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The History of “Learning from Dazhai in Agriculture” -- Recollections of Ji Dengkui

2016-08-15

The History of “Learning from Dazhai in Agriculture” -- Recollections of Ji Dengkui

By Zhao Shukai, Research Fellow and Director-General of Information Center, DRC

When people talk about China’s agricultural reform, they would say the reform started with the opening of the 3rd Plenary Session of the 11th CPC Central Committee held at the end of 1978. No matter they are researchers in agricultural field or government employees, they would all agree with this judgment. However, Wan Li (1916-2015, late Vice Premier of the State Council-- translator’s notes) held a different view. He noted that China’s agricultural reform had experienced “three rounds of arguments” and the first one was focused on “learning from Dazhai in agriculture”. This round of argument on policy formulation started one year before the opening of the plenum. At that time, Ji Dengkui did a good job as the Vice-Premier in charge of agriculture.

Part One

As a pioneer and an important leader in China’s agricultural reform, Wan Li seldom gave opinions about the history of reform after he left the leading position. On October 10, 1997, Wan Li made an exception and had a joint interview with represnetives from related organizations including scholars and journalists. He said, “Usually I do not meet journalists. Since I am already retired, I think there is no need for me to make comments on rural issues. To my mind the implementation of the policy of ‘fixed farm output quotas for each household marked the beginning of agricultural reform and it was a significant event in the course of reform and opening-up. It is of great importance to carefully study and clearly explain this period of history. Therefore, as I had witnessed that part of history, I’d like to make an exception and discuss with you on that issue.”(China’s Experience: Top-level Decision-Making since Reform and Opening-up for 30 Years, Shandong People's Publishing House, Sep. 2008) During the interview, Wan Li systematically reviewed and summarized the process of agricultural reform. He pointed out that the breakthrough of agricultural reform was a process of arguments or debates over mistakes under the influence of “Left” deviation thought. The arguments went through three rounds: first, we broke away from the restrictions resulting from the movement of learning from Dazhai in agriculture and stuck to production-centered principle; second, instead of following the regulation of the three-level system of ownership relating to the means of production in the people’s commune, with ownership by the production team as the basic accounting unit, we practiced contract responsibility system linking remuneration to output as well as fixed farm output quotas for each production; third, we broke the restrictions of “forbidding fixed farm output quotas for each household”, and carried out contract responsibility system on household basis with remuneration linked to output and giving full autonomy to farmers. The brief summary made by Wan Li was beyond the study results of rural reform history because it was not only brief and concise, but also comprehensive and systematic. With regard to the study on rural reform at present, there is a sea of written materials, but the researchers just pay attention to the last two rounds of arguments mentioned by Wan Li, and they seldom touched upon the first round of argument.

When Wan Li was assigned to Anhui Province to work as the Senior Secretary of the Provincial Party Committee, Ji Dengkui was the Vice-Premier of the State Council in charge of agriculture. At the beginning of 1978, the CPC Central Committee held a meeting in Dazhai about “popularizing Dazhai’s experience in agriculture” across the country. Wan Li was not very supportive to this proposal and he thought that learning from Dazhai could not solve the problems of China’s agriculture. Wan Li said, “How can the farmers become diligent if they do not have enthusiasm? How can the productivity be increased? We shouldn’t follow the national practice, but we can say nothing at the meeting and it’s no use saying anything though. What should we do then? According to the notification, the Senior Secretary of the provincial Party committee should attend this meeting. But I asked Secretary Zhao Shouyi to go on behalf of me. I told him to say nothing but only listen to others at the meeting. People of Anhui Province do not support the practice of Dazhai, and we can neither learn from them nor do we have the condition to do that. Of course we can’t object it openly. You just keep your mouth closed and you don’t have to tell us in detail about the decisions made at the meeting when you come back.”

Generally speaking, Ji Dengkui’s view on rural policy was similar to that of leaders like Hua Guofeng and Chen Yonggui. But if we study their remarks at some meetings in detail, we can find out that their opinions were quite different. Ji Dengkui had his own understanding and standpoint about Dazhai’s experience. In specific, he held an opinion obviously different from the mainstream view of the central government, because he was dissatisfied with Dazhai’s experience and held a critical view about it.

At present, in order to explain the policy debate on learning from Dazhai, we have to start with the specific problems relating to Dazhai’s experience and rural economic system.

