A Statement in Support of Chinese Farmers

1 Mar

I came across this statement from China Human Rights Lawyers. Though it was written in Mandarin, I thought it deserved a much wider readership. I have translated the document as I felt it shows the aspirations of rural workers and farmers in China, literally in their own words. This is an area which is rarely discussed or debated in mainstream media, especially from their own perspectives and perhaps, serve as a form of ‘charter’, much like the national ‘Charter 88’ penned by academics and intellectuals. 

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Returning Rights To Farmers by Curbing Authorised Powers – Modifying the three reforms and Eight Propositions in Agriculture

Posted on 20 February 2009 @ 3:06 p.m.
Signed by 11303 Chinese citizens and released by China Human Rights Lawyers

While China has become more prosperous and powerful after 3 decades of economic reforms, its morality and system has also similarly undergone a state of decay.

It can be summed up in 2008 that ‘previous ailments and new diseases’ have made the country more ‘sick’. The phenomenon of official corruption has reached a new zenith as standards of morality continue to plunge. Even as the government records enormous incoming profits, the wealth gap between the rich and poor has widened. While cities are flourishing, rural villages and its inhabiting farmers are getting poorer. It is apparent that those whom are most badly affected belong to the lower strata of society and most of them are farmers. To illustrate using a metaphor, China’s current dizzying heights of prowess is at risk of collapsing because of an eroding foundation. This support base is made up of the country’s lowest of the low: the rural villages. When these villages are held back from the fruits of progress, farmers become poorer and the agricultural industry is in great peril. Therefore, we need to refocus our energy on them. Wealth needs to be re-directed to the bottom of society. Farm wages have to increase to close the wealth gap. By increasing farmer’s purchasing power, coupled with measures to eradicate corruption, societal conflicts will also be reduced, thereby promoting China’s rural heritage. The result will be a prosperous revival of nationhood as official powers are curbed and the poor are rescued from dire straits. The current economic, societal and political crisis is a window of opportunity for change and we are proposing further reforms in the agriculture sector. These recommendations are driven by our fear over China’s well-being as well as aiming at improving our own status.

An analysis of the ‘three reforms in agriculture’ which have been implemented over the years have shown both progress and setbacks. In terms of the former, changes in governance style have tilted towards an increasing concern on citizen’s livelihood. They are seen in measures such as the exemption of farm tax, grain subsidies, voluntary and free education and other pro-agricultural related policies. The problems, on the other hand, are compounded in the forms of enclosure movements, abandonment of agricultural land, environmental pollution, lack of retirement services, high unemployment and other related issues. These problems are a dilemma since most of the current increase of agricultural wealth is achieved by overdrawing its limited resources. In predicting the future of ‘three reforms’, we come to the conclusion that there exist opportunities and challenges. On our side is a government that has become more aware of these problems. As society becomes increasingly vocal, farmers would naturally demand their rights, spurred on by the financial and other crises, indirectly stimulating more reforms. The challenges would also present itself as the economic crisis unfolds. The business sector and bureaucrats would collaborate to promote their own interest at the expense of others. The inflexibility of top-down legislations would mean farmers continue being passive agents. Various symptoms have indicated that the ‘three reforms’ is at a crucial juncture for farmer’s livelihood, political stability and the country’s prosperity. We believe that the three keys to further reforms lie with restricting authorised power, returning rights to farmers and redistributing wealth to farmers.

Since governmental departments have the authority to effect changes, we are urging them to undertake this responsibility. Besides continuing the beneficial policies such as agricultural tax exemptions, grain subsidies, voluntary and free education, and free medical services, we have also devised an additional eight propositions. They are:

1.    to treat farmers as equals. Farmers should be treated as equals, in comparison with their urban counterparts when it comes to employment, social benefits and education e.t.c. We urge the authorities to remove legislation restricting the movement of farmers and the repeal of the household registry system. Such measures would ensure that rural and urban workers be treated with equal respect and have the same status and rights.

2.    to promote agricultural democracy. No individual or organisation has the right to control rural elections. The government cannot nominate nor change any rural officials. The agricultural department cannot interfere in the affairs of the rural committee. Having these elections would mean farmers elect their own town chairperson, regional and provincial chairperson as well as general representatives to the country’s general representative meeting. This would mean greater autonomy for rural towns, thereby making the local governments more accountable to its electorate.

