CHINESE AGRICULTURE: PAST PERFORMANCE AND FUTURE OUTLOOK

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<ul><li><p>37 </p><p>CHINESE AGRICULTURE: PAST PERFORMANCE AND FUTURE OUTLOOK* </p><p>R. P. Sinha University of Glasgow </p><p>Despite a technically well-advanced traditional agriculture, the basic problems inherited by the Communist rulers were typicalof developing countries, and arose from the system of land tenure and lack of employment opportunities. Land reform was regarded as a pre- requisite of development, beginning with redistribution among private holdings, and proceeding through several separate stages over 15 years to the present rural Communes. The paper describes organisa- tion within the Commune, and its economic relations with the State. The dislocatiom of the 'Great Leap' exposed the limits of traditional technology and reliance solely on labour, and since 1962 manu- factured inputs have been made widely available, especially fertilisers and pesticides. Reliance is placed on small and medium sized plants, spread over the whole country. The future outlook for Chinese agriculture Jeems reasonably optimistic. </p><p>Historical background Traditionally Chinese agriculture has been well advanced technologically in terms of double cropping, rotation of crops, use of manures, seed drills and machines for irrigation. Per acre yield of various crops were high, by world standards, even before the Second World War. This was the reason why China could feed such a high population with a relatively low acreage under cultivation (Table 1). Since topography and climatic conditions were not particularly favourable, cultivation had to be restricted to almost a tenth of the total geo- graphical area (Table 2); this forced the Chinese to develop various methods of irrigation which enabled them to practise double-cropping on an intensive scale. </p><p>Table 1 Number of persons dependent for food on one hectare of cultivable land in the 1930's and 1960's </p><p>1930's 1960's China' 5.0 7.7 India* 2 .o 3 -4 Japan 10.6 18.5 Soviet Union3 0.8 1.7 U.K. 9 .o 7.7 U.S.A. 1 -0 1.2 </p><p>22 Provinces, Jehol, Manchuria, Sik&amp; Sinkiang, Taiwan, Tibet. British ?rovinces and Indian Sates. Excl. Northern Provinces and Saghalien. </p><p>* The author is grateful to R. J. Perkins (F.A.O.) for reading the draft and making some valuable suggestions. </p></li><li><p>38 R. P. SINHA </p><p>Table 2 Land use in China 1967 (in million hectares) </p><p>TOTAL PERCENTAGE OF TOTAL </p><p>Total 956.1 100 Forests 76.6 8.1 Permanent meadows and pastures 177.0 1852 Agricultural area 110.30 11.54 Other land 592.20 61.94 </p><p>Source: F.A.O., Production Yearbook, 1971, Vol. 25, Table 1 , p. 6. </p><p>They were also able to develop appropriate social institutions for the construction and upkeep of sources of irrigation and distribution of water among individual farmers. In fact, evidence of direct government involvement in spreading and advancing knowledge about improved agricultural practices dates back to the Sung times (A.D. 950-1350). Historians suggest that in less advanced areas officials had pictures painted on the government office walls showing the peasants how to farm. They also had books printed and proclamations put out. Efforts were made to popularise and supply pumping equipment (e.g. treadle pumps) in areas still unfamiliar with it.* There is some further qualitative evidence to suggest that diffusion of improved practices and state participation in such a process continued throughout subsequent Chinese history. With increasing density of population and growing demand for land, the number of intermediaries (e.g. landlords), tenants and sub-tenants increased considerably. Between the seventeenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, increased commercialisa- tion of agriculture led to a break up of the Chinese traditional land relationships, creation of new classes of tenancies, an increase in the number of absentee landlords and passing of the control of land to Chinese money-lenders. How serious the problem was at the time of the Communist take-over is difficult to tell. Information on land ownership and tenancy relationships is conflicting and fragmentary. </p><p>On concentration of land ownership, Western experts contest the Chinese claim that while the landlords and rich peasants who constituted less than 10 per cent of the rural population possessed more than 70 per cent of the total arable land, the poor peasants, farm labourers and middle peasants who made up over 90 per cent of the population possessed less than 30 per cent of the total arable land. Peter Schran, questions these estimates and in his own estimate based on Buck's Land Utilisation Survey in China, conducted in the early 1 9 3 0 ' ~ ~ suggests that the very rich peasants and landlords constituting nearly 12 per cent of farm families owned 46 per cent of 1and.t In spite of such disagreement about the exact magnitude of the problem, it is generally agreed that privately-owned land, which was held in large amounts by single landholders and leased to farmers, constituted one of China's important problems.