"Rural people, though accounting for 70 percent of the total population, are not fully guaranteed their basic rights. They are in a unfavorable position relative to their urban counterparts," said Zhang Haoruo, consultant for the State Development and Reform Commission at an international forum on government reform in the transitional period which was held recently in Hainan Province.
Farmers have become the weakest link in China's human rights guarantee. Their discriminated position and unguaranteed basic rights have been viewed as an important reflection of the imbalance in social development, according to Zhang.
In Zhang's eyes, China should give greater priority to land rights, taxation burdens and social security issues to improve rural people's rights and interests.
Farmers have the right to long-term land cultivation rights. But they haven't the full rights of the land, such as the right to land-use, the right to buying or selling the land or the right to the income from that land. Zhang believes that China should change farmers' cultivation right system to a property right disposal system within a contractual period. Then farmers would have all the above mentioned rights including the right to cultivate, the right to use, the right to the land and the right to the income including the incremental income by transferring the land-use right and the right to inherit.
Relative to the income tax of urban middle and low incomes, farmers usually have heavier tax burdens from the agricultural tax and the agricultural specialty tax. To improve farmers' living condition and increase their income, Zhang suggests relieving the agricultural tax and revoking the agricultural specialty tax. After some transitional period, the agricultural tax should also be revoked in the end.
Farmers cannot enjoy the minimum guarantee of subsistence allowances, the old-age and medicare insurances relative to urban citizens. Those working in cities still have no guarantee of permanent residence rights in cities, education access for their offspring, medical care guarantees and unemployment benefits. They are often discriminated against or even prosecuted. In Zhang's mind, Chinese farmers, after having adequate food and clothing, are marching on the road towards being well-off. Besides a guarantee for the right to a paid existence, society should make more room to respect and satisfy rural people's rights to overall development such as medicare, education, culture and recreation and political rights.
"Farmers have too weak a voice in society and within political circles," Zhang said, "Government reform should center on citizens and never ever overlook the farmers. This is a plea from the farmers as well as a request of Chinese society as a whole."
(China.org.cn by Alex Xu and Daragh Moller, December 12, 2003)