THE RURAL DEVELOPMENT SYSTEM OF THE PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC OF CHINA:
IMPRESSIONS AND QUESTIONS ,'1
Sterling Wortman .t
A team of U. S. plant scientists spent a month in the People's 1 K Ix
Republic of China during late August and September, 1974. While its primary
mission was to explore opportunities for exchange of germplasm and to become
acquainted with China's research establishment, some information was obtained
on what seems to have been a remarkably successful rural development effort
over the last decade or so. There were some surprises.
First, crops generally looked good wherever the team traveled -- in
Kirin, Shensi, Kwangsi and Kwangtung provinces, and in the Municipalities
of Shanghai and Peking.
Second, within particular localities production seemed uniformly good;
there were within local areas no "good" or "poor" farms from the productivity
standpoint although there obviously were differences from region to region,or
even from commune to commune within regions.
Third, one sensed the hope if not a determination on the part of
people wherever we visited that they could continue to look forward to more
prosperous times with improvements in their personal standards of living.
Fourth, it appeared that China is making every possible effort to
reduce its rate of population growth, at least in the areas visited.
Fifth, although the government is authoritarian, there seemed to be
a substantial amount of local initiative and of local participation in management
Sixth, Chinese agriculture and rural development activity seemed to
have an unusual degree of business orientation; there was much discussion of
such things as gross and net income at various levels of organization, of bank
deposits of members of communes, of reinvestment of commune income in enterprises
of the commune, of levels of taxation.
Seventh, there is a remarkable amount of industrialization under way in
the rural areas to provide year-round employment for rural people, especially in
off-seasons and to generate the income (seemingly in lieu of taxes) to finance
social services and for reinvestment in elaboration of local enterprises.
Admittedly, these observations or impressions are based on fragmentary
evidence. The purpose of this paper is to present the basis for these and other
observations in the hope that they will be useful to scholars and others con-
cerned with developments in China, and in turn to permit others to correct any
erroneous interpretations or to provide answers to many of the unanswered questions
(at least in my mind) which stem from an attempt to describe the Chinese rural
In addition to visiting agricultural research institutes and colleges
of agriculture in the several provinces and municipalities, the team was privileged
to visit portions of five different communes. They were the Nan-Yuan People's
Commune and particularly the Big Red Gate production brigade near Peking;
the Nan-Wei-Tse Commune and its Big Elm Tree brigade near Kungchuling, in Kirin
Province; the Rainbow Bridge People's Commune in Shanghai Municipality; and the
Shi-Chiao Commune outside of Canton. In addition, there were opportunities to
discuss the agriculture of provinces and municipalities with leaders of the
provincial Agricultural Association. One major gap in knowledge is of the state farms
which the team failed to ask to visit in drawing up its requested itinerary.
In mid-1973 the population of China was about 800 million and was growing
at a rate of 1.7 percent per year according to the 1973 World Population Data Sheet
of the Population Reference Bureau. The major political units are the provinces,
the autonomous regions, and the municipalities. In a sense, some of the munici-
palities are agricultural regions; for example, Shanghai, we were told, with a
population of 11 million, has an area of about 6000 square kilometers, which
would account for interest of its leaders in agriculture.
The next lower level of organization is the county, about which we
learned relatively little, since agricultural research and education apparently
are not the functions of these units. It is said that the county governments
play an important role in planning, in provision of some social services, and in
implementation of national and provincial programs. Undoubtedly they also
coordinate work of the communes within their borders.
Perhaps the key unit in rural organization in China is the commune,
which in turn is made up of production brigades, and within brigades of "production
teams." Finally, the production teams comprise a number of households consisting
of one or more generations of family.
Populations of the communes visited varied. The largest, the Nan-Yuan
People's Commune near Peking, we were told, had 41,000 members in 10,000 families;
there were 16 production brigades and 125 production teams. The Rainbow Bridge
Commune, with a population of 26,000 also had 16 brigades and 121 production
teams. The Nan-Wei-Tse Commune had only 10 brigades.
The amount of cultivated land per person was quite limited in all of
the communes visited. For example, the 41,000 people of the Nan-Yuan Commune
have a farm area of 2,100 hectares while the Rainbow Bridge Commune, with 26,000
people, farms 1,320 hectares. This accounts for the very intensive care which can
be given the crops by members of the commune. In fact, it leads one to say that
in a sense there is no farming in China -- even the grain crops are "gardened."
Throughout China we repeatedly were told that the "basic accounting
unit" in Chinese agriculture is the production team, so it may be useful to
start with a discussion of these units.
These units comprise 20 or 30 households whose lands have been pooled
and are operated as a single farm unit, seemingly on a commercial basis. Probably
the land, while assigned to the production team, is owned by the commune or at
least is subject to management decisions of the commune and the production brigade
of which the team is a part.
The production team is governed by a revolutionary committee comprising
representatives of households and probably of the Communist Party and the army
(presumably the CP and the army are represented on revolutionary committees of
units at all levels, agricultural or otherwise). Decisions as to what will be
grown, when it will be planted and harvested, and how the crops will be managed
are subject to collective decisions. This would account for the uniform quality
of the farming within the area of a single production team; quality of farming
would be raised to the maximum permitted by local skill and experience. This would
account for the fact that there seemingly are no "early adopters" or "late
adopters" within communes in China:
We were told that income of individuals or households can rise only
with increases in productivity or value of output. For example, an individual's
income for a given year depends upon the total value of the team's output for the
year less the costs involved, less the tax paid to the state. Reportedly, the
tax paid is fixed at 6 to 8 percent (I do not recall the exact figure) so that
increases in productivity are not penalized by a graduated tax.
There was one opportunity to discuss income aspects with members of a
household. This was at the Rainbow Bridge Commune in Shanghai. In this
particular household, there were four generations of the family and I talked
at some length with the grandmother, who was in her 70's. She said that
there were 11 persons in the household including 10 who worked in the fields
and a child of five or six years, whom I bounced on my knee during the hour-long
conversation. The grandmother said that in 1973 the household income was 4,200
yuann ($2,100). The household's:total income depended upon the numbercof work
points accumulated; these points were based upon number of days worked and the
nature of the task. During the year, the household was advanced 160 yuan ($80)
per month for living expenses and received the balance of its income at the end
of the year when the production team's net income, after taxes, had been calculated.
If this interpretation of a production team as the "basic accounting
unit" of China is correct, it would account both for the efforts expended to
improve agricultural activity, and to reduce the rate of population growth. There
would be clearcut incentives for both, at the production team and household levels.
First, there would be the obvious incentive to raise total output of the production
team in order to have more to divide among households and individuals. At the same
time, there seemingly would be the strongest type of economic incentive to hold
production team numbers down, for individual income would depend directly on the
numbers in the local unit. The problem of population growth rates would be an
immediate one for each and every local unit rather than a general problem fdr
some distant unit of government to solve. If this is a correct interpretation,
there could be substantial local social pressure on each family to keep its
numbers down. This, together with other reported efforts to minimize population
growth rates, could result in one of the most effective known systems of limiting
population growth. More about that later.
Houses (or housing) for members of production teams generally are
clustered. Probably each production team represents a hamlet whose individual
lands were pooled. This would account for the variation in number of house-
holds per brigade.
The Production Brigade
This unit comprises from eight to 15 production teams and represents,
it seems, a natural group of hamlets with contiguous land holdings. Its farm
area, then, would consist of 80 to 120 hectares in an irrigated area. Presumably
its government consists of a revolutionary committee made up of representatives
of production teams, of the army, of the party, and others -- its board of
The brigade generally has responsibility for provision of such things
as the primary school and the health clinic. It also owns some farm equipment
including tractors, small pumps and other implements not part of a major commune
system. Presumably the use of such equipment by production teams is handled on
a contract basis; in other words, the rental of such equipment to production teams
is handled as a brigade enterprise to generate funds for operation of the schools,
clinics, etc. The brigades are encouraged to develop other enterprises to provide
necessary services and generate income. For example, in one brigade there was a
grain milling facility which charged members the equivalent of one-half cent per
kilo of grain milled.
At one commune I asked why the land areas of different brigades varied
so greatly. I was told that the size of each brigade depended upon natural
associations of communities at the time the commune was formed, in some cases being
based on previously existing cooperatives.
As indicated earlier, the commune often consists of 10 to 20 brigades
with a total of 100-150 production teams. It could be visualized as a township
or a rural trade center with its surrounding villages and hamlets and the lands
which make up its trade territory.
The commune is, like other units, governed by a revolutionary committee
with members drawn from the Communist Party (the "old cadres") and representatives
from brigades or production teams (the workers or peasants).
The communes seemingly are essentially self-contained, operational
communities with a substantial degree of autonomy. At least we were surprised
at the deference shown commune leaders by representatives of higher echelons of
The commune is responsible for over-all operation of its lands, enter-
prises, and social services.
The commune generally has responsibility for operation of a hospital,
the high school and perhaps some junior middle schools or junior high schools,
the irrigation and drainage system, road maintenance and other activities which
might be associated with a community of 24-40,000 people.
In each commune we were told of the diverse enterprises operated by
the commune to generate income. For example, the Nan-Yuan People's Commune near
Peking has six factories including (1) a farm implement manufacturer and repair
shop, (2) a plant for the formulation of insecticides and production of plastics,
(3) an electrical equipment company manufacturing starters and generators,(4)
a factory producing plastic moldings for lighting fixtures, (5) a brick factory,
and (6) a farm for production of Peking ducks.