$ While many landlords and rich peasants did not own much more land than the poorer peasants and sometimes even tenants, there were instances of landlords like Chang Hsin-hai in Wu An county who owned 40,000 mou (2,666 hectares) and had complete domination over eighty villages in which the majority of inhabitants were his tenants. 3 Myers mentions the case of a rural study of Chi-ming county in 1941 which showed that of the 420 </p><p>* M. Elvin, 'The State, Printing and the Spread of Scientific Knowledge in China +950 - + 1350'. In: Youschkevitch, A. (ed.), Proceedings ofrhe XZII ZnternationaI Congress on the History ofScience (to be. published, p. 3). </p><p>t P. Schran, The Development of Chinese Agriculture, 1950-59, University of Illinois Press, Urbana, 1969. </p><p>$ J. L. Buck; Land Utilisation in China (Third Printing), Paragon Book Reprint Corporation, N.Y., D. 194.1968. </p><p>D. Crook and Isabel Crook, Revolution in a Chinese Village, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, pp. 21-28,1959. </p></li><li><p>CHINESE AGRICULTURE: PAST PERFORMANCE AND FUTURE OUTLOOK 39 </p><p>absentee landlords, the ten largest owned over 3,000 mou (200 hectares).* Accord- ing to Bucks survey schedules 44 per cent of farmers were owners, 23 per cent part owners, and 33 per cent tenants.? </p><p>Terms of tenancy contracts varied between regions. Long-term or permanent contracts were the dominant feature of the lower Yangtse and such other highly commercialised regions as Coastal Fukien and the main rice surplus areas of Hunan.: In North China, the tenancy contracts were generally short. Landlords did not encourage long-term contracts and frequently changed their tenants. g Kwangtung and mountainous areas of Hunan had short-term tenure extending from one to three years. At least three systems of payment of rent coexisted: nearly one-fourth of all tenant farmers paid cash rent; cash-crop (payment of a fixed quantity of crops or its money equivalent) was paid by a little over half and share-cropping contracts covered one-fifth of the farmers. I1 The percentage of crop paid in rent vaned widely between regions. For instance, the percentage of share rent was 33 per cent in wheat regions against only 14 per cent for the rice regions; cash-crop rents were as high as 65 per cent in rice regions against only 33 per cent for wheat regions. In North China, tenants paid between 30 and 65 per cent of the harvest to the landlord.7 On average, tenants paid almost half of the crop to the landlords in rent.** In the cases when the rent was regulated in terms of quantity of grain, but the payment was to be made in money, the price used for such calculations was not the market price but a rate of exchange arbitrarily determined by the 1andlords.tt Rarely did the landlord supply capital and credit to the tenant. Merchants, landlords and shops supplying credit to the farmers used to bleed the farmer to the limit.:: For instance, interest rates in Hopei and Shantung in the 1930s ranged between 2 and 4 per cent per month. Sometimes peasants were required to pay as much as 100 per cent over 20 days or 1,825 per cent a year. Cases of coercion to pay rent, arrests and foreclosures for non- payment of rent were not uncommon ; some landlords cheated the tenants through the use of inaccurate weights and measures, incidence of debt was high, and large numbers of small land owners lost possession of their land to the money- lender. Such pauperisation as Buck calls it, besides creating greater social inequality, led to further subdivision and fragmentation of already small and fragmented holding. </p><p>Above all, the landed gentry was firmly in control of political power. They controlled the rural administrative structure, played a decisive economic role in the countryside; and had an intimate interlocking relationship with the official </p><p>* Ramon H. Myers, Agricultural Development in Hopei and Shantung 1890-193.5, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1970. </p><p>t Buck, op. cit. In his farm survey schedule, the percentage of owners was much higher (54 per cent) and the percentage of tenants was much lower (only 17 per cent). Bucks definition of tenant excluded those who cultivated rented land together with their own land. This would, in fact, underestimate the magnitude of tenancy problem. </p><p>Dwight H. Perkins, Agricultural Development in China 1368-1938, Aldine Publishing House, Chicago, 1969. </p><p>5 Myers (1970), p. 229. 11 Buck (1968), p. 228. T[ Myers (1970), p. 228. ** National Agricultural Research Bureau (N.A.R.B.) estimate quoted in Shen, T. H.. Agri- </p><p>cultural Resources in China, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, p. 96, 1951; see also Muramatsu, Y., A Documentary Study of Chinese Land-lords in the late Ching and the Early Republic Kiangnan, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, Vol. XXX, part 3,1966. </p><p>t t Hsiao-Tung Fei, Peasant Life in China, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, p. 18. 1946, $$ Buck (1968), p. 18. $5 Crook and Crook (1959), p. 3. </p></li><li><p>40 R. P. SlNHA </p><p>literati class responsible for the work of government in China.