Eight hundred million peasant farmers occupy a country almost exactly the same size as the USA. Most farm tiny plots of land leased to them by the village co-operatives, often the same plots their families have farmed for 2,000 years or more.
One of China's best-kept secrets is that the communists never succeeded in breaking patterns of land ownership that were first legally registered in 350BC. A property-owning, one-party state has been transmuted into a lease-holding, one-party state .
China's peasantry, unlike any other in the world, has a tradition of empowerment as well as a long experience of living on subsistence incomes. Today's villages are testimony to the harshness of life. Houses are rarely more than a storey high and most have dirt floors with no more than rudimentary facilities; human waste is another useful source of fertiliser. Outside at this time of the year, vegetables are being dried ready for storage over the long winter. A family gets by on a weekly income of no more than £10.
China's rulers, imperial and communist dynasties alike, are profoundly wary of these peasant millions. Regime-change in China has always been rooted in a mass peasant revolt sparked by deep resentment of inequality and poverty; the last six imperial dynasties fell this way.
There are still a few people left who think there was a communist revolution in 1949. Today, it is pretty obvious, given the increasingly tenuous link between communism and contemporary China, that it was a seventh regime-changing peasant revolt. And the communist leadership is terrified that if it doesn't deliver more prosperity and equality, it will fall prey to an eighth.
Sunday, August 28, 2005
The 8th Rebellion
Interesting editorial in today's UK Guardian about the Chinese textile industry, rural poverty and the potential consequences of a trade war with the West over cheap Chinese exports. The part that interested me was not so much about the textile controversy as the following commentary about the nature of Chinese peasantry and what has and has not changed since 1949: