding agricultural, rural and famers work is released. On February 3, 2024, Xinhua News Agency reported on the document titled “Opinions of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and the State Council on Learning and Applying the Experience of the ‘Thousand Villages Demonstration, Ten Thousand Villages Renovation’ Project to Vigorously and Effectively Promote the Rural Comprehensive Revitalization.”
The document comprises 28 specific policy and six main parts, addressing aspects such as ensuring national food security, preventing large-scale return to poverty, elevating rural industry development, improving rural construction standards, enhancing rural governance, and strengthening the overall leadership of the CPCP in agricultural and rural work.
The overarching framework can be summarized as “Two Guarantees, Three Elevations, Two Strengthenings.” The “Two Guarantees” entail ensuring food security and preventing large-scale return to poverty. The “Three Elevations” involve elevating rural industry development, improving rural construction standards, and enhancing rural governance. The “Two Strengthenings” focus on reinforcing the dual drivers of technology and reform, as well as strengthening measures to increase farmers’ income.
The specific goals are to wage a successful battle for the comprehensive revitalization of rural areas, creating an idyllic and industrious rural landscape and accelerating the modernization of agriculture and rural areas as part of China’s unique path to modernization.
This essay will explore the strategies, challenges, and impact of the “Thousand Villages Demonstration, Ten Thousand Villages Renovation” project highlighted in the 2024 document. Evaluate its effectiveness as a methodology for rural comprehensive revitalization and its potential applicability to diverse regions.
Critique on the “Two Guarantees”
External observers have raised questions about the “Two Guarantees.” Firstly, there’s skepticism regarding “ensuring food security.” The CPC treats food reserve data as a state secret and has never disclosed it publicly. Despite Xi Jinping’s emphasis on “holding one’s own rice bowl” and the 2023 document also aiming to make China a major grain-food producer, the fundamental approach to diversified food channels remains unchanged in 2024, as China aims to become a modern agricultural and grain power.
Secondly, there are doubts about “preventing large-scale return to poverty.” The CCP claimed to have successfully completed the “poverty alleviation task” on schedule back in 2020, lifting all rural poverty and removing the “poverty-stricken” label from all impoverished counties. In February 2021, they once again declared “comprehensive victory” in the fight against poverty, stating that nearly 100 million rural poor had been lifted out of poverty.
However, economic data in 2023 showed a decline in opportunities and income for rural workers migrating to coastal cities or towns. Prices for livestock and crops plummeted, indicating extreme poverty among the lower-income farmers. Despite external criticism, officials insist that preventing a large-scale return to poverty is a non-negotiable task in agricultural and rural work, raising concerns about whether this is a genuine commitment or an attempt to maintain the facade of poverty alleviation success and stabilize public sentiment.
Zhejiang’s Project as a Methodology for Rural Comprehensive Revitalization
The title of the 2024 document reveals a focus on learning from the “Thousand Villages Demonstration, Ten Thousand Villages Renovation” project. This initiative was personally planned and promoted by Xi Jinping during his tenure as the Party Secretary in Zhejiang Province. Starting with the environmental improvement of rural areas and expanding from individual cases to a broader scale, it has evolved to encompass overall rural development.
Over more than 20 years of continuous efforts, this project has not only profoundly transformed the overall landscape of rural areas in Zhejiang Province but also served as a pioneering exploration and demonstration guide for advancing rural comprehensive revitalization. The Zhejiang’s project can be considered the methodology for rural comprehensive revitalization, serving as a valuable reference for regions across the country.
The term “roadmap” is widely utilized in studies of national or rural development, such as the United Nations’ 17 “Sustainable Development Goals” (SDGs). This approach encourages countries to prioritize SDGs based on the urgency of issues at various stages of national development over the next 5 to 10 years, addressing problems through strategically designed development strategies.
The roadmap for advancing rural comprehensive revitalization is divided into three stages, requiring local leaders and officials to address issues and achieve specific targets in each phase. For instance, during the “rural industry development” stage, four objectives must be met; during the “rural construction” stage, six objectives are outlined, and four objectives are set for the “rural governance” stage.
