Half of the farmers in east China's Zhejiang Province are now enjoying a much better standard of living. But levels of education and spending on cultural activities remain below the national average, a survey reports.
About 51.2 percent of rural regions in Zhejiang Province have already reached the goal of building a xiaokang society - one that is comprehensively better off - by 2003. Zhejiang has developed 34.3 percent faster than the country's development level, ranking first among all provinces, second only to the municipalities of Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin.
According to a report released by the Zhejiang Provincial Bureau of Statistics, 90 percent of rural regions will become better off in 2008, basically achieving the goal of ensuring rural people a relatively comfortable life.
However, the growth is not comprehensive. The average length of education for the rural population is only about seven years, below the minimum nine-year compulsory education.
"Although the nine-year compulsory education for youth has gained popularity in Zhejiang Province, the huge group of middle-aged and elderly citizens at a low educational level factor into the result," said Zhang Fuhua, a senior official with the Provincial Rural Social and Economic Investigation Team.
The problem stems from farmers' short-sighted views as many of them went to work in town and township enterprises after they graduated from primary schools, said Zhang.
The rural per capita expenditure on cultural activities and entertainment was only 158.14 yuan (US$19) in 2003, accounting for 3.7 percent of their living costs, the report says.
On the other hand, the substantial expenditures on cigarettes, liquor, weddings and funerals have reached 427.34 yuan (US$51), 10 percent of their daily spending.
Based on new standards and monitoring methods for building a better off society in rural regions formulated by the National Bureau of Statistics last year, 2,700 rural families in Zhejiang Province were selected for the survey.
The new standards include rural economic and social development, quality of life, democracy and the legal system, resources and environment, as well as 18 required quotas, such as rural per capita disposable income, the coverage rate of medical assistance systems and degree of satisfaction over village affairs. The rural per capita disposable income reached 5,214 yuan (US$646) in Zhejiang Province in 2003, near the standard 6,000 yuan (US$720). And the proportion of the rural work force in primary industries has lowered to 29.6 percent.
(China Daily October 11, 2004)