Dazhai’s experience was originally a respectful and touching story and it gradually changed its colour. Dazhai, a mountain village with no more than one hundred households, is situated in Xiyang County, Shanxi Province. Its natural conditions were harsh with infertile land. After agricultural cooperation, under the leadership of Chen Yonggui, farmers in Dazhai turned the seven large ditches into fertile farmland in five years, creating the miracle of bumper harvests. In 1964, Mao Zedong launched the movement of learning from Dazhai in agriculture. The experience of Dazhai gradually turned to become negative during the Cultural Revolution. The changed “Dazhai’s experience” still possessed the spirit of “self-reliance and hard struggle”, but it became more like a kind of production management system and also an income distribution system. Such system restricted farmers’ freedom of living manner, and even destroyed their creativity and basic rights. Fundamentally speaking, Dazhai’s practice turned into a political treatment to farmers, which means to treat them in the way of class struggle. Farmers’ normal pursuit of social and economic rights was seen as a manifestation of class enemies objecting to socialism, or considered as “remnants of capitalism”.

“Dazhai’s experience” was a whole set of grassroots political and economic system. In terms of production system, “Dazhai’s experience” was to change the basic accounting unit and replace production team with production brigade. It could help increase public ownership of the People’s Commune as it was believed. In simple terms, it was like preparing food in a large pot for indiscriminate distribution based on egalitarianism and people called it “transition in poverty”. The mainstream theory maintained at that time that the higher the level of ownership, the closer to the communist system. On such basis, Dazhai took eager steps to cancel farmers’ “private plots”. Under the system of people's commune, each household could keep a small piece of farmland, which could be decided by farmers themselves as what to grow. The farmland was a crucial guarantee for improving livelihood and keeping the subsistence allowances. Due to the backward collective economy, private plots and a certain number of individual business activities were the main means for farmers to solve the issue of feeding and clothing. However, private plots were seen as individual assets which were considered to be “capitalistic” according to the so-called socialist theory. The official theory at that time considered all those business activities with privately-owned characteristics and individual management as “remnants of capitalism”. Therefore, Dazhai forbade farmers to go in for any kind of free economic activities. It even set restricted number of chickens and ducks that a household could feed and if a household had more poultry than the set number, the farm, being considered as “capitalistic”, would be banned. In terms of income distribution system, Dazhai’s main experience was the so-called “Dazhai-typed work points”. Work point is the unit of measurement of the work that farmers could fulfill, and collective production distribution would be based on that at the end of the year. The main method was that the production brigade would add up to the work points of each farmer per day and then distribute income according to such work points at the end of the year. Dazhai made it clear that it opposed responsibility system including “fixed work according to quotas” and “income calculation relating to output”. Dazhai’s work point system blurred the connection between personal work and production results, so it was also called “a rough calculation of one’s labor”. However, according to the viewpoint of that time, Dazhai’s work point was regarded as the sample of income distribution in rural socialist income while calculation relating to remuneration linked to output was criticized to be capitalism-led “material incentives”.

In the mid-to-later period of the Cultural Revolution, Dazhai’s production management system was popularized to the whole of Xiyang County. When Chen Yonggui was the main leader of Xiyang County, he pressed ahead with Dazhai’s method of taking production brigade as the basic accounting unit. In 1970, bazaar trade market in the whole county was closed by force. The county severely restricted the bazaar trade in the name of cracking down on the black market, even forbade in explicit terms cottage industry activities like family handmade straw hats, and also abolished farmers’ household subsidiary business. In the past, “learning from Dazhai” was only a kind of slogan, but with Xiyang County’s increasing advertisement, it became an enforcement activity. As a result, the so-called Dazhai’s experience had changed from a spirit with which people strived continuously to make new progress to a comprehensive political and economic control. Anyone either a cadres or a farmer would be considered anti-socialism if he showed misunderstanding or noncooperation to that system and he would be treated in a way pertaining to class struggle. Therefore, in order to promote the system, the political campaign of “class struggle” was used to suppress farmers’ misunderstanding and noncooperation. Consequently, Dazhai turned to be an example in carrying forward the movement of class struggle. In rural work, people’s attitude towards Dazhai’s experience became the only benchmark to measure work performance and the principal approach for formulating rural policy.

In the context of such historical background, Wan Li, Ji Dengkui and Chen Yonggui held different approaches towards learning from Dazhai and their different views indicated the major divergence among central leaders on rural policy.

Part Two

The original agenda of the 3rd Plenary Session of the 11th CPC Central Committee was about economic issues, with agriculture as the major one. It was predetermined that the first two items on the conference agenda would be agricultural documents for discussions. At that time, national economy faced many problems and the major one was slow agricultural development since many people in rural areas suffered from hunger. One year before the plenum, two relevant documents for review at the meeting were drafted. One document was “Decisions on Accelerating Agricultural Development”, focusing on solving problems in agricultural production and mainly emphasizing the measures and policies on strengthening agricultural development; another was the “Amended Regulations on People's Communes” (also known as Sixty New Regulations), aiming at addressing problems of rural institutional framework, esp. consolidating the system of people’s commune. The basis of people’s commune system was the legal document of “Regulations on People's Communes” (also known as Sixty Regulations) published in 1961, which was formulated under Mao Zedong’s instructions. Before the 3rd Plenary Session of the 11th CPC Central Committee, from 1977 to 1978, divergent opinions on rural policies at the level of central committee were mainly about the amendments of that document. The amendment of “Regulations on People's Communes” was even more important for system building. As the Executive Vice Premier of the State Council in charge of agriculture, Ji Dengkui was responsible for the drafting of the two agricultural documents and he made an explanation at the 3rd Plenary Session of the 11th CPC Central Committee on how the documents were prepared.

In August 1975, Chen Yonggui wrote a letter to Mao Zedong to express his opinions about rural work. He suggested that the basic accounting unit of people’s commune should quickly transform from the production team onto production brigade, so as to solve the problem of too much difference between the rich and the poor in rural areas. Chen Yonggui said that, in the third year after the Cultural Revolution started, the whole Xiyang County realized basic accounting at the brigade level and in order to go all out and go fast in agriculture and narrow the gap between production team and production brigade, to promote the basic accounting unit at brigade level had become a must. Mao Zedong wrote to Deng Xiaoping and other leaders to express his appreciation of Chen Yonggui’s opinion. From September 23 to October 21, 1975, the CPC Central Committee held a meeting on rural affairs in Beijing. The meeting was presided over by Ji Dengkui and attended by 17 first secretaries of the provincial Party committee from relevant provinces. On October 8, a meeting report was sent to Mao, which wrote, “From now on, it is possible to consider that in the following five years or more, the task of transforming the basic accounting unit from production team to production brigade could be basically fulfilled, so as to match with the demand of basically realizing agricultural mechanization in the whole country by 1980.” Mao Zedong, after taking into account of different opinions, didn’t approve this document. (Xi Xuan and Jin Chunming: The Brief History of the Cultural Revolution, p.277, 3rd Edition, CPC History Press, 2006) From the above we can see that Chen Yonggui played the role of a daring vanguard to advocate the transformation of the basic accounting unit from the production team to the production brigade. Ji Dengkui echoed Mao’s idea to some extent, but he also mentioned that people held different views on that issue in different areas. In fact, Ji Dengkui disagreed with Chen Yonggui on that matter. Two years later, the political picture totally changed, and Ji’s different views were further exemplified in the amendments of the Sixty New Regulations as the amendment work was made under his charge.

In October 1977, the CPC central committee decided to amend the Sixty Regulations about the development of people’s commune in rural areas. It formed a 19-member research group with Yang Ligong, the Minister of Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, as the group leader. The group members held several meetings to discuss and modify the regulations in line with Hua Guofeng’s speeches, and then sent the amended document to the CPC Central Committee for review. The guiding principle for the amendment of the Sixty Regulations was: continue to advance the development of the people’s commune, make great endeavor to develop socialistic large-scale agriculture, stick to taking class struggle as the key link, and popularize Dazhai’s experience across the board. It was hoped that the Sixty Regulations could serve as the guiding line for over 20 years till 2000 and that was the expectation of the agricultural sector and the central government. It was clear that the central leadership could not imagine the drastic changes that took place later in agricultural management system, because what in their mind was how to enhance the system of people’s commune. However, at that time, farmers in some rural villages were already making pilot practice of household responsibility system. This shows the top-level policy makers were rather slow in observing the motive of reform at grassroots level.

Local government leaders held different views on the amended Sixty Regulations. The central group in charge of the amendment work sent several teams to relevant provinces to solicit opinions from provincial leading members. Main leading members from Shanxi Provincial Party Committee held that the Sixty Regulations were drafted under Chairman Mao’s instructions and thus cannot be amended. They suggested making another document as a supplement to Sixty Regulations. The supplementary document should take a clear-cut stand and set Dazhai as an example for the whole country to follow. Dazhai’s experience should be put on top agenda and serve as a key for addressing any issues. Wan Li, the Senior Secretary of the Anhui Provincial Party Committee, maintained that Dazhai’s experience should not be overemphasized. According to him, the farmers were anxious about impracticable policy directions such as uncompensated transfer of their resources, and income distribution failed to meet the promise made by team leaders. Besides, they were afraid to be labeled as bad elements and got criticized if they held different views about Dazhai’s experience. Therefore, he hoped that efforts should be made to keep stability, increase production and free people’s mind of apprehensions. At the moment, the production team should have the right for self-management and farmers should have a say in agricultural affairs. The above-mentioned different views and arguments focused on the movement of learning from Dazhai in agriculture.

Accordingly, leaders of the central government also held different opinions on the amendments of Sixty Regulations. The different opinions among local government leaders were about principles of production in general, while leaders of the central government were divided in opinions on how to formulate policies for agriculture, rural areas and farmers. The divergent opinions on policy-making mainly lay in five aspects: first, when and how should efforts be made to transform the basic accounting unit from production team to production brigade; second, how to popularize Dazhai’s method of calculating work points; third, whether private plots should be cancelled or be put under unified management, and whether household subsidiary occupation and bazaar trade should be restricted; fourth, in face of the problems of deducting a large share by the commune from the production team, farmers’ income was not increased even if production was promoted; fifth, the task of working days set respectively for cadres at different levels (100 days, 200 days and 300 days per year respectively for county-level, commune-level and brigade-level cadres) could not be fulfilled. Some grassroots cadres were quite resentful about the “Left” practice of “cutting the tail of capitalism”, especially the restriction on small-scale farming by individual households. In short, that was the people’s attitude toward Dazhai-typed institutional system.

With regard to the policy discussion in top leadership, leaders like Hua Guofeng, Li Xiannian and Chen Yonggui proposed to push on and realize Dazhai-typed institutional system in the whole country. They particularly hoped to realize the faster transition from production team to production brigade as the basic accounting unit. Ji Dengkui, however, held a different opinion. He suggested that the production team as the basic accounting unit should not be changed and farmers should enjoy more freedom in economic activities, such as reclamation of wasteland and the possession of more private plots. The different opinions among leaders of the central government could be narrowed down to disagreements between Chen Yonggui and Ji Dengkui.

Part Three Among my colleagues in No. 9 Courtyard (office location for the Rural Development Research Center of the State C

ouncil – translator’s notes), two of them took part in the drafting work of the two documents at that time and they often talked about how the documents were drafted and even wrote article to recall that part of experience. Among all the recollections, Ji Yecheng gave a very detailed and impressive description of his working experience. He had worked as a journalist for quite a number of years. After he was assigned from Henan Province to Beijing in 1977, he participated in the work for amending the Sixty Regulations. Later he became the leader of the Comprehensive Research Group in Rural Policy Office mainly in charge of editing research reports on rural work. Ji Yecheng had a deep impression of the different views among central leaders on the amendment of the Sixty Regulations and he kept all the minutes of relevant meetings. Chen Yonggui and Ji Dengkui had several arguments during briefings given by amendment group members. As Ji Yecheng recalled: “On May 23, 1978, some of us were required to give briefings to some government leaders on the draft work and get related instructions from them. Li Xiannian, Ji Dengkui, Chen Yonggui and some other leading members attended the meeting.”

“When it came to my turn to give briefings, I said that the agricultural output was reduced in Qichun County, Hubei Province and this was partly because the production brigade served as the basic accounting unit. At this point, Chen Yonggui stood up and said, ‘I don’t believe what you have said. All the brigades that have served as the basic accounting unit in Shanxi Province have all witnessed increased output.’”

“Then Ji Dengkui encouraged me not to be afraid and asked me to go on. So I continued and gave the specific figures of reduced output and reasons for that. Chen Yonggui became a little impatient and interrupted me by saying that ‘By taking brigade as the basic accounting unit, we can make unified planning to improve farmland construction. The output may not increase in the first year but it will definitely increase by a big margin in a few years’ time’. Chen Yonggui also criticized that the amendments of Sixty Regulations advocated small-scale farming. He said, ‘Those who have visited Dazhai always asked me how we have implemented rural economic policy. Is it necessary for us to distribute a piece of private plot to each household and build a pigsty for them? We would rather make ordinary mistakes relating to the improvement of capital construction of farmland instead of ceasing to make progress for 20 years.’”

