[Think Tank Thinking] Reverse urbanization should become an option for rural revitalization
2022-08-08: [Article Link] Mr. Li Pei Lin Member of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress and Deputy Director of the Social Construction Committee and Member of the Science Department of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences
In accordance with the pattern of urbanization, reverse urbanization is a new stage in the development of urbanization, following the suburbanization of large urban centres and the expansion of cities. It is not anti-urbanization, but rather a higher stage of urbanization, owing to urban diseases such as urban density, traffic congestion, expensive housing, and environmental pollution, which have led to the movement of urban populations to remote suburbs, small towns and villages. Reverse urbanization has three prescriptions: first, there has been a reversal of the rural exodus, but the number of farmers may continue to decline; second, there has been a profound change in the structure of the rural population, with the vast majority of the population becoming non-farm workers; and third, rural life has been revived, with changes in laxity and decline. General context of the rural revitalization strategy
After more than 40 years of rapid development since the reform and opening of the country, the rate of urbanization has reached 64 per cent in 2020 in terms of the resident population, but we are still a large peasant country, with a total rural population of more than 500 million. The large development gap between rural and urban areas, which still accounts for only 39 per cent of the disposable income of urban residents, has become the weakest link in the country's modernization, in the context of a strategy for rural revitalization. Another broad context is the fact that our country has entered a new phase after decades of development, with extremely profound changes in the dynamics of development, its comparative advantages, its constraints and the international environment for development. In terms of constraints on development, green development becomes a hard constraint, and it is no longer possible to decontaminate the old path. Rural revitalization must also serve to achieve a carbon peak by 2030, and a carbon neutral development strategy by 2060. Since the Party’s eighteenth birthday, Secretary-General Xi Jinping has repeatedly stressed the importance of addressing the issue of the “three farmers” as a top priority for the whole party. The party’s nineteenth-largest team has made significant deployments to implement the strategy of rural revitalization, which is the overarching and historic task of building a socialist modern state in all its aspects, and the overall focus of the new era on “three farmers.” In late 2020, at the Central Rural Work Conference, the General Secretary of Xi Jinping again stressed the need for the whole party to fully recognize the importance and urgency of the new stage of development and to insist on addressing the issue of the “three farmers” as a top priority in the work of the whole party, and to use the efforts of the entire society to promote rural renewal and promote high-quality and efficient agriculture, suitable rural livelihoods and rich and productive farmers. So the biggest challenge is to make farmers more prosperous in general and to make a fundamental difference in their lives. To raise farmers’ incomes and improve their lives, farmers must be further reduced, and rural tensions must be addressed. In 2020, agricultural workers also accounted for 23.6 per cent of the total employed population and about 180 million workers, and the vast majority of farmers had small farming areas and low incomes, making it difficult to reach middle-income groups. If, in the next 15 years, 23.6 per cent of the employed population in agriculture were able to decline by another 10 percentage points in the process of modernization of agriculture, the lives of farmers and the rural-urban gap would be significantly improved. In addition to promoting the modernization of agriculture, the effective path of improving the incomes of farmers in our country over the decades of reform and opening up, in the context of ensuring food security, is also an important path for diversifying and efficient agriculture and improving the returns from land operations. The shift of the rural labour force to the secondary sector and the increase in the wage-earning share of farmers have been key factors in raising farmers'incomes, but the situation is now changing. In 2020, for the first time in decades, there was a negative growth in the total number of peasant workers in the country, and it is not clear whether this is the impact of the epidemic or a turning change due to the decline in the working-age population. Out of the dilemma of urban-rural divide, one country at a time
