If you greeted them your class stand was considered questionable. They had no friends. In official pronouncements, members of the working class were described as the owners and masters of the means of production. Though many workers no doubt looked on Party leaders and factory managers as their masters, compared to peasants workers nonetheless enjoyed enviable working and living conditions, including heavily subsidized food, housing, transport, superior education and health care, regulated eight-hour days on fixed wage grades, early retirement and state-funded pensions.
Through the hukou system, the peasantry was locked into low-paid, collectively managed labour on the land.
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Groups of peasants recruited to labour as temporary and contract workers in urban industries received the lowest wages and benefits for performing the hardest, dirtiest jobs. Although some worked for years in urban enterprises, they could not bring their families with them, and were segregated on the shop floor and excluded from the enterprise-centred Party and union organizations, social community and welfare entitlements. Intermarriage between urban and temporary peasant workers was exceptionally rare.
In political and economic plans and practice, therefore, peasants formed a class that was exploited by the state to the benefit of its cadres and urban workers. Politically, too, peasants as a class were disadvantaged in their relations with other classes. The proportionate membership of the working class and military increased relative to that of the peasantry from the s to the late s.
Though most sub-provincial leaders came from the peasantry, few rose to positions in the central Party and government. During the Maoist era, Chinese rural society was characterized by a politically charged, inelastic system of class designations. It affected everything from what food they could eat, how much they might earn and who they might marry, to whether they had any influence in collective decision-making.
Jonathan Unger has argued that because certain families were distinguished from others in their community by patronage relations and the symbolic and political capital acquired from good class designations, peasants formed status groups rather than a class. Their access to land, and their participation in, and remuneration from collective production were dictated by the state — through cadre management of labour, compulsory state procurement and the suppression of markets — with the specific aim of transferring the agricultural surplus to fund industrialization and provide public goods such as housing, health care, welfare and physical infrastructure for a growing urban population.
Although intra-village community differences in living conditions remained primarily based on family labor power , they were less extreme than the inequalities in food availability, welfare and opportunities for social advancement that differentiated collective peasant farmers from the non-agricultural population. And peasants used the vocabulary of class to describe themselves as a class that was disadvantaged relative to cadres, intellectuals and urban workers.
In this regard, they formed a class that was distinguished by its relations with other social formations if no longer rooted in unequal land ownership relations. The challenge that arose, though, was that whilst transforming the socialist planned economy into a market economy, cadres capitalized on their positions to enrich themselves and their families.
Markets, human capital and entrepreneurship, rather than unequal property ownership, political virtues, or even residential registration, became the officially recognised sources of stratification. Rural de-collectivization was at the forefront of market reforms.
Chinese scholars generally identify two main processes in de-collectivization. The first entailed the de-collectivization of property and gradual deregulation of agricultural product prices. The quantity of land received by each household was supposed to reflect household size, producing a roughly equal distribution of land use-rights within each village. Concurrently, state prices for agricultural output were raised, the scope of state procurement diminished, and controls on the marketing of produce lifted.
Farmers responded by diversifying production and specializing in higher value crops for sale. By the turn of the century, prices for most products had been de-regulated. Contracted land use rights differed from private property ownership in that they could not be mortgaged or alienated from the collective. On the other hand, formerly collective assets like machinery and factories were privatized in the late s and s.
In contrast to the de-collectivization of land, this was a highly disequalizing process, and in many locations, disproportionately benefited the village cadres who handled the sales. Second, with the demise of collective farming, rural households were able to allocate their labour resources to non-agricultural activities. Self-employment, home-based and small businesses and township and village enterprises TVEs — many of which initially were established as collective enterprises and subsequently were privatised — flourished.
In the late s and throughout the s the relaxation of state controls over employment decisions and profits in urban enterprises increased demand for cheap migrant labour, leading to growing rural — urban migration. The proportion of the labour force engaged in agriculture fell from over 70 per cent in , to Almost an entire generation of rural youth grew up never having tilled the soil: by , over 87 per cent of rural 16 to 35 year olds was employed full time off-farm.
