Revitalising Rural China

In September 2015, China’s President Xi Jinping attended the UN Sustainable Development Summit and joined other world leaders to adopt Transforming Our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

China attaches great importance to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and has released China’s National Plan on Implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and a 2019 Progress Report. Implementation of the agenda has been integrated with China’s medium- and long-term national development strategies, including the 13th Five-Year Plan for Economic and Social Development of China. A key element of China’s reform process is revitalisation of rural areas.

The following is an extract from China’s 2019 comprehensive progress report, dealing with rural revitalisation.


China is in the final stage of the drive to build a society of moderate prosperity. But that does not mean it has overcome the issue of underdevelopment in rural areas where the living environment leaves something to be desired, the essential conditions for agricultural development are inadequate and poverty stress is high.

In response to these challenges, the Chinese Government surveyed the realities in the country, especially in rural areas, for an accurate mapping of the issues to be addressed and gained insight into the changing dynamics between urban and rural China. In 2017, by respecting the logic and proven pathway of modernisation, China launched a rural revitalisation strategy aimed at accelerating both rural and agricultural development to keep up with the modernisation of the country as a whole and achieving the goal of balanced development of both urban and rural areas.


Rural revitalisation is about revitalising rural areas on all fronts: industries, human resources, culture, ecosystems and institutions. The overarching goal of the Rural Revitalisation Strategy (“the Strategy”) is rural and agricultural modernisation; its overarching principle is the development of rural areas and agriculture as a priority; and its overarching requirement is to have a thriving sector of industries, an eco-friendly and pleasant living environment, civilised local ethos, effective governance and affluence. The institutional foundation for the Strategy is to establish and develop urban-rural integrated development regimes, mechanisms and policies. The Strategy has five core items on its agenda:

First, to develop and expand rural industries. This entails efforts to facilitate greater integration of primary, secondary and tertiary industries; incentivise the development of a mix of industries led and run by local farmers with strong local characteristics that can make the most of the local natural endowments; encourage technology and capital to gravitate towards rural areas; and foster new forms of agriculture and rural industries, so as to promote the sustained, rapid development of rural industries.

Second, to effectively narrow the gap between urban and rural areas. This entails efforts to promote free flow and equal exchange of production factors between urban and rural areas; build a new type of urban-rural relationship that is mutually complementary and delivers common prosperity; and steadily reduce the disparities between urban and rural populations in disposable income, consumption levels and public services. The goal is to let rural people live a life that is “different from but not inferior to” urban life.

Third, to eradicate rural poverty as a whole. This entails efforts to combine poverty eradication and rural revitalisation in a coherent and mutually reinforcing manner to ensure that the rural population below the current poverty line be lifted out of poverty by 2020 so that entire regions are free from poverty. There will be sustained efforts to improve the living and development conditions of the rural poor and introduce long-acting mechanisms to consolidate the gains of poverty eradication and prevent relapses.

Fourth, to improve rural people’s livelihood comprehensively. This entails efforts to invest more in rural infrastructure, being a priority in the national infrastructure development plan, to fill any gaps in this regard. By the same token, rural areas also take precedence in the distribution of public education, healthcare and social security resources as they claim primacy in the national social service development plan, with a view to better public service delivery in rural areas.

Fifth, to make significant improvements to rural ecosystems. This entails efforts to promote the green rural development approach; further improve the living environment in rural areas; focus on tackling salient issues in the agricultural environment; implement projects to conserve and remediate rural ecosystems; and move rural development forward in a way that is conducive to the harmonious symbiosis of humanity and nature.

Best Practice

Commitment to prioritise agricultural and rural development. In the processes of modernisation, industrialisation and urbanisation, because of the decline in both Engel’s coefficient and comparative advantages of agriculture, as well as diseconomies of scale, the enormous recessional pressure in rural areas will continue to challenge China’s medium- to long-term development. Conscious of how a rural recession might transpire, the Chinese Government has set up an institutional system and policy framework whereby agricultural and rural development takes precedence, giving greater support to agriculture and rural areas to offset the agricultural and rural recessional pressure.