“Ji Dengkui said, ‘In transforming the basic accounting unit from production team to production brigade, we should not breach the relevant principles and policies and appropriate resources from production team without pay. If we don’t have mature experience and if there is no good solution for that, we’d rather not make the transformation now. We should follow the income distribution principle of to each according to his work. Farmers will have no incentive for work if there is no difference for doing more or less. The method of income distribution should be decided by the masses. We will keep the private plots and will no longer do anything relating to cutting the tails of capitalism.’”

Ji Yecheng added that he also attended the group discussions of Jiangsu and Shandong Provinces. Ji Dengkui mentioned at one of the discussions. He said that “It is not that urgent for us to transform the basic accounting unit from production team to production brigade. Taian’s (Taian is a prefectural city in Shandong Province) experience has proved that production can be increased if we take production team as the basic accounting unit.”

At another group discussion on whether cadres should take part in labor, Chen Yonggui insisted on saying that if cadres took a lead in manual labor, it would become easy to mobilize the masses to follow suit. He reiterated by saying that the task of working days set respectively for cadres at different levels should not be changed (i.e. 100 days, 200 days and 300 days per year respectively for county-level, commune-level and brigade-level cadres). Ji Dengkui expressed a different view and said that if this was made into a legal regulation or a standard, it might not be fulfilled if it was beyond the ability of most cadres. (Du Runsheng: The Process of Policy Making on China’s Rural Reform, p.104, Central Party Literature Press, Jan 1999).

After the drafting team completed the two agricultural documents, they were submitted respectively to the central working conference and the 3rd Plenary Session of the 11th CPC Central Committee held at the end of 1978. As the CPC leader in charge of agriculture, Ji Dengkui made an explanation on how the documents were prepared. The central working conference lasted for 36 days with only three plenary sessions. The first plenary session was held on November 20 and Hua Guofeng made a speech at the meeting. The second session was held on November 23 presided over by Hua Guofeng. Ji Dengkui, as a member of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee and Executive Vice Premier of the State Council, made an explanation on the two agricultural documents. Ji Dengkui touched upon five issues including the agricultural development, the policies on setting agriculture as the foundation, the mobilization of farmers’ enthusiasm, main measures to accelerate agricultural development and the improvement of leading measures. With regard to the development of agriculture, Ji Dengkui pointed out that agricultural development was too slow and the government was facing the problem of increased population and the shortage of grain. China had to import grain to address food deficiency. He said that due to food shortage and the lack of job opportunities in cities, some tasks remained unaccomplished. In addition, farmers had to hand over about one hundred billion jin (two jin make one kilo) of grain to the state every year, which was quite beyond their capability. The relation between the government and farmers was tense on grain issue since the government tried to purchase more grain from the farmers whereas the farmers wanted to sell less grain to the state and keep some for their own use. Ji Dengkui also indicated that nearly a quarter of production teams across the country had an annual per capita income of less than 40 yuan RMB, which was hard to bolster the basic reproduction. When talking about mobilizing farmers’ enthusiasm, Ji Dengkui emphasized that learning from Dazhai should focus on studying their fundamental experience, i.e. we should stick to the direction of socialism and the principles of Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong thought, and to hold on to the spirit of self-reliance and hard struggle and the communist belief of loving the country and the collective economy. He also added that some local governments maintained that learning from Dazhai was to cut the tails of capitalism, confiscate private plots, restrict household subsidiary business, cancel bazaar trade and mechanically apply the specific method of evaluating performance through the calculation of work points. They didn’t proceed from China’s reality or make adjustment in light of local conditions and the law of development. They had led the movement of learning from Dazhai astray.” (Zhang Shujun: The Turning Point in History, p.190) Obviously, Ji Dengkui’s comment on the improper way of learning from Dazhai was criticizing the remarks by Hua Guofeng and Chen Yonggui on Dazhai experience. In other words, he reiterated his opinion during the discussion of the formulation of the Sixty Regulations of the people’s commune.

Yu Guangyuan appreciated what Ji Dengkui had said. He wrote in one of his articles that Ji Dengkui was quite straightforward in illustrating the problems in the development of agriculture. In particular, he hit the nail on the head when he pointed out the erroneous practice in learning from Dazhai such as cutting the tails of capitalism, changeable policies, one-size-fits-all approach, and confusing instructions, which would severely hurt farmers’ enthusiasm. Fu Gaoyi pointed out in his book Deng Xiaoping’s Era that Ji Dengkui’s remarks made people feel that the honest and candid style of policy-making in agriculture had been resumed. He cast off the language style of exaggerating, boasting, blindly optimism and empty talks; instead, he candidly admitted the severity of the problem in a comprehensive manner. Ji Dengkui acknowledged that the national agricultural policy changed too fast beyond people’s expectations, which was often unsuitable for local situations. He proposed that in order to solve the problems in agriculture, the government should increase agricultural investment, improve the quality of seeds and chemical fertilizer, double the amount of farmers’ available loans and increase grain price by 30%. (Fu Gaoyi: Deng Xiaoping’s Era, p.233, first edition, Jan 2013. SDX Joint Publishing Company).

The amended new Sixty Regulations were approved in principle at the 3rd Plenary Session of the 11th CPC Central Committee. Most of Ji Dengkui’s suggestions for the amendment were not included, but the views held by Hua Guofeng, Li Xiannian and Chen Yonggui became the leading policy principle. Compared with the former Sixty Regulations formulated in 1962, the new one was featured by adding more political regulations and enforced awareness of class struggle; increasing the restraints imposed on farmer’s freedom in economic activities; reducing democratic supervision on collective economy by the farmers; and weakening the administrative powers of the production team. The former Sixty Regulations had a special chapter and 18 stipulations on the role of production team accounting for one third of the total pages of Sixty Regulations, but the amended one cancelled this chapter, clearly aiming to create conditions for the transition from the production team to production brigade as the basic accounting unit. The amended Sixty Regulations included some new stipulations relating to the economic activities of people’s commune, including capital construction of farmland, development of commune-run and brigade-run enterprises and supply and marketing cooperative in rural areas. All in all, the amended Sixty Regulations had made the centralized management by people’s commune become more intensified. The drafting process of agricultural documents at the 3rd Plenary Session of the 11th CPC Central Committee showed that Ji Dengkui’s policy stand was different from Wan Li’s opinion of pressing for “putting wrongs to rights” and also different from the view of insisting on enforcing the Left-deviation-led policies advocated by Chen Yonggui and Hua Guofeng.

Part Four

If we summarize all the views on agricultural policy around the 3rd Plenary Session of the 11th CPC Central Committee, we can find that there were three different kinds of views. First, some toughly clung to Dazhai’s experience and attempted to make people’s commune become “larger in size and more collective in nature”. The representatives holding such views were Chen Yonggui, Hua Guofeng and Li Xiannian. Second, some explicitly opposed Dazhai’s experience and queried the reasonability of the system of people’s commune from the very beginning. Such views were held by some local leaders like Wan Li. The third kind of views were held by Ji Dengkui, which were a little neutral between the above-mentioned two kinds of views. He explicitly objected to Dazhai’s “poor transition” mode, but at the same time did not refute the movement of learning from Dazhai. In the process of amending Sixty Regulations of people’s commune, Ji Dengkui negated some core issues relating to Dazhai’s experience and argued with Chen Yonggui on different occasions and during ordinary meetings even if Hua Guofeng (the then Chairman of CPC Central Committee and Premier of the State Council) had clearly expressed his support for Chen Yonggui’s stand. It shows that the difference of opinion between them at that time was quite huge and Ji Dengkui held on to his own view very firmly.

Viewing from the practice of rural reform later, the drafting of rural documents in 1977 was meaningless. When the amended Sixty Regulations were approved at the plenary session of the central committee, the practice of “fixed farm output quotas for each household and work contracted to households” had already become quite popular in rural areas and these documents were not implemented and soon became history along with the people’s commune. However, through the drafting process of these rural documents, we can get some clues to the way on how policies were made by central leaders.

The questions facing us are when the central leaders hold different views, in what way should the major policies be decided? To be specific, when there are disputes relating to policy making among central leaders, who should be the one to make the final say and according to what mechanism? How to make the decision with different policy preferences? These are some major issues in the process of policy making. One usual way is to rely on a big shot in politics to guide the direction and make decisions. That is almost the political tradition since the founding of the People’s Republic of China. However, great and brilliant leaders as Mao Zedong also made many wrong decisions. Sometimes people feel confused that for a significant matter concerning billions of farmers, they themselves didn’t have a say but the senior leadership decided everything for them. Besides, the top leaders, though holding different opinions, felt that they represented farmers’ fundamental interests and they knew them best.

How should the major policies be made? Or what principles should policy-making process follow? Until now this question has not been solved fundamentally. Many major decisions concerning the national economy and the people's livelihood still lack participation of direct stakeholders or the general public. What are the internal process and logic governing leaders’ personal opinions and how these opinions are turned into political decisions? What kind of method should be taken to decide which views are really in keeping with the public opinion among a host of ideas? Those questions are still worth thinking about.

Note: The article was published in China Development Observation, No. 8, 2015