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Liu Shijin

Farmers' Reform

2015-08-10

Farmers' Reform

By Zhao Shukai

This book is a collection of the author's observations of life in recent years, focusing on the relationship between farmers and reform. These articles are published in various forms, including sketches on politicians, critical articles, interview records, speeches made at some meetings or on relevant occasions. These articles are classified according to their content rather than time of publication or theme. This book has 33 articles grouped into five parts. The major chapters are as follows:

Part one: farmers and top-level politics. Whether viewing from the perspective of China's political tradition or from the perspective of current political reality in China, the relationship between farmers and top-level politics bears the following characteristics: unless in special historic context, it is hard for farmers to exert influence on top-level politics whereas it is easy for top-level politics to impose a strong and direct impact on farmers. It is certain that there exist huge differences in mutual influence mechanism and modes between ancient and present times. In this part, the author tries, in light of concrete political figures and political events, policy arrangements and systems, to study the relationship between farmers and top-level politics. The questions discussed here include: in those days when class struggle rode roughshod over political life, how did the national ideology distortedly treat farmers, lead to twisted village politics and even reverse the positions between farmers and politics. In current historical context, what kind of political characteristics do farmers have; in the abnormal relationship between farmers and politics, how is farmers' present historical destiny displayed; in view of China's future development, what kind of problems would farmers face in their political life; with regard to the relationship between farmers and politics, what is the basic revelation of past 30 years' reform and what are the inadequate awareness of the government in understanding farmers.

Part two: farmers and grassroots government. In current China, there are five levels of government, namely central government, local government and grassroots government which consists of county government and village government. Strictly speaking, under the current institutional framework, local and grassroots governments have no right to make major policies and their basic duty is to carry out and implement policies. Therefore, with regard to major institutional framework and related policy measures, the political activities of central government and top-level politics have the greatest influence on farmers. However, policy formulation is different from policy implementation and the former is more complicated and more influential. Therefore, in the discussion of the relationship between farmers and the government, especially on the issue of farmers' behaviors and action logic, grassroots government plays an indispensible role. In this part, the following issues are discussed: the institutional structure and action logic of grassroots government in the management of village affairs; the role of grassroots government's reform in the reform of government system; public responsibility of grassroots government; and the relationship between citizen's participation and government's function.

Part three: farmers and rural democracy. In the 1980s and 1990s, the development of rural democracy with self-governance by villagers as the main form was quite a good news. Of course, such good news was mainly talked about by people as something ideal and it was confirmed both at home and abroad. However, reality was quite harsh than expected. This part is about the current and future situation of rural democracy. The main questions discussed here are as follows. What are the restrictions for rural democracy and how could people overcome relevant difficulties? For people who are concerned about rural democracy, why some are optimistic and some are pessimistic? According to the author, if things are viewed from the perspective of the evolution of village democracy, especially in terms of some systematic regression, it is reasonable for pessimists to think about that way. However, if we take into consideration the great improvement of farmers' awareness about political right and efficacy, especially the rise of new farmers as citizens, we would feel more motivated and have more confidence in the future. What is worth worrying is that if the imbalance between the improvement of government structure and the citizens' growth constantly increases and the system development could not satisfy the demand of citizens, the society might face some turbulence.

Part Four: farmers and social construction. Some people once thought and even today they still believe that the root cause of rural problems is poverty and economic backwardness. However, the process of development proves that the problem is not that simple. With the rapid development of economy, the problem of social instability has emerged and the relationship between government and people has grown intense. Therefore, while attaching emphasis to economic development, people have also focused their attention on social construction as it plays a major part in rural life. Social construction includes the development of social programs and the management of social order. The current issue is that both economic development and social programs development could bring about social conflicts. Government plays a key role in dealing with the matter. Social management is related not only to economic development but also social development, both of which are realized through the improvement of government system. Therefore, the basic issue discussed in this part is that the unstable development of rural areas shows that social harmony is not governed by the degree of economic development but by the coordination of social powers. A positive social power relationship lies in the government or political reform. Generally speaking, the so-called instability of rural areas in China loomed up in the mid-1990s, with farmers' resistance caused by heavy agricultural taxes and charges. And what is more serious is that the reform of agricultural taxes and charges, especially the cancellation of agricultural taxes, did not solve the problem of instability. Over the past 30 years of reform, it is found that the problem of instability in rural areas has become more complicated and profound. The problem of instability could be viewed either by the farmers or by the government from different perspectives. It was not until the turn of the century that the issue of farmers' petition caught scholars' eye relating to their study of rural affairs. As a researcher on rural issues, the author made a study of farmers' petition ever since reform was launched. With the evolvement of his research, he found that the study should go beyond farmers' complaints and conflicts between farmers and the government and focus on the performance of government system as well as the mechanism with which the government deals with relevant conflicts. Only by so doing could the issue of instability in rural areas be fully understood.

Part five: farmers and local officials. The articles in this part are written by the author as introduction to relevant books by some local officials. Some articles discuss the stand of officials in their discourse, some focus on the concern of officials, and some reveal the living condition of officials. How to view China's local officials is a big issue. Usually either top government administrators or the general people have both regarded local officials as policy executors and accordingly given their comments on officials' performance. However, it is not that simple in real life. Local officials do not simply put into practice the policies of the higher-level government. On the contrary, they are important “policy” makers, but their policies are not recognized by the higher-level government since their policies are considered as policies imposed by local authorities. However, these are real and effective policies. In China the development of rural areas is advanced amidst the mixed implementation of local policies with top policies. Theoretically speaking, how to give a general picture of local officials is an important subject for researchers involved in China's political study. According to the author, in present China, local officials have already become a relatively independent power group or a special interest group. With regard to top-level government, their behavior and their political options strongly counteract or restrain the policy effects of the top-level government, and in this sense they have become a reacting force. In the eyes of the common people, they are a power group responsible for the management of social affairs at the grassroots level, and they could impose a more direct influence on people's life than top-level government. From the perspective of sociological development, local officials could be regarded as a strategic group. Strategic group here refers to the behavior entity that would make strategic decisions when protecting or pursuing group interest. From this year on, some scholars from the political field in Europe have made discussions on this problem. They think this strategic group has double attributes: it is both a unit for research analysis and a collective actor with strong power for self-management in real life. Currently, the research on local officials is far from enough. If we could get to know their cultural and intellectual needs as well as their behavior logic, we could better understand this system and effectively push forward reform. But if we look at this group from ideological perspective, we are deceiving ourselves and others in terms of politics.

The author believes that, against the background of reform and transformation in China, the research on farmers has a broader vista, because China's reform has a long way to go before it reaches a complete success. Farmers play a pivotal role in China's history. The social and political changes require corresponding academic study. When people raise relevant issues, adjust their research methods, or broaden the scope of their research field, they should all keep up with the times. This is required both by the times and researchers themselves. In putting these words together, the author hopes to provide some kind of enlightenments for researchers for their further study on famers and grassroots politics.