The Rainbow Bridge Commune near Shanghai had several enterprises,
including (1) mushroom production with facilities for growing and distributing
spawn and for collection and marketing of product from the 60,000 square meters
of mushroom beds of the commune itself (1000 square meters) and of production
teams in the area, (2) a 106 head Holstein-Fresian dairy herd, (3) a pig farm
which in 1973 marketed 1275 tons of pork produced on its own farm or by
production teams, (4) the supply and marketing cooperative, (5) a unit for
production of fur from angora rabbits, (6) a chicken production and marketing
unit. This commune also owns heavy equipment, the fleet of trucks necessary to
move materials to and from the city, an irrigation system with 150 kilometers of
underground concrete pipeline and 13 pumping stations.
Apparently these enterprises are developed to generate income required
for the commune and for distribution to commune members. They said that out of
their profits they had developed a commune fund for mechanization and now have
a total of 127 tractors, large and small, and 510 pumps of all kinds.
The manager of the Rainbow Bridge Commune, an energetic and articulate
young man, said that he had completed five years of elementary school and had
"learned from the peasants." He said that the commune's gross income is divided
about as follows: 11 percent is for a collective fund for reinvestment in the
commune; 3 percent is for public welfare programs, including subsidies for mothers
and the elderly; 4 percent goes to the state; 30 percent is required for agri-
cultural costs of the commune; 52 percent is divided up among commune members based
on productivity of production teams and individuals.
In the commune, as in production brigades and production teams, there
seemed to be clearcut incentives for increasing productivity. Units of government --
including that of the commune -- apparently rely less on taxation of subsidiaries
and more on productive enterprises for the generation of income. This could
account for the remarkable push for productivity which seems to be under way.
Differences among communes in productivity could then be attributed to differences
in physical resource endowment and skill of management.
Interestingly, the chairman of the Revolutionary Committee of the Rain-
bow Bridge Commune is an attractive young lady who says that she has finished
middle school (high school).
Agricultural Production and Productivity
Mention already has been made of the incentives to increase productivity
and income at the individual, production team, brigade and commune level. In
this regard, productivity can be increased either through higher and more stable
yields on agricultural lands, or through rural industrialization. There are a
number of other impressions gained which seem important.
Stabilization of Yields
China has experienced great variation in agricultural productivity from
year to year over past decades. There have been problems with drought, with
flooding, with regional differences in production.
The U. S. team was quite favorably impressed by the tremendous accom-
plishments of the Chinese in building irrigation and drainage systems to allow
yields to be stabilized at high levels and to reduce the effects of "nature's
adversity." Obviously this has required that much of China's engineering and
agricultural talent be focused on these rural works. In some coastal or river
delta areas this has involved massive programs of dike construction.
Even more impressive to the U. S. team of plant scientists was the
attention China has given to the development of new crop production systems to
make the investment in irrigation, drainage and flood control pay off. For
example, a key component of China's efforts to reduce the effects of drought has
been its concentration on the development of extremely short-duration crop
varieties. Such varieties are exposed to the vagaries of weather for shorter
periods of time than the traditional ones and if a calamity occurs, there remains
the possibility of rubbing the crop out and planting a new one, or of planting
another crop between the rows of the existing one. In other words, the Chinese
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have given concurrent attention to the development of intensive cropping
systems, working directly with the farmers, a technique or approach not yet
generally accepted in other developing countries of the world, and not required
by development agencies such as the World Bank -- a fundamental weakness which
must le corrected.
Each commune seemingly has as one of its own basic objectives the
stabilization of production at high levels. At each commune the team was told
of the accomplishments since liberation in land leveling, irrigation, flood
control, and mechanization, and of the accompanying increases in yields per
hectare per year which were associated with such improvements.
Certainly evidence seemed convincing that China has been doing every-
thing possible to limit adverse effects of variations in rainfall and to extend
irrigation systems into dry areas or to provide water for dry-season crop
Farming in China obviously still is highly labor-intensive. But,
there are widespread efforts to mechanize some aspects of the production process.
Heavy equipment is owned and operated by commune enterprises while smaller hand-
tractors and small pumps are property of brigades. Some plant protection activity
undoubtedly also is largely a commune or brigade responsibility, particularly
when use of spray or dusting equipment is required.
The reasons for the mechanization are (1) the need to rapidly prepare
land for succeeding crops in China's intensive agricultural systems, (2) to permit
crop management or protection techniques which could not be done by hand, and (3)
to gradually release labor for expanded enterprises of the communes or brigades.
Mechanization still is limited, probably, by China's capacity to produce
its own machinery. Given the emphasis on self-reliance in the country, it is
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unlikely that China would import large amounts of farm machinery, but would opt
instead to produce such items itself in its own factories,employing its own
people. One could guess that any equipment purchases abroad by China will be
for interim needs only, and that China will quickly begin to manufacture its
own versions of any foreign equipment that it finds to be useful.
It appears that each commune has its own marketing enterprise which
is concerned with sale of produce and acquisition and distribution of inputs
required by members of the commune.
Interestingly, the grandmother in the Rainbow Bridge Commune, referred
to earlier, said that when she was a girl living in the area, it was customary
for her to pick vegetables early in the morning, trudge to Shanghai several
miles away, and to attempt to dispose of the vegetables on a door-to-door basis.
