On October 19, Chinese authorities released the full text of the Communist Party Central Committee's decision on rural reform. The decision calls for expanding the ability of Chinese farmers to transfer, lease, rent, or exchange their land-use rights, consistent with the predictions of earlier news reports.
The Decision Regarding Several Important Issues in Promoting Rural Reform sets out a broad set of goals for Party and government officials regarding rural reform. In addition to calling for liberalizing the market in land-use rights, other goals include:
Strengthening Party leadership over rural work. The decision emphasizes that local Party committees are to continue play the core role in guiding rural affairs.
- Addressing the rural-urban divide. The decision calls on officials to progressively work toward ensuring that migrant workers enjoy the same rights to education, health services, and other public services that established urban residents do.
- Improving rural governance. The decision calls on officials to steadily work to ensure equal per-person representation between rural and urban districts in local legislatures.
- Expanding rural health care.
With regard to land-use rights, the Decision states that Chinese authorities should:
Strengthen the management of, and services for, the
transfer of use rights to contracted land.
Establish and improve the market for the transfer of use rights to
contracted land. In accordance with the principles of legality,
voluntariness, and compensation, allow farmers to transfer their use rights to
contracted land via subcontract, lease, swap, transfer, or joint-stock
cooperation, and develop many types of appropriate management of scale. In areas with the appropriate conditions, it
is permitted to develop entities of management of scale, such as large
professional farmers, family farms, and rural professional cooperatives. (Rough translation – ed.)
This call is not entirely new. As early as 1993, the Central Committee and
State Council issued a set of policy measures on rural reform
calling for a degree of freedom in transferring land-use rights. Specifically, they called for:
In holding to the principles of collective land ownership, and not altering the use of the land, then given the agreement of the
farmer who has contracted the land, the transfer of land-use rights for
compensation is permitted. In a few
areas where the secondary and tertiary industries are relatively developed, and
in which the majority of labor has transferred to non-agricultural employment
and has stable income, then depending on the actual circumstances and
respecting the will of the farmers, necessary, adjustments to land contracting
can be undertaken, and an appropriate scale of management implemented. (Rough
translation – ed.)
Two differences leap out.
First, the language in the 2008 decision explicitly embraces the concept
of a market in land-use rights. Second,
the 2008 decision explicitly embraces the development of large-scale farming
operations. Given that the Chinese Communist Party a) came to power in 1949 by eliminating rural landlords and b) has adhered to the principles of state and collective ownership of rural land since the 1950s, this is a striking shift.