If farmers-turned-migrant workers are determining the pace of China's urbanization, those who are left in the countryside will largely decide the future of the rural areas.
Handicapped by its lower economic and social development level, the countryside urgently and rightfully needs help from central finance so that the country can achieve balanced progress nationwide.
Four central culture and press departments have resolved to assist the countryside. They will offer books to replenish village libraries and help farmers learn.
The new initiative will help a third of the country's village committees to establish libraries by donating books over the coming five years. Those books cover law and regulation, public administration, practical agricultural techniques, health and literature.
It is obviously catering to the country's ongoing drive to build a new countryside.
One of the crucial aspects of the drive is cultural and social construction in rural areas. Getting farmers involved in more cultural activities and giving them more opportunities to learn agricultural techniques will make a difference that is no less significant than that created by pouring in more money.
In this sense, at least, the move to establish libraries is important.
However, the move is important not just because it dovetails with the paramount national blueprint of building a new countryside.
In an information era, adequate access to knowledge ensures one is not left behind in a fast-moving society. It applies also to regional development. An "information gap" will put a region at a disadvantage.
If the current impasse of the rural areas is attributable to the past industry-favoured policies that have taken too much from the countryside, now it will do little to just reimburse rural China. Without access to adequate knowledge and information, farmers are unable to make full use of the favorable policies and money the central government has given them.
Unfortunately, book publishers do not seem to care much about the needs of farmers. They tend to target and foster an urban readership that is able to afford the high price and "high taste" of their books.
For that reason, the central initiative will be valuable and more so if they can really take into account the real demand of farmers.
(China Daily April 19, 2006)