* The landed gentry together with the merchants controlled and manipulated the economic life of the peasants through rent, usurious money-lending, the commodity market of agricultural products and daily necessities. The whole apparatus of law and order, police, militia, army and civil administration were at the disposal of the landlords to enforce re-payment of debts or to confiscate property in the cases of defaulting tenants. In fact the power of the landlord class was strengthened during the Nationalist period as a result of the failure of the Nationalist government to provide adequate local government. This forced them to rely on the powerful landlords who dominated the new organs of elected local government and the local branches of the Nationalist party, and through them controlled the police, education, and the new farmers associati0n.t The frustrating experience of the Nationalist land reform programme is the best testimony to the political power of the landlord class in China. </p><p>The rural population faced serious problems of unemployment. According to Buck only 35 per cent of working able-bodied men were in full-time work and 58 per cent were working only part-time. Idleness averaged 1-7 months per able- bodied men. The problem of seasonal unemployment during the winter was more acute. </p><p>Thus the picture of pre-World War I1 China was typical of developing countries with high pressure of population on land, lack of employment opportunities, insecurity of tenure, lack of capital and heavy burden of debt to the extent that peasants had to mortgage land (even for their day to day necessities) ,which many of them invariably lost on non-payment of debt. Basically these were the problems of Chinese agriculture which the Communist rulers of China inherited. Over and above this was the problem of creating adequate infrastructure (e.g. transport and communication, irrigation, etc.), a significant part of which had fallen into disuse for lack of proper maintenance and repair during the politically disturbed years. In fact, China did not have a long stretch of political stability for nearly 100 years before the Communist take-over in 1949 and in spite of a long tradition of state aid to construction and maintenance of irrigation and flood control works, no substantial effort was made during the years between the Taiping Rebellion and the advent of Communism in China. </p><p>Institutional reorganisation The Chinese leadership, both for the ideological and practical reasons felt that any major social and economic change could not be initiated without destroying the entrenched power base of the landlords. To the extent that agricultural develop- ment depended on mobilisation of underutilised human resources, it was essential to create a sense of participation among the masses. A radical land redistribution which provided some land to everyofie naturally won the sympathies of the rural proletariat which felt seriously deprived under the previous regimes. Thus in China, agrarian reforms came to be considered as a pre-requisite of the develop- ment of the productive power and industrialisation of the countryside. The Agrarian Reform Law of 1950 abolished land ownership by landlords, and confiscated their draught animals, farm implements, surplus grains and surplus houses in the countryside. But investment and other properties of the landlords and rich peasants in connection with industry and commerce were protected by law. A rich peasant was allowed to retain land for self-cultivation either by himself </p><p>~~ </p><p>* Kuc-Chun Chao, Agrarian Poiicy of the Chinese Communist Party, Asia Publishing House, p. 3, 1960. </p><p>t J. Gray, Political Aspects of the Land Reform Campaigns in China, 1947-52, Soviet Studies, Vol. XVI, No. 2, p. 216, 1964. </p></li><li><p>CHINESE AGRICULTURE: PAST PERFORMANCE AND FUTURE OUTLOOK 41 </p><p>or by hired labour. He was also allowed to retain his other properties and even to rent land, as long as it did not exceed the amount tilled by his own household.* The land and other property of the middle peasants was not infringed; the poor peasants and farm labourers received a portion of confiscated land. The land redistribution programme was basically completed in 1953. Harsh punishments were given to those who were guilty of sabotage activities like killing cattle, and destroying farm implements, houses, arable land and trees.t </p><p>While the abolition of private property in land was the ultimate policy aim of the Chinese leadership, there was a clear recognition of the fact that the retention of the rich peasants was necessary for the recovery of agricultural production. Up to 1954 for all practical purposes agriculture continued to be managed on an individual, private basis, each household being responsible for production decis- ions and disposal of its own produce,$ except that the smaller peasants were encouraged to combine into Mutual-aid teams with a view to counteracting the shortage of draught animals and agricultural implements. However, Chinese peasants...</p></li></ul>