Often, she said, she was unable to sell her vegetables, which were carried in
baskets on the either end of a long stick slung over her shoulder, and she would
have to dispose of them in the evening at a fraction of their value, or return
with them to her home. Now, she says, the commune arranges to pick up the produce,
pack it for marketing, and to transport it to markets scattered throughout the
Presumably most inputs required for commune operations and some other
consumer goods are obtained through the marketing coop.
Self-Sufficiency in Production of Basic Grains
The major cereal grains consumed in China are rice, corn, wheat, sorghum,
and Setaria millet. Soybeans are important in the Northeast and some other areas,
and of course vegetables are produced everywhere.
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It is important to note that China has quite obviously concentrated on
grain production, not only in an effort to become self-sufficient nationally, but
in an effort to make each commune as nearly self-sufficient as is practicable.
Consequently, one finds that at the Rainbow Bridge Commune near Shanghai, which
specializes in vegetable production for the city, one-quarter of the land is
devoted to rice and wheat and, they say, yields per year since liberation have been
raised from 1.2 tons per hectare to 14.3 tons, using two crops of rice and one
of wheat per year. They claim 70 percent self-sufficiency in grain.
Why the drive for local self-sufficiency? One reason undoubtedly is
the desire that each commune take major responsibility for meeting its own food
needs; this would provide an incentive to local groups to get their production up
as quickly as possible. A second probable reason is that the nation's transpor-
tation system, even though the railways have been maintained in good condition,
is thus not tied up in moving the nation's food supplies around the country any more
than is necessary.
This apparent drive for local self-sufficiency in grain means that
everywhere in the country one finds the major cereal crops being grown, at least
those which can be produced in that region and are desired as food by the local
populace. It also means that consumer preferences locally can dictate the crop
to be grown even though that crop may not -- using usual economic or ecological
criteria -- be the best for that region. Hence, one finds corn being grown in
the drier areas of the midwest where one would think that sorghum would be much
better adapted but where corn is reportedly preferred as a food source.
At any rate, in all areas of the country, on all communes, there was
a fundamental concern for the production of basic cereal grains and a related
concern for local self-sufficiency. This is a principle which would seem useful
for many other low-income countries.
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Intensification of Cropping
For the past two decades, there has been concerted effort in China
to grow two crops where one previously was produced, or to grow three crops
where there formerly were two. This has caused the nation's plant breeders to
work on the development of short duration varieties which would fit into such
intensive cropping systems, and it has forced agronomists and farmers to look for
other ways to get production up per hectare per year through relay planting,
intercropping, or catch cropping. Given the abundance of labor still available
for China's agricultural work, these techniques have enabled production per
hectare per year to be increased substantially over what could be obtained by
growing longer duration crops in monoculture.
By admonition of Chairman Mao, production teams, brigades and communes
are encouraged to select or choose their own varieties for their own use, to
purify, produce and maintain seed themselves.
Accordingly, one finds that each commune is involved in testing varieties
and in producing necessary seed even of corn and sorghum hybrids. While some
production brigades or some state farms (not seen) may specialize in seed pro-
duction, basic responsibility seemingly lies with the individual communes. In
some of the "experimental places.' the American team saw corn and sorghum inbreds
and some production fields, including isolated plots for the production of seed
of maize inbreds.
This local self-reliance on seed production may be one of the weaknesses
of the Chinese agricultural system for U.S. team members observed some vegetable
varieties with seemingly high incidence of virus diseases, or fields of hybrid
corn or sorghum which seemed too variable to have been planted with high quality
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seed. Nevertheless, the Chinese crops generally looked good but with considerable
room for improvement of all crops, with the possible exception of rice.
It became clear to the team that the Chinese had in Kwangtung Province
developed short, stiff strawed indica rice varieties before such types were
released by the International Rice Research Institute in 1967. Apparently, the
Chinese scientists had started working on dwarf varieties in the South as early
as 1956, had them ready for test by 1960, and the spring planting of rice through-
out the South was in dwarf varieties by 1965. Nevertheless, the Chinese scientists
have tested most of the IRRI-released materials, and have found them to have
stronger straw and higher yields than China's own dwarf types. The IRRI materials
are being used heavily in present breeding programs.
The corn hybrids mostly involve combinations of locally produced inbreds,
U.S. inbreds of the 1940's vintage, and occasional inbred lines from Russia or
Eastern Europe. Clearly the Chinese scientists have been out of touch with
Western scientists for many years.
China has only one race kaoliangg) of the 15 sorghum races known
to exist; at least, only one race was observed in China during the trip, and it
was a brown-seeded type.
Seemingly, China's scientists were not aware of many of the improved
varieties of vegetables developed in Europe, Japan or the United States in
recent decades. Moreover, vegetable research seemed to be of low priority to many
of China's scientists, an attitude which deserves correction.
