How To “Support the Poor” in Rural China
Since 1992, Deng’s economic policy of Reform and Opening objective has been a socialist market economy. However, China’s industrialization today promotes a “growth-first” approach to urban development. Consequently, the imbalance between large peasantry and limited resources for rural reproduction constitutes an urban-rural divide in China.
With the structural transition from a planned economy to a market economy, measures of marketization resulted from the experimentation of “Reform” in the reconstruction of social institutions in rural society. A recent report from Xinhua News applauded a project on rural regeneration in the test spot of Shushan Village, initiated by a privately owned enterprise in response to the local government’s call to “support the poor”.
Yet, the obscurity of a “socialist market economy” gives party leaders flexibility in policy making, implying a transformation of the survival mechanisms of the peasantry into productive resources for urban economic development. New incentives for making improvements on land productivity are implanted: building up cooperative relationships within the rural society by atomizing rural individual households and privatizing the processes encouraged by the state for the purpose of economic growth.
Nevertheless, lacking knowledge in adapting suitable market for China stimulates experimentations on testing the validity of new institutions. Xi’s call for economic changes during the 19th Communist Party Congress “refrained from the liberalization overhauls that earlier leaders like Deng Xiaoping used to bring China roaring growth in the 1980s and ‘90s”, according to the New York Times.
Instead of a confrontation with the state, the reconstruction of rural society in China aims to develop cooperative social relations that accord with market orientations and state policies. In the case of Shushan Village, interaction between industry and agriculture has enabled individual peasants to cooperate with enterprises in a collective manner by fostering the culture of cooperation. The regeneration of rural life thus proposes an institutional change of rural production by retaining individual characteristics as an integrated part of a collective, sustainable mode of production.
Contrary to a restoration of state imperatives for the national aspiration of economic growth, the collective mode of production hinges on voluntary actions of the peasantry and its negotiations with the market as an organized social form. The rural reconstruction seeks to affirm the legitimacy of marketization by reducing the cost of entry of rural production into the market and encouraging peasant participation in the market economy for improving rural development.