Fact Check
Realizing rural revitalization
By Lan Xinzhen  ·  2024-01-02  ·   Source: NO.1 JANUARY 4, 2024

The annual Central Rural Work Conference, which outlines the Chinese Government's measures to promote development in rural areas in the coming year, took place in Beijing on December 19-20, 2023. The event's tradition has taken shape since the late 1970s and underscores the importance the central authorities attach to agriculture.

This year's conference focused on the rural revitalization experience of the Green Rural Revival Program in Zhejiang Province in east China, which was launched by the Zhejiang authorities in 2003 with the support of then Secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Zhejiang Provincial Committee Xi Jinping. It aimed to renovate 10,000 villages in the province and transform 1,000 of them into models of moderate prosperity.

The social ideal of "moderate prosperity," or xiaokang in Chinese, dates back to the Book of Rites, one of the canonical texts of the Confucian tradition. It refers to a status whereby "people are neither rich nor poor but free from want and toil."

Rural revitalization is a state-led strategy put forward by President Xi during the 19th CPC National Congress in 2017. The idea is to have a comprehensive framework to close the urban-rural development gap by accelerating the development of rural areas and making them more attractive to live in. The strategy aims to consolidate the achievements of poverty alleviation, with China having eradicated absolute poverty as of late 2020, by developing the rural economy and improving rural governance. The CPC National Congress and the Central Committee it elects are the Party's highest leading bodies, with the five-yearly congress setting the national agenda.

Twenty years on, the Green Rural Revival Program has expanded from the initial 10,000 villages to cover all of Zhejiang. The per-capita disposable income of the province's rural residents has ranked first in the country for 38 consecutive years and the per-capita disposable income ratio of urban and rural residents in Zhejiang dropped from 2.43 in 2003 to 1.9 in 2022.

Under the project, the improvement of the living environment, a long-standing problem facing China's rural areas, received top priority. In September 2018, the project won the United Nations Champions of the Earth Award, the UN's highest environmental honor. The website of the UN Environment Program points out that "this exceptionally successful eco-restoration program shows the transformative power of economic and environmental development together."

The project has a lot of experience to offer. Most importantly, the villages have identified their respective assets, which are being properly utilized to boost local economic growth. In turn, the booming of various industries enriches the villages. Tangdi Village in Shaoxing City has prospered from the orchid industry. With its locals skilled in weaving, embroidery and especially in batik, a kind of dyed wax painting, Gejia Village in the city of Ningbo has become famous for its artistic creations. Sandan Village in Jinhua City is being revitalized courtesy of its intangible cultural heritage.

But the project's successes were not achieved overnight. From 2003 to 2010, the rural living environment was cleaned up, gradually contributing to a better overall ecological environment. In the second phase, from 2011 to 2020, the efforts to build "beautiful villages" brought about a transformation of local industries and cultural sectors, further narrowing the urban-rural development gap. In 2021, the project entered its third phase, toward common prosperity, or the guiding principle that China's growth should be people-centric and that in the pursuit of economic development, no one should be left behind.

Step by step, the blueprint of the Green Rural Revitalization Program has materialized. Given its solid achievements, the program can now serve as a model for villages across the country, providing a well-timed template for rural-urban integration and rural modernization.

Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon

Comments to lanxinzhen@cicgamericas.com

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