Swine and Other Animal Species
At the time we entered China, we were surprised at the estimated 200
million head of swine in China. The natural question was "What would they eat?".
The answer is "everything." The pig is fed vegetable waste, sweet potato vines,
cottonseed meal, soybean meal, byproducts of the milling of grains, and virtually
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anything else that can be put through the animal.
China's goal reportedly is one pig per person in the rural areas, and
they are on their way toward reaching such a goal.
As mentioned earlier, some pork is produced on intensive farm units.
In addition, many individual families maintain one or more pigs which are fed
such materials as the family can scrape together.
The pig in China also is valued for its wastes, which is an impor-
tant component of the organic fertilizer supply.
No beef animals were seen in the country but team members did visit
two major dairy herds, one of which was mentioned earlier in this report.
We were told that there are relatively few large chicken farms or egg
producing facilities in China; rather, many individual families keep a few
chickens for household use.
Production of Peking ducks generally is on a more intensive scale --
on an enterprise basis.
Weeds taken from the fields or weedy grasses cut from roadsides or
other open areas generally are fed to dairy cattle, caribao or perhaps occasionally
to other animals. One simply does not see large grass or weedy areas that are
Technical Support to Communes
One of the important features of China's drive for higher productivity
has been the direct support to communes by agricultural research institutes and
colleges of agriculture, and of direct support to commune industrial enterprises
by research and educational institutions in other relevant fields. This subject
is dealt with at some length by the U. S. team's trip report, but a brief mention
of the nature of the technical support is worth repeating.
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Each institute or college has been required to cooperate directly with
production brigades in the organization and work on farm-level technology. This
has been accomplished by opening up at the brigade level experimental plots of
10-15 acres with the research or technological work being carried out by teams
of scientists, local farm managers, and peasants --the so-called 3-in-l approach.
For example, the Academy of Sciences of Agriculture and Forestry of Kirin Province,
located at Kungchuling, which has a staff of 255 scientific and technical personnel,
now has cooperative activity at 29 "research places" in the same number of
production brigades in various parts of the province. At any time, one-third
of the Academy's scientists and technicians will be in residence at a brigade
working as members of the local teams. This decentralization of research and
technological activity of the academies has been a major force, undoubtedly, in
the speed with which farm-level improvements in productivity have occurred. In
addition to direct involvement in experimental work at the brigade level, another
one-third of the staff of any institute or college must be devoted to general
extension work with brigades and communes which do not have "experimental places."
This means, then, that the number of scientists and technicians working on the
basic research program back at central experiment stations is reduced to one-
third of the previous level.
A major initial goal of this nation-wide technological effort has been
"to evaluate and summarize the experience of the peasants." It has included a
1966 effort to bring together and test the many different varieties of each crop
which the peasants themselves had selected and maintained. Also, it involved the
study of the cropping systems and production techniques employed by farmers in
each region for the purpose of identifying those combinations:which could be put
to immediate use generally.
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Meanwhile, virtually all research or technological activity back at the
main experiment stations has been oriented toward the development of new higher
yielding, shorter duration varieties of crops or other activities which would
directly support the immediate activities of communes of the province served.
Most other, more fundamental work has been shelved, at least for the time being.
Representatives of the Agricultural Association of the People's Republic
of China, in Peking, had indicated to the team that some 10 million scientists,
technicians, and peasants were engaged together in the nation's agricultural
research and technical activity. While that statement seemed unbelievable at
the time, it may not have been far from the truth. It would mean that one out
of 80 people in China is so engaged.
China clearly is committed to the intensive use of fertilizers, both
organic and chemical. There seemingly are three major sources.
First, China relies heavily on human and animal wastes as well as
other organic matter which apparently is used in two different ways: it may be
composted, then spread on the fields, or it may be placed in large pits in the
field for fermentation before being applied as a liquid on row crops. Possibly
the fermentation process, if that's what it was, destroys some disease organisms
which might be dangerous to health if the raw wastes were applied directly to the
fields. More needs to be known about that process.
Second, there may be as many as 800 county-level fertilizer manufacturing
plants producing ammonium bicarbonate from coal and water. While these have on
occasion been referred to as "backyard plants" they are not that small, for they
turn out several thousand tons of product per year. In fact, one reference
indicated that in 1973 some 53 percent of China's nitrogeneous fertilizer was
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from this source. Drs. Brady and Borlaug of the U. S. team visited one such
plant and their findings are in the team report.
Third, China has contracted for 10 or more 1000 ton per day ammonium
manufacturing plants and for associated facilities to produce urea. This should
add, upon completion, about 2.5 million tons of N per year to available supplies
in China. In addition China has imported large quantities of fertilizers or
raw materials for their manufacture.
Green manure crops seem not to be used in China to any significant
degree. In fact, little organic matter is returned to the soils but instead is
used for fuel, for feeding, or for construction (particularly the stalks of tall
sorghum plants). Even the roots of cornstalks are being pulled up for use as
fuel. Pine litter in the forests was being swept up for use as fuel.
