On the 30th anniversary of China's reform and opening up, the first place to embark on the journey of rural reform, Xiaogang Village in Fengyang Country, Anhui Province, is implementing a new round of innovations.
A sculpture exhibited in Xiaogang Memorial Hall. On November 24, 1978, 18 Xiaogang villagers made their handprints an a household-based contract to mark the beginning of China's rural reform. [File photo]
Household responsibility system
At the end of 1978, Xiaogang was the first in China to implement the household-based contract responsibility system, under which land was leased to families in return for delivery of fixed output quotas.
In less than a year, villagers had increased output by more than enough to meet their own needs and had accumulated a surplus for sale to the market.
Yan Junchang, one of those who fought for the system at the time, told Xinhua News Agency, "The contribution of the system has been huge. Without it, farmers would not have solved the basic problems of food and clothing, and China would not have developed at such a speed."
In historical perspective, the responsibility system not only liberated the productive forces, but also established two basic principles of China's reform program; to rely on people's initiative, and to judge the success or failure of a reform by whether it improved living standards.
Farming expert Bi Meijia said that the household responsibility system was of huge significance. In the last two years the world has faced an increasingly serious food crisis, but China achieves bumper harvests year after year.
The villagers take pictures at the entrance to Xiaogang Village. [File photo]
Pioneers struggle to keep up
Although Xiaogang Village was at the forefront of China's rural reform, it soon ran into difficulties. Farmers were slow to switch from subsistence farming to production for the market. The village also suffered from poor leadership. Yan Likun, another pioneer of the responsibility system, said there were disputes over elections to the village committee.
From a broader perspective Xiaogang was dogged by the gulf between town and country. Natural and human resources, capital and technique all flowed to the cities, leaving rural areas lagging far behind. Illegal land expropriations and lack of skills in the rural workforce exacerbated the problems.
Can Xiaogang be a model a second time?
But according to Shen Hao, the current Party chief in Xiaogang, the villagers have embarked on a new round of reforms.
Although the household responsibility system gave farmers incentives to produce, the division of land into micro-plots made economies of scale difficult to realize. The villagers have sought to solve the problem by pooling land into a voluntary cooperative.
Taking advantage of a central government incentive program, they have employed more than 30 young college graduates as technical experts and managers to help them introduce modern agricultural techniques.
Ma Zhanwen, Party chief of Fengyang County, said 2007 per capita income in Xiaogang was 6000 yuan, 2000 yuan higher than the national average for rural areas.
With expert help, the Xiaogang villagers have drawn up a three-stage plan to develop modern agriculture, tourism, and finally achieve balanced development of agriculture and industry.
Some experts say Xiaogang's new approach could become a model for the whole country and that its villagers could once more have a major influence on China's historical development.
The exhibition room for the 20 year anniversary of implementing the household-based responsibility contract system.[File photo]
(China.org.cn by Ma Yujia October 13, 2008)