Commitment to drive new-type urbanisation and rural revitalisation side by side. Rural revitalisation and urbanisation are not incompatible or mutually exclusive. In fact, they complement and reinforce each other. Rural revitalisation tends to be more successful with more distinct characteristics in areas with good urbanisation outcomes. Combining urbanisation with rural revitalisation, the Chinese Government has been actively promoting a new type of urbanisation and providing a wider range of market demand, more abundant capital and stronger technical support for rural revitalisation.

Commitment to fill the gaps in rural public services. Not having adequate rural public services is one of the main manifestations of the fact that rural areas lag behind urban areas. It is also an important area in which the Government can play its role. The Chinese Government has taken active steps to ensure equal access to basic public services in both urban and rural areas and has ramped up investment in rural infrastructure, education, healthcare and other sectors to meet the rural population’s aspirations for higher quality of life. Within a short period of time, facilities and services for, inter alia, rural household waste disposal and domestic sewage treatment have been put in place and public services in rural areas are no longer defined by backwardness.

Commitment to promote innovation-driven development of rural industries. Rural development is not possible without the development of rural industries. The Chinese Government actively supports the development of new industries in rural areas. Such industries as recreational agriculture, sharing economy, creative agriculture, old-age care and convalescence and wellness business have been growing at phenomenal speed. Meanwhile, China also attaches great importance to what new technologies such as digital technology and the Internet can do. New configurations and models of business in rural areas have emerged with the improvement of rural logistics and digital facilities. They are strong drivers for rural development and farmers’ quest for prosperity.

Rural Revitalisation in Zhanqi Village — The Three Transformations

In February 2018, during his visit to Zhanqi (Battle Flag) Village of Chengdu City, President Xi Jinping spoke highly of the village as a “spirited standardbearer living up to its name”. He urged the village to keep up its good work and “take the lead and set a good example” in the implementation of the Rural Revitalisation Strategy. By striving for ecological excellence, prioritising reform and revitalising industries, Zhanqi Village blazed a green and sustainable path of rural revitalisation. It has been honoured with titles like “National Model Village for Rural Revitalisation” and “China’s Beautiful Leisure Village”.

Transforming the village into a tourist destination by capitalising on its ecological endowments. Since 2017, Zhanqi Village has been building itself into a tourist attraction by closing nine polluting businesses, relocating four large livestock farms, building a 5.3-km-long riverside greenway, restoring forest gardens with local characteristics and developing landscape-oriented agriculture on more than 1,000 mu (66.67 ha) of land. It is now an AAAAgrade tourist destination. The village also created a district showcasing 18 local crafts, home to more than 80 intangible heritage demonstration and rural e-commerce projects/businesses, contributing to the integration of agriculture, commerce, culture, tourism and sports. In 2018, Zhanqi Village received 850,000 tourists and chalked up a tourism revenue of RMB65 million.

Transforming resources into capital through land reform. In 2015, Zhanqi Village was the firstcomer in Sichuan Province to put collective-owned construction-purpose land on the market. It put up 13.5 mu of idle land for sale, which fetched over RMB70 million. It founded Sichuan Zhanqi Rural Revitalisation Training Institute through stock buying, partnering and leasing with its collective-owned construction-purpose land. It also brought in a number of projects to develop modern complexes that combine farming with landscape, creating over 800 jobs and achieving intensive use of land resources and the development of industries in clusters.

Transforming villagers into shareholders by strengthening collective economy. On the basis of the joint-stock land cooperative established in the early years, the village set up some market entities, including Zhanqi Asset Management Company. Villagers were mobilised to pool their funds and contribute their own designs. Unused properties were converted into B&B guesthouses/homestays, teahouses and other establishments, thus diversifying the sources of income growth. In 2018, the village’s collective assets were worth more than RMB 60 million, with a collective revenue of RMB 5.2 million and per capita disposable income of RMB 28,000. They are making great strides towards shared prosperity.

Province-Wide Rural Revitalisation—The Case of Zhejiang

President Xi Jinping urged Zhejiang “to never stop pursuing practical work with tangible results, explore new grounds while leading the way and embrace the surging tide with courage and commitment”. He also told Zhejiang what he expected of the next phase of the province’s “Thousand Model Villages and Ten Thousand Revitalised Villages” project. Guided by President Xi’s instructions, Zhejiang gave top priority to the implementation of the rural revitalisation strategy and has spared no effort to become a model province for rural revitalisation.