Little was learned about the extent of food reserves in China, but
her policy is clear for Chairman Mao has instructed the people to "store grain
everywhere." This was interpreted to mean that storage of grain to meet
emergencies is everyone's responsibility, that grain is to be stored by house-
holds, production teams, brigades, communes, counties, provinces and the central
One set of storage bins was seen at the Big Red Gate Production Brigade
of the Nan-Yuan People's Commune near Peking. These structures, neatly painted
white, probably would accommodate 50-100 tons of grain. Also, at one point near
the railroad running between Peking and Sian, there was a battery of silos of
the size and quality that one might see in the United States.
Given the emphasis on local self-sufficiency in grain production,one
would expect that China would use major imports of grain to meet the needs of
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her major cities, since deficits in the countryside probably are minimal
and since distribution directly to the cities would (a) be most convenient,
(b) place least stress on the railway system, and (c) minimize demands on
grain from rural areas.
Certainly the policy, "store grain everywhere" is the simplest and
most straightforward reserve policy about which I have learned -- in any
country. One wonders if there are other nations with similar approaches.
Rural Health Care and Family Planning
Because a high proportion of China's 800-900 million people live
in the rural areas, the rate of increase of her population will in large part
depend upon effectiveness of birth control in rural areas. Based upon limited
observations, one would conclude that China must have the most effective system
of population control that could be devised, yet be relatively voluntary. Among
the factors which would contribute to minimization of increases are the following:
(1) The economic incentive (or disincentive, depending upon one's
view) at the production team level, discussed in the earlier section dealing with
production teams. Not only would there be an incentive for individual households
to keep family size down to increase per capital income, but probably there would
be pressure on each household from other family units to keep total numbers of
the proudction team down. Many writers have emphasized the importance of economic
incentives, and if the interpretations in this paper are correct, such incentives
under the Chinese system of organization are as strong as they possibly could be.
(2) Late marriage is promoted, not only by health care workers but by
the state and probably by local communities, as indicated just above.
(3) Family planning information and contraceptives reportedly are freely
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(4) Abortions can be performed in each commune, reportedly.
(5) There is a minimum of privacy for young couples, married or not,
since several generations may occupy each house and since at best conditions
(6) Sexual differences are played down. In all our travels in China
we saw only two young girls in dresses; all others were in pants and loose blouses.
Use of cosmetics was not observed except by actors and actresses. Public displays
of affection are rare. No erotic literature of any kind was seen.
(7) Health care for babies and young children is widespread if not
universal and people generally seem to be well nourished. This would minimize
the death of babies and young children, a reason often given for the large
families in poverty-stricken areas.
(8) There is no need to rely upon children for old-age security, at
least in some communes. Welfare of the elderly seemingly is an accepted concern
of the commune, at least as a means of backstopping household responsibilities.
(9) In each commune we were told that from five to seven percent of
the cultivated land is set aside for private use by households. Reportedly, when
communes were formed in the late 1950's, each family was given a specific amount
of land. The amount each received was the equivalent of three or four fun (one-
tenth of a mou, or 1/150th of a hectare) for each member of the family but not
for children in excess of two. We also were told that if families later increased
in number, they would not be entitled to additional parcels of private land, but
there simply would be less per person in the family. This would be another incen-
tive to keep family numbers down.
In short, it would be hard to visualize a system, short of the use
of force, which could be more effective in reducing population growth rates than
that which appears to exist in rural China.
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This raises the question of organization of people in the urban
areas, particularly in factories. Presumably, they also are organized into
production teams of some sort and probably are housed together in blocks of
apartments -- perhaps based on the same principles as the organization of
production teams. This point is mentioned primarily in the hope that it will
draw a response from students of China who may have an understanding of the
organization of urban communities and what the effect might be on population
Reportedly, each commune is encouraged to be as self-sufficient as
possible in health care and medical services.
Each commune visited had a central hospital with 30-80 beds and
some had facilities for X-ray examination, surgery, dental care, child delivery,
and other essential services. Most medical cases except the most complicated
ones can be handled at the commune but if necessary patients can be sent back
to county, provincial or other central hospitals.
At the brigade level, there are health or medical clinics to handle
problems not requiring periods of hospitalization. These would be staffed by
physicians assisted by "barefoot doctors." At the Big Red Gate Brigade of the
Nan-Yuan People's Commune near Peking, there is a clinic, activities of which
were described by one of the four barefoot doctors. She was about 23 years of
age, was bright, articulate and enthusiastic. She said that she had three years
of training after junior middle school, having gotten her training at the commune's
hospital. She said that the barefoot doctors have several functions. They spread
knowledge of disease prevention and health care, give vaccinations, advise on
family planning, encourage late marriage, provide child and infant care, and
deliver babies. She said that babies receive smallpox vaccination at three
- 22 -
months of age, and receive polio vaccines in sugar tablets at one-two months.