A leader from the Central Agricultural Office emphasizes that local leaders and officials “must recognize that rural conditions vary widely across the country, with differences in natural conditions, local customs, development levels, and work foundations. Learning and applying the experience of the project should be adapted to local conditions, avoiding one-size-fits-all approaches or rigid implementation.”
Therefore, the document emphasizes “tailoring measures to local conditions, implementing targeted measures, proceeding step by step, and achieving long-term success.” The focus is on concentrating efforts on tangible projects that the public can feel and see, continually making substantive progress and achieving phased outcomes.
Rural comprehensive revitalization will be implemented at the county level. In 2022, China had 2,843 county-level administrative units (1,301 counties, 117 autonomous counties, 394 county-level cities, and 977 districts under direct city administration). County seats, as administrative centers within counties, generally possess relatively abundant resources and talents, making them more capable of executing the project.
Challenges Across the Three Stages of Rural Comprehensive Revitalization
In the “rural industry development” stage, the methodology of the project can be applied, starting with the remediation of the rural ecological environment, too. The goal is to strengthen the production of primary, secondary, and tertiary industries in rural areas, optimize the processing and distribution mechanisms of agricultural products, and subsequently increase farmers’ income from marketing. For counties located within ecological protection redlines, the focus should not solely be on hoping for the central government to allow villages to move outside these areas. Instead, efforts should be made to overcome restrictions and develop distinctive features for their own rural industries.
Counties that have already achieved a certain level of rural industry development should transition to the “rural construction” stage. This involves improving both the hardware and software aspects of rural areas, including infrastructure such as roads, water supply, energy, logistics, and information technology. The 2024 document also aligns with the trend of electric vehicles, incorporating “promoting distributed new energy development in rural areas and strengthening the planning and construction of charging and battery swapping facilities for new energy vehicles in key villages and towns.” Additionally, services in education, healthcare, insurance, and elderly care need enhancement. While hardware infrastructure and public facilities are comparatively easier to achieve, elevating software services, cultural development, and ecological civilization requires collaboration from more talents and institutions to facilitate integrated urban-rural development at the county level.
For counties in the eastern coastal provinces or those near major cities, having already established infrastructure and service institutions, the next stage is “rural governance.” Apart from adhering to the CPC’s directives on promoting rural revitalization, developing rural culture, constructing safe rural areas, and improving customs, it requires the introduction of more professionals with governance expertise into the rural comprehensive revitalization work. The document indicates the implementation of a “Rural Revitalization Talent Support Plan,” emphasizing the need to enhance local talent cultivation, guide various urban professional and technical talents to serve in rural areas, and comprehensively improve the overall quality of farmers, promoting harmonious urban-rural integration and common prosperity.
The 2024 document also addresses the unfair regional development issues in agricultural production and proposes a compensation mechanism for major grain-producing areas. Pilot programs will be implemented in five major grain-producing provinces: Inner Mongolia, Jilin, Heilongjiang, Anhui, and Henan. Considering factors such as grain production, distribution, and consumption in both major producing and consuming areas, financial support will be provided from the latter to the former, promoting horizontal compensation and expanding collaboration in industries, talents, and technological services to prevent losses in major grain-producing areas.
The key focus of promoting agricultural and rural work is to increase farmers’ income. To achieve this, subsidies for production materials will be linked and adjusted, efforts to prevent wage arrears for rural workers will be strengthened, support will be provided for the employment of older farmers, and measures to enhance farmers’ property rights will be implemented. The document emphasizes the need to develop a comprehensive rural elderly care service system, encouraging the construction of regional elderly care service centers tailored to local conditions, and promoting initiatives such as elderly meal assistance and mutual aid services.
The 2024 ” No. 1 Central Document” not only outlines a clear roadmap for rural comprehensive revitalization but also establishes “favorable” and “effective” KPI indicators. Whether the expected outcomes will materialize requires time for observation and validation. However, in the current challenging urban employment environment, the CCP’s promotion of the county-level rural comprehensive revitalization roadmap should attract some migrant workers returning from cities, addressing issues related to foreign capital withdrawal, private enterprise downturns, and the unemployment of young people in urban areas. The successful guidance of various professional and technical talents from cities to serve in rural areas remains a focal point for future attention.
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