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Rural Tax Reform Sweeps East China
When Ma Kezhong left for Beijing with his son 10 years ago, he was an angry man, furious after years of heavy taxes imposed on farmers in rural China.

After traveling some 1,000 kilometers, Ma, a peasant in Taihe County of Anhui Province, east China, lodged his complaints directly with the State Council, China's cabinet.

A year later, all of his grievances had faded as the Central Government agreed to let his county carry out the country's first rural tax reform, cutting local farmers' financial burden by half.

"I could hardly breathe under such hefty and arbitrary taxes and fees before the reform," said Ma, who is now in his 50s.

"They were collected for various purposes: school building, road repairing, cadre feeding, you name it."

However, all the arbitrary and unwarranted taxes and fees were lifted by the new rural tax reform which requires only agricultural tax and related additional taxes from the farmers. Meanwhile, the rural tax collection system has also been standardized.

"What could I complain about nowadays?" Ma said, "everybody now bears far less financial burden than before."

For centuries, China's peasants, the largest farming population in the world, endured oppressive taxes from local governments, which often triggered the uprisings that overthrew ancient feudal dynasties.

Analysts say the new rural tax reform, now under experience in many places in China will resolve the centuries-old headache for governments and enable 900 million farmers across the country to pursue a better life under a more relaxed burden.

"The new rural tax reform is another revolution that once again emancipates the productive forces in the countryside," said He Kaiyin, a noted Chinese agricultural expert who has followed the plight of farmers' under their heavy tax burden for many years.

China's first agricultural revolution since 1949 occurred in the 1970s when farmers from Xiaogang Village, Fengyang County of Anhui Province, decided to set themselves free from their collective farms.

A new household contracting system which followed the village's adventure later swept China and enabled most farmers in the country to live a life with enough food and clothing.

Under new rural tax reform measures, farmers are now required only to pay their taxes according to notices which clearly stipulate their legal tax payments.

"After paying less than 100 yuan (US$12) to the State every year, all the surplus is up to me to arrange," said Zhou Chunpei, a peasant from the province's Wangjiang County.

"I am no longer bothered by the unwarranted charges and fees," Zhou said.

Farmers like Zhou in the province also began to take up their own supervisory roles in rural tax-collecting.

A supervisory card is extended to every rural household, on which is printed all legal tax categories.

Any charges or fees not listed on the card are illegal, officials said.

Earlier this month, 17 officials were sacked for their roles in aggravating farmers' financial burden in Huoqiu County, Anhui.

China is seeking improved policies to achieve a significant reduction in the financial burden on farmers across the country.

The State Council has called on local authorities to continue efforts to carry out experiment in rural tax reform in an all-round way this year, based on the experience made in 20 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities, and part of counties and cities in other provinces last year.

The Central Government plans to allocate 20 billion yuan (US$2.4 billion) this year to make up financial revenue lost at grassroots level to the rural tax reform.

(Xinhua News Agency May 28 2003)

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