When asked about cholera shots, she said there is no cholera and hence no
Most if not all production teams have barefoot doctors who are young
people who have been selected by the production team to be their health care
workers and who are sent to the commune's hospital for training. Thus it is
known that when they are trained, they will be going back to their own pro-
duction team if the government or other higher unit does not pull them out for
assignment elsewhere. Once they are back with their production teams, they
carry on activities much as do the barefoot doctors at the brigade clinic, but
when they are caught up with their medical work, they join other production team
members in daily chores.
Periodically, the barefoot doctors or other medical assistants are
rotated back to the brigade clinics or the commune hospital for additional
training. At any rate, each commune has a seemingly self-perpetuating, self-
improving medical system. Members of the commune normally pay one to two yuan
per year for routine medical services.
Care for the Aged
At one commune, we visited a home for the elderly where about 75 such
people were in residence. We were told that each household is expected to care
for its own elderly members. Hence, those in residence at the Old People's Home
were individuals who had no families or other place to go. This home was main-
tained from the commune's public funds. This facility had a medical clinic, a
sewing room, a dining-recreation hall, and other facilities. There was a room
where the elderly could work on handicrafts for sale. It was encouraging to see
these elderly people getting such seemingly compassionate care.
- 23 -
Wherever one goes in China, one is reminded that this is a relatively
poor country with a per capital gross national product of $150-160. Particularly,
one notices that many of the residential areas of the cities have not been
maintained as they probably once were and there has been little investment in
rehabilitation of areas that once were apartments or small businesses.
China's intense concentration on productivity seems especially revealed
in what it has done about housing. Mention already has been made that improvement
of houses on the communes has been encouraged wherever possible since it allows
families to stay together and to remain at their locations in the country.
There is one other type of housing which has been provided and that
is the large blocks of apartments adjacent to major factories. Again, the
existence of these apartments enables workers to live near their jobs, thereby
reducing the burden on transportation systems, and providing the other advantages
to the state of having people organized, in place, and intent on their own
participation in the productive activity. Where very large factories and
accompanying large-scale housing have been developed, facilities have in some
cases been provided for on-sight college education so that young people who work
in the factories by day can further their education when off-duty. This inte-
gration of housing with the individual's work probably is fairly widespread.
Primary education now seems to be virtually universal in China. In
some communes we were told that attendance at junior middle school is universal.
Beyond this level, individuals reportedly are nominated by their teams, brigades
or communes for higher education, often for specific types of education needed
- 24 -
back in the home commune. Thus individuals cannot control their own destinies;
most young people with whom I talked were reluctant even to speculate as to what
they might later do or be, saying this was not for them to decide.
There is an incentive for young people to do a good job at the farm or
factory level if they have any hopes of being nominated for higher educational
opportunities. Higher education in agriculture is discussed by Dr. Arthur Kelman
at some length in the team's trip report.
Mobility of People
It seemed clear that all individuals in rural communities have a fixed
place, both in a household and in production teams. Therefore the population
of the rural areas is rather rigidly immobile. People cannot, on their own, move
to the cities. Since housing is controlled, there would be no place for them to
Presumably, any individual who might leave his or her production team
would immediately be missed and any individual showing up at any point in a city
or other rural area would seemingly immediately be identified as a person out
We obtained no information on the degree to which individual movement
is controlled.. It was clear that many workers and peasants were visiting points
of scenic interest but we had no way of knowing if these people were simply away
from their homes for a day or under what conditions they could be away for longer
periods of time, such as for longer visits to distant points of the country.
Trains were full of people going somewhere.
Certainly there must be a number of restrictions on individual movement.
And, there must be almost no place that a runaway could hide. If this is
correct, this could account in large measure for the reportedly very low rate of
- 25 -
crime. Also, there are few places of substantial wealth to be robbed and
little place to spend large sums of money, even if obtained. Since all
businesses seemingly are controlled, there would be limited opportunities
for sale of stolen goods.
While there were a number of soldiers in uniform on the streets,
none was carrying arms. Nor were police seen bearing firearms.
Certainly the lack of mobility of people must be a major factor in
the maintenance of law and order in the country. It seemed to be an orderly
country, an impression that certainly was reinforced when we recrossed the
border into Hong Kong and saw the relative chaos of New Territories, jammed as
they are with refugees.
Stability of the Country
There is much speculation outside China regarding the political
stability of the PRC and the prospects for a struggle for power when Chairman
Mao and Premier Chou, En-lai are gone. On my flimsiest of evidence, it would
seem that the transition probably will be a quite orderly one. In the first
place, the people in the communes seemed genuinely to believe that they are
working for a better life for themselves and their children and grandchildren.
One does not sense the hopelessness evident in some other countries. Rather,
there is a hope for a better future. Whether the people are truly happy, I
cannot say, but certainly one could characterize them as generally content and
hard at work with the building of the nation. This would suggest, if true,
that any attempt to greatly change the conditions under which people are working
would be met by rather spontaneous and forceful opposition.