The province introduced a leadership accountability system for implementing the rural revitalisation strategy and a working mechanism under which the provincial leadership takes the primary responsibility while city and countylevel authorities are in charge of implementation. They issued high-level action plans and strategies and drew up roadmaps, worksheets and timetables for rural revitalisation from a high starting point.

They introduced a systematic indicator matrix, a pragmatic working system, a practical policy system and an effective evaluation system, forming a province-wide structure with all its components operating in lockstep on the same wavelength and moving in the same direction.

The province embarked on the “Five Myriad Programme”, namely, upgrading 10,000 new-type agricultural actors, developing 10,000 tourist villages, building 10,000 cultural halls, demonstrating good governance in 10,000 model villages and increasing the per-capita income among farmers by RMB10,000. Five major campaigns went under way, to elevate the quality of rural industries, build beautiful countryside in the new era, enrich and benefit local communities, inject dynamism into rural culture and promote the rural governance model known as “Three Types of Governance”, i.e. self governance, law-based governance and ethical governance.

A number of major reforms have been carried out in parallel, including reform of the rural land system, reform of the rural collective property right system and reform of the “three-in-one” rural cooperative structure (of cooperation by trade, supply and marketing cooperation and credit cooperation), giving rise to new dynamics in the urban-rural integrated development system, including identifying and filling gaps, expanding the scope of integration and distributing dividends.

The province has been facilitating the access of technology and capital to rural areas and the return of youth and elite to their villages. A diversified portfolio of investments has been significantly strengthened with the prioritised backing of the government budget, preferential support from financial institutions and active participation of private capital.

The implementation of the rural revitalisation strategy began over a year ago. Since then, Zhejiang’s rural industries have been growing in both quality and efficiency; Project Beautiful Countryside has been upgraded; the welfare of local farmers has been steadily improving; rural culture has been developing in an integrated manner; and the rural governance model has been perfected through innovation. The per-capita disposable income among the rural population province-wide stands at RMB27,302. The momentum of steady agricultural and rural development has been reinforced.

Digital Economy Drives Rural Revitalisation

Since 2015, inspired by the development philosophy that “clear waters and lush mountains are the real treasure troves”, Gengche Town has seized the opportunity presented by the Internet Plus initiative and created what is known as the “Gengche New Model” for digital economy that drives rural revitalisation.

A better ecosystem. In 2016, in the spirit of the new development philosophy, Gengche began putting its house in order by placing its recycling and reprocessing business under control and banning its 30-year-old traditional waste reuse industry. It built a circular economy-oriented industrial park centring on the downstream processing, finishing and smart manufacturing of plastic products. It now has a West End Residential District, a White Deer Lake eco-friendly high-end residential area and an Agricultural Demonstration Park occupying 2,000 mu of land. In just three years, Gengche has transformed itself from a garbage tip to an idyllic rural Eden through a metamorphosis that has delivered blue skies, lush vegetation and limpid waters. Gengche has thus embarked on a new path of transformative and green development.

Stronger e-commerce. Gengche has developed a nascent model of e-commerce development that focuses on the production and online marketing of basic furniture, succulents and finished plastic products. It has an e-commerce industrial park, an e-commerce logistics park and an online business incubation centre. Its 2,759 online shops selling furniture and home goods, plastic products and succulents have created approximately 50,000 jobs. In 2018, Gengche’s e-commerce turnover reached RMB 5 billion, contributing 20% of the local population’s total income. Nearly 6,000 people received help to catch the “express train” for e-commerce entrepreneurship.

More young returnees to start their own businesses. The desirable ecological environment and enabling environment for startups have attracted a growing number of local young people to come back and set up Internet-based businesses in furniture making, logistics, live vlogging and photography. They are the dominant force that drives rural revitalisation. Gengche’s reputation is such that many non-local young people have also come over to take advantage of the opportunity it offers. In 2018, 286 new online businesses were added to the tally, of which 122 are owned by those born in the 1980s and 97 by those born in the 1990s, which means close to 80% of the owners are young people. They are the engine behind the rural revitalisation process.

Extract from: China’s Progress Report on Implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (2019) pages 110-116.

End of extract.

Source:  Xinhua, 2019-09-26

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