3.    strengthening agriculture by giving farmers self-rule. Autonomy in rural areas provides an indispensable mean for farmers to be educated of their rights and responsibilities, thereby promoting civicness. We urge the central government to smoothen rural development by devolving their authority to provinces or rural towns. This will attract talents to become rooted to these rural areas. Agricultural villages will become the epitome of China’s economic, societal and religious progress, halting the reversal of its brain drain and bankruptcy.

4.    to co-operate in providing aid to the agricultural sector. Farmer’s medical care, aid, social net and their emotional, spiritual and cultural needs can only be met by its own interest groups. Farmer’s rights and decisions can only be best expressed through these groups. As such, we hope the government would protect the right of freedom of organisation for farmers and respect their wishes in forming agricultural societies which may represent their various interests from religion to cultural arts, economic co-op and joint- venture e.t.c.

5.    to return leases to farmers. We believe that returning land rights to farmers is the fundamental of all reforms and the starting point. This acts as a protection against land seizures, control, use, harvest rights, and misappropriation, especially those perpetuated by corporations.

6.    respecting farmers as a principle in governance. We urge the government to direct more funds towards farmers’ medical and social benefits, education, grain subsidies and other security nets. Improvements should also be made to improve their living conditions in the city, as well as to allow them to stay in these areas. We call on the abolishing of the land requisitioning system. Any forms of land requisition, land taking over for use, sale and resale needs the approval of farmers. Any excuse, including public interest cannot be used as a cover to repossess or coerce farmers out of their land.

7.    using the judiciary to protect farmers. We urge the central government to pass laws which will protect farmers in the judiciary. The peoples’ court has to accept cases in regards to land repossession, land transfer, local elections, farmers’ rights to freedom of organisation and to severely deal with criminal behaviour that harms the interests of farmers. The police force, military and other security forces cannot be mobilised to suppress rural protests.

8.    using market to improve the wealth of farmers. We appeal to the authorities to ensure that farmers are allowed to fix their own prices and to remove limits on their grain prices. Before farmers are allowed to form their own organisations, the law shall prohibit price-fixing practices in regards to land sales. They should also build infrastructure to facilitate the penetration of agricultural products into markets and provide more funds for entrepreneurial farmers.

The ‘three reforms’ is a form of social engineering task which seeks to change the system by limiting authorised power and extending private property rights. It needs the support from government and autonomy of citizens. While it requires economic continuity, it is also about re-building society. It is concerned with nationhood and respecting the traditions of rural heritage. Therefore, having private property rights alone by itself cannot protect farmers. Unrestrained authorised power can harm farmers. It requires the enactment of just laws and democratic participation. Similarly, giving farmers petty handouts will not improve their well-being. They need to be treated as equal citizens and be prevented from unfair discrimination. Henceforth, the eight propositions need to be implemented as a whole. Missing any component in this reform will not lead to the desired outcome.

We appeal to the central government and bureaucrats to respect farmers and to devolve their decision making powers to the latter. This will require the abandonment of the government’s parenting behaviour and short-sighted focus on GDP indicators, and ultimately, changing their prescribed roles. The government should do what is expected of them, which is to manage well the administration of affairs, properly utilise the taxes and incomes, subsidise and provide financial aid to farmers and other related policies. They should refrain from interfering in the affairs of the farmers and their interest groups. Laws have to be changed to regulate the markets. The judiciary needs to be impartial and circumscribe the harm done by authorities, officials, corporations and local governments.

We ask the farmers to treasure the land and stand up for their rights by actively participating in the process of governmental decisions by monitoring the actions of authorities, participating in grassroots elections, and looking into means to self-rule. When our rights are violated,  we should fight for them, as if we are, doing the same, for our constitution so that we can contribute to the promotion of China’s democracy.

We appeal to corporations and capitalists CEOs to refrain from collaborating with officials to hurt the interests of farmers. We believe that the proceeds from agricultural products and the benefits of land capitalistic use should be given and redistributed to farmers. The best form of aid for farmers is not to think of farmers as agricultural workers or the agricultural sector as assembly plants. Instead, market capital should be used to finance agriculture which supports farmers in helping them find more potential for their villages.

If a people is poor, the country will not be strong. If the agricultural sector is unstable, the nation