We repeatedly were told that one of the objectives of the central
government is to decentralize activity and political power, preventing the buildup
- 26 -
of central bureaucracies or groups of elitists of any type. Certainly there
seemed to be a great deal of deference to people in control of the communes by
representatives of higher levels of government.
One other possible factor could be mentioned. If it is true that
individual communes have their own militia (we did see people on bicycles with
rifles across their backs heading for the practice target ranges) then it could
be that any individual trying to change the course of the country through a
military coup might find that it would be a difficult thing to do. This
particularly would be true if communes were inclined to resist any future changes
in the control of them.
Interestingly, Ambassador Bruce reportedly mentioned to a Congressional
committee recently that he expects the transition to be a smooth one. Limited
observations in the various regions of the country would certainly lead me to
agree with that view.
Assuming that these observations of rural development in the People's
Republic of China are essentially correct, then there are some possible impli-
cations worthy of consideration:
1. China's population growth rate may subside very rapidly if it is
not already at a very low level -- lower than external projections indicate.
2. China's crop productivity may be underestimated by a wide margin
by external observers, particularly if there have been substantial yield increases
in the last several years. Given the effort that has gone into improvement of
farm-level production, this is not unlikely.
3. China's rural development system seemingly provides incentives --
strong ones -- both for the increase of productivity at all levels and for
a decrease in population growth rate. If this is correct, then China might be
wise not to take the final step toward communism, which reportedly would be to
convert all farm operations to state ownership with people working for the
state for wages. Reportedly, China is now at the penultimate stage of such
a process of conversion to true communism. Also reportedly, the Soviet Union
and Cuba and perhaps some other states have already taken the final step and,
if so, may have not provided such incentives for people to increase productivity.
It would be interesting to compare the nature of rural organization in the
People's Republic of China and in the Soviet Union to determine if there are such
4. China's ability to continue increasing agricultural output will
require that she reconstitute a highly effective agricultural research effort
and strengthen her ties with external centers of scientific innovation. Clearly
she has sacrificed longer term research in her intensive efforts to get farm
production up quickly and effectively.
5. China can continue to improve the livelihood of her people given
an extended period of relative peace. A part of the increased prosperity in
rural areas will come from greater farm output and a still greater portion probably
will be from continued development of manufacturing and other enterprises in the
rural areas. This will be accompanied by increasing mechanization which gradually
will release farm people for other productive activities. Additionally, China
reportedly can expect increased wealth from development of her petroleum reserves.
The U.S. Team Report
Following the completion of the month's study in China, the 12 members
of the U. S. Plant Sciences Delegation wrote a fairly lengthy (250 pages, double-
spaced) report on their observations in the country. Each of the team members
developed a comprehensive understanding of China's agriculture, its education, or
- 28 -
its agricultural research, and in addition specialized in one or more facets of
the study of China. These special assignments were agreed upon by team members
prior to entry into China. Those China scholars who may wish additional in-depth
information in the various areas of specialization are encouraged to write
directly to other team members who have specialized knowledge of China. These
Dr. Richard L. Bernard, U.S. Regional Soybean Laboratory, Urbana,
Illinois 61801: soybeans, plant breeding.
Dr. Norman E. Borlaug, CIMMYT, Londres 40, Mexico 6, D. F., Mexico:
wheat, barley improvement, the status of agriculture in China today, plant
Dr. Nyle C. Brady, Director, International Rice Research Institute,
Los Banos, Laguna, Philippines: rice improvement, organization of research and
extension systems, soil fertility and water management, and production of ammonium
Dr. Glenn W. Burton, Agricultural Research Service, USDA, University
of Georgia, Tifton, Georgia 31794: forage and turf grass improvement, millet
improvement, dairy production, general agricultural development.
Dr. John L. Creech, Director, U. S. National Arboretum, Washington,
D. C. 20002: germplasm exchange, all crops; woody plant species, including forestry;
ornamentals; herbs; botanic gardens.
Dr. Jack R. Harlan, Department of Agronomy, University of Illinois,
Urbana, Illinois, 61801: sorghum improvement, germplasm collection and maintenance,
general agricultural development.
Dr. Arthur Kelman, Department of Plant Pathology, University of Wisconsin,
Madison 53706: plant pathology, higher education in agriculture, organization of
Dr. Henry Munger, Department of Plant Breeding and Vegetable Crops,
Cornell University, Ithaca, New York 14850: horticulture, including vegetables
and fruits; general agricultural development.
Dr. George F. Sprague, Department of Agronomy, University of Illinois,
Urbana 61801: corn and sorghum improvement, genetics and plant breeding, plant
physiology, general agricultural development.
Dr. Philip A. Kuhn, Professor of Chinese History, University of Chicago,
5736 Woodlawn Avenue, Chicago 60637: political and social factors affecting
agricultural development in China.
Each of the above scientists has summarized his findings in the team's
report, which should be available by early 1975 but each also has a more extensive
reservoir of information going well beyond materials in the team's summary.