Those nongmin still engaged in agriculture began to be differentiated into peasants and commercial farmers by their dependence on markets for the purchase of production factors like labour and land, and the sale of their output. On the one hand, the small average size of land holdings nationwide, less than one-fifth of a hectare per capita in meant that only a small percentage of agriculturalists needed to hire labour.
What was new about this peasant labour force, was that it increasingly comprised the elderly, rather than young and middle-aged adults. On the other hand, the employment of wage labour in specialized agriculture rapidly increased. Small commercial farmers in high-value fruit, vegetable and aquaculture production also began including casual wages in their routine production costs, as a grape stock producer in the wealthy coastal province of Zhejiang explained to me in Unskilled women, they cost around 80 yuan per day. But grafting is skilled work, so we pay the grafters quite a lot.
The specialist grafters from Liaoning get paid per graft, 5 mao 47 per graft.
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Plus we then have to spend money on fertilizers and materials, so altogether the cost of establishing one grafted grape vine is 9 mao. Then there are the costs of water, advertising, transport. But depending on the market, the vines might only sell for 4 yuan. Interview, Jindong District, Zhejiang, 17 May Migrant agricultural specialists grafting grape vines, Zhejiang photo by Sally Sargeson. This vision centred on expanding the scale of production by promoting land rental, and the capitalization and commercialization of production.
In , the advertised annual rent for rice paddy in Zhejiang was between and yuan per mu per annum, while shrimp and crab ponds cost over 1, yuan per mu 51 per annum for a ten year lease. According to my own estimates, by somewhere in the order of 88 million nongmin had lost farmland through expropriation, and government analysts indicated that between and , another 50 million more might be expropriated to make way for urban and infrastructure development.
And some of these people subsequently used the compensation they received for loss of their shares in the land, as well as lost land use rights, crops and other assets, to purchase urban apartments, social insurance, and small businesses. Especially in areas of mass in-migration, such as the Pearl River and Yangtze deltas, many expropriated households did well from renting accommodation to rural migrant workers from other regions. But in addition, many millions of expropriated nongmin were indeed dispossessed without adequate much less just compensation, and were forced to supplement their meagre state welfare payments by repairing appliances, selling trinkets, street sweeping and scavenging.
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As agriculturalists of all types were incorporated into widening circuits of capital and commodities, more inputs were sourced from global and national corporations. The costs of patented hybrid seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, irrigation and greenhouse infrastructure and technical training rose. Increasingly, output also was sold on markets. Yan and Chen estimated that by , almost per cent of vegetables, cotton and fruit, and 85 per cent of all grains, were sold on the market. Lucrative supply contracts were monopolized by large farmers who could market online, negotiate affordable transport costs and deliver regular bulk orders to major wholesalers.
Urban governments bent on reconstruction closed down many wet markets that had accommodated small independent vendors and allocated the sites to supermarket chains. As a Zhejiang farmer providing trees to urban landscapers in Shanghai, Henan and Jiangxi complained to me,. We only get paid by the wholesalers once each year, after the spring festival.
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A year or so ago, one of the local wholesalers ran off owing us growers hundreds of thousands of yuan. We often get screwed. If trees die on the way to market, they return them to us, so we bear the risk of transport and storage too.
Factor and produce markets differentiated commercial and peasant producers even in less developed provinces. In one mountainous village in Yunnan, in a poor farmer explained to me how market prices swayed his production decisions:. But the price for pork is really low now. Tools Export citation Add to favorites Track citation.
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Volume 55 , Issue 1 Spring Pages Related Information. Close Figure Viewer. Browse All Figures Return to Figure. Learn more. This article analyzes the developmental impact of two of the earliest investments made by Chinese companies in South America, the Shougang Corporation's mining activities in Peru and Andes Petroleum's oil extraction operations in Ecuador. It thereby encourages a critical examination of Chinese investment in South America that explores how the characteristics of that investment are reshaped by the long and contested histories of resource extraction in the region, the promotion of and resistance to particular visions of development, the agency of multiply situated and complex actors, and the wider transnational production networks in which resource extraction processes are embedded.
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