Elderly farmer Shi Fanding got what is likely to have been the surprise of his life when he looked up from his weeding to see the Premier of the world's most populous country reaching out to shake his hand!
Just days after fielding questions from the international and domestic media about China's newly adopted five-year development program, Premier Wen Jiabao, visited some rural parts of the country. reas.
Wen traveled to China's Shanxi Province for a two-day visit late last week to listen to the views and answer questions from villagers and farmers about the government work report he delivered to the national legislature earlier this month.
Vigorously shaking the Premier's hand, farmer Shi, from Xiaxian County in the southern part of Shanxi, told the Premier he was happy he didn't have to pay taxes and to learn about increased subsidies for farming.
The Premier spent two days listening to the comments of villagers on this year's budget funding for farmers, agriculture and rural areas. He also discussed the latest moves concerning rural education, health care and the growing price of chemical fertilizers.
As part of the effort to reduce farmers' financial burden and narrow the widening gap between the rural and urban areas China's national legislature scrapped the country's agriculture tax law which had been imposed in various forms over the past 2,600 years.
The Premier also sought reaction to his nationally televised address in the village of Xujiaying in the rural part of Yongji City. A middle-aged woman told the Premier that she expects the pro-rural policies promised in his address to be delivered.
He promised 339.7 billion yuan (US$41.9 billion) in funding from the central Government for farmers, agriculture and rural areas this year--a record high and an increase of 14.2 percent over last year's funding.
Zhang Zhansheng, head of Shijiazhuang Village Committee, offered the Premier ideas on the distribution and use of the funding. The Premier said Zhang's words were to the point and urged that the huge amount of money be put to good use.
He said central Government would continue to increase its funding for farmers, agriculture and rural areas in the coming years.
When asked by a farmer why he had to pay tuition fees for his child since the Premier promised free education in his address the Premier told the farmer he would not have to pay fees from the beginning of next year.
China exempted primary and junior middle school students from paying tuition in the western region, the poorest part of the country, as of this year, and promised to expand the exemption to other rural areas next year.
In Nanshi Village in Xiaxian County the Premier was told on Friday by a group of farmers who sat with him that they had difficulties getting enough water for drinking and their land. Located on the Loess Plateau, which suffers from chronic water shortages, because of low rainfall -- just a quarter of the national average.
Yu Zhansheng, a farmer in the village, told the Premier that his family has enough food and clothes but had trouble with drinking water. Farmers said the underground water they drunk tasted bitter and was actually bad for the teeth and bones.
Farmers in the village gave the Premier a big round of applause when Wen ordered Shanxi provincial and city governments to increase their funding for safe drinking water projects in the area.
At a primary school in Xiaxian County the Premier said children in both the rural and urban areas should have equal rights to be educated. In Xujiaying Village's clinic the Premier told farmers that the central government plans to set up a similar facility in every village across the country.
China plans to cover 40 percent of its counties in a new Government-backed medicare co-operative program for farmers this year. All the rural areas will be covered in the next few years. Under the plan the government will allocate 40 yuan for every account of farmers who pay ten yuan each.
The premier told Wang Jicheng, a farmer who joined the medicare program, that the Government would increase subsidies as fiscal revenues grew. .
"We will certainly handle with care matters which are essential to farmers," the Premier said.
(Xinhua News Agency March 20, 2006)