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Chinese Farmers Begin to Receive Pensions

Xin Fengqiao, a 66-year-old farmer in Qingdao, east China's Shandong Province, received a bankbook from the local social security department yesterday morning.

With this, he collects his 87 yuan pension every month.

Xin, and more than 10,000 other farmers, were in the first batch of beneficiaries in a trial rural pension system launched in the coastal city.

For thousands of years, children and land were the two backbones of rural elderly in China. Xin has two sons, who have been supporting him. They also paid some 8,000 yuan for the pension Xin and his wife receive.

"In the past, they sometimes gave us some pocket money, but it depended on their income," said Xin. "From now on, I will have my own money, it's much more stable."

The land farmers previously took for granted is also shrinking. With urbanization, many farmers are losing their cultivated land.

Every year, China designates 300,000 hectares of cultivated land for other uses, and desertification and salinization take their toll, so China loses 600,000 hectares of cultivated land every year.

"Cultivated land becomes industrial park, farmers become workers. But the life of the elderly still worries many farmers," said Wen Tiejun, researcher with the rural economic research center under the Ministry of Agriculture.

In Qingdao for the past eight years, per capita occupation of cultivated land in Chengyang district, where the trial was launched, decreased to 0.005 hectares (0.07 mu) from 0.05 hectares (0.7 mu) previously. The decrease in cultivated land also caused some instability in the city. Since 2001, the cases of farmers going to governmental department for questioning has increased by a large margin.

In July 2003, the Qingdao municipal government decided to launch the trial of a pension system in Chengyang district. Under the trial plan, all farmers 18-years-old or above were able to join in the system. By paying 267 yuan each year for 15 years or paying the whole sum at once, farmers can get a pension of 87 yuan every month from the age of 55 for women and 60 for men.

Though 267 yuan is big money for many farmers, Xin said it was worth it. According to his calculation, after four years, all his investment could be taken back.

To ensure the operation of the system, the local government had to invest a large margin in the plan, according to Yu Jian, an official with the local social security department.

According to the rules, the village and the district financial department must subsidize each farmer who joins the scheme.

Qingdao set its minimum living allowance at 760 yuan. Yu said the 87 yuan pension each month ensured a basic living.

The system has been welcomed in the city, with 36,000, or 86 percent of farmers, in 31 villages joining, including nearly all rural elders.

Younger farmers also show great interest. Ji Lizhu, 33, not only paid for his parents, but also for himself and his wife. " Every one is going to get old and we could regret not having a pension someday," said Ji.

Because of imbalance of economic development, experts say the trial is unsuitable for all rural areas across the country, but they agree it sets an example for those regions with higher economic growth and higher urbanization levels.

(China Daily September 22, 2003)

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