After several decades of work at the Institute of Sociology of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, my old director, Professor Lu Lu, who is a well-known national expert on the issue of the “Three Farms”, worked throughout his life on rural research, and wrote an article in his late years on the theme “New thinking in agricultural development: a backlash and the acceleration of the urbanization process”, arguing that, in order to solve the rural problem at its root, it is necessary to look out at rural areas, link rural development to urbanization, and move out of the urban-rural divide and the dilemma of one country. China now has more than 600,000 administrative villages and more than 2 million natural villages. From the 1980s to the present, with our urbanized development and the construction of intensive villages, our villages have been reduced by more than 250,000 and dozens of villages have been lost every day, a major development trend. Of course, the academic community, especially the sociology community, has also been critical of the withdrawal of villages against the will of the farmers in some places, and it is right to hope that the path of rural renewal will be more in the interest of the farmers themselves. In the long run, however, the reduction of farmers and villages is a major trend in the development of the country, and rural revitalization is intended to revitalize villages, but it is not necessary to revitalize every village. In order to raise the incomes of farmers and improve their livelihoods, rural areas also need to be developed in a cost-effective manner, saving the cost of infrastructure construction such as rural water supply, electricity supply, gas supply, roads and the provision of public services. The protection of the environment also requires improvements in the lives of farmers through the relocation of migrants, so it cannot be said in general terms. Of course, rural revitalization and the general enrichment of farmers have led to a shift from large-scale farming, agricultural labour, and rural labour to secondary and tertiary industries. We have tried rural industrialization, the early years of reform and opening, and the rise of rural enterprises, which once underpinned our national economy. But the path of complete rural defarming and industrialization seems to be unsustainable. Our agricultural operations are being scaled up and now account for one third of all cultivated land in rural areas, where only 1/80 to 1/60 are cultivated by European farmers. Even less comparable with North and South American countries, where many of the cultivated land is small and scattered in hilly areas, and where large agricultural machinery is difficult to use, it is difficult to do all of it on a scale scale, while high labour and capital inputs on limited land produce what Huang Jong-ji calls the internalization of small East Asian farmers, i.e. a reduction in marginal gains, resulting in agricultural labour productivity well below that of industrial and service industries, and farmers on the basis of farming to reach middle-income levels. Thus, rural revitalization, in terms of industrial development, must be tailored to its own conditions, along the path of industrial integration, depending on the increase in farmers'incomes, the improvement of farmers'lives, the strengthening of farmers'long-term development capacities and the narrowing of the urban-rural development gap, but must ensure that the red line of food security and cropland is not touched and that the high pressure line of green development is not touched. I think it would be useful to establish a few simple and simple criteria for rural revitalization: first, that the income of farmers can reach the average income of social workers, and that farmers can move generally away from the low-income situation; secondly, that there is no longer a fundamental difference between rural facilities and living conditions or even the advantages of rural culture, that young people willing to live in rural areas are beginning to grow and that there is a tendency to reurbanize, but that the majority of the rural population is no longer dependent on farming; and thirdly, that there is a further improvement in the ecological environment in rural areas. Retro-urbanization has already shown some sort of trend towards future development.
In order to prevent rural development, counter-urbanization should be an option for the revitalization of the country's villages, and this has already shown some signs of future development. First, there has been a significant increase and momentum in the number of rural recreational tourists. Before the epidemic, the country’s recreational agriculture and rural tourism tourists reached billions of people every year, and the tide of hundreds of billions of yuan was only just beginning. Of course, the epidemic is now very much affected. The second is the high cost of living in cities, especially in large cities, and the growing number of ageing people, from urban to rural areas. A growing number of well-being centres have emerged throughout the country, in pleasant and comfortable villages and small towns, and they are very popular with older persons. Of course, because of the constraints of traditional institutions, there are many development bottlenecks to ageing in the diaspora. Third, long-term urbanization in small towns and villages has led to the re-emergence of the country’s prosperity. In our villages in Yunnan, Guizhou, Sichuan, Hainan and Guangxi, among others, there is a concentration of people from all over the country who have come to make life in the countryside more active. Fourth, the return of some rural migrant workers, graduates of secondary and higher education institutions, retired soldiers and technologists to their homes to start businesses, and employment have contributed to the integrated development of one or two rural industries. Despite the ongoing development of rural tourism, rural leisure and rural old-age life in our country, the trend towards re-urbanization has not yet become a reality in our country.