Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 2

China's Rural Conflicts and Beijing's Response

January 13, 2012 | 1246 GMT


Print ShareThis
Email Tweet Facebook

Text Size Summary


China Photos/Getty Images A farmer in Guangzhou, China

Rural instability has become a notable concern for Beijing. Previously marked by brief and episodic unrest, rural discontent has grown sustained and is happening on a larger scale. A series of protests in rural areas over the past year peaked in Wukan, where thousands of villagers staged three months of unrest after land seizures by local governments. After decades of promoting industrialization and urban development at the expense of rural concerns, Beijing now wants to be seen as addressing rural needs. Analysis A series of protests in rural areas over the past year peaked in Wukan, where thousands of villagers in the eastern Guangdong village staged three months of unrest after the seizure of land by local governments. That incident and the subsequent unrest in multiple townships in Chaoshan region in eastern Guangdong province have highlighted deep-seated conflicts over economic development in rural China. These events, and thousands of other incidents in rural China in the last year, largely originated in the high level of corruption that accompanies land seizures. Previously marked by relatively brief and sporadic episodes, the unrest has grown sustained and is happening on a large scale, in some cases even showing signs of having been organized -- making rural instability an increasing concern for Beijing. Throughout China's long history, rural unrest has repeatedly played a powerful role, largely due to the country's vast population and the connectivity developed through family ties. Most dynastic changes, including the transition to communism, to some degree began in rural areas. The Communist Party of China (CPC) itself benefited from rural revolution, and the Party has long emphasized the need to maintain stability in rural areas. During its first three decades in power, the CPC sought to do so via a series of land reforms and other legal changes. In more recent decades, worries about unemployment and inflation in urban areas, and about growing frustration at the different pace of political and economic reforms during the country's massive industrialization process, overshadowed concerns about rural unrest. The hinterland became of secondary importance in the 1980s, when Beijing's economic agenda shifted to prioritize industrialization in urban areas -- though Party rhetoric continued to emphasize the importance of rural China. The countryside's role increasingly became to support the development of urban China, particularly along the coastal area. During this process, a number of changes were implemented that substantially limited opportunities for the rural population. These included the Hukou system -- a residency framework that tied the rural population to the land, while granting urban dwellers a number of social benefits. The system was originally intended to anchor vast land and rural populations for the purpose of securing food production and was largely sustained by meeting only the rural population's basic needs. Meanwhile, vast resources and funding flowed into urban areas to assist industrial activities. Hukou's effects were compounded by various policies, including a heavy agricultural tax burden and pricing and quota controls, that further depressed the already meager earnings that could be extracted from land. As anywhere, land is a Chinese rural dweller's main resource. With profits from that source squeezed and opportunities opening up on the coast, a massive migration began of rural workers seeking jobs in urban areas. However, the Hukou system left these workers without a social safety net. They found themselves on the wrong side of the wage gap and faced social barriers to a number of quality-of-life issues, such as employment and education. The rural population was again made subservient to the needs of economic development.

With the coastal economy now under pressure, Beijing has turned its attention back to rural areas, hoping to harness the rural population as a major driver of its new emphasis on urbanization. Urbanization carries its own risks, however, such as the possibility of further destabilization. The source of this potential destabilization will be the same that is in the largest part responsible for the unrest in rural China. One major urbanization push is characterized by the seizure of rural land, which is then used in the expansion of industrial and residential sites. Creating urban residencies in many places requires depriving rural dwellers of their property, often without adequate compensation, and with local government officials and developers seeking to maximize their own benefits from the land. And even when rural dwellers migrate to the coast to make their livings, many often count on land that nominally remains under the ownership of the rural population, as a backup plan in case they decide to return home. Low compensation for this land, a lack of transparency in the transactions and corruption among officials have pushed rural dwellers to protest. In many places, local governments grant rural dwellers urban residency only so that they can seize the residents' land. The compensation for the land is often inadequate, and such residents have not received the social benefits that should be attached to urban residency. The increasing social stratification resulting from Hukou has also fueled tensions between rural and urban populations in urban areas. Driving this process is local governments' search for alternative sources of funding. Local government officials need to promote growth to further their own efforts at personal advancement, and they see urbanization as their main potential source. Beijing now wants to be seen as addressing rural concerns. At a rural economic conference at the end of the year, Beijing outlined some specific policy directions to fit that end. These include increased compensation for land seizures and allowing rural dwellers to hold onto their land even as they reside in coastal cities. Beijing also presented its first plan to better accommodate migrant workers into urban life. So far, Beijing has not succeeded in reducing the factors that fuel rural anger. Meanwhile, thanks to the increasing economic emphasis on spurring urbanization to address the country's shaky coastal structure, the problem is only intensifying. Beijing's success in addressing the issue will depend on whether institutions develop to support its policy directions, which otherwise will remain mere rhetoric. Rural instability has become a notable concern for Beijing. Previously marked by brief and episodic unrest, rural discontent has grown sustained and is happening on a larger scale. A series of protests in rural areas over the past year peaked in Wukan, where thousands of villagers staged three months of unrest after land seizures by local governments. After decades of promoting industrialization and urban development at the expense of rural concerns, Beijing now wants to be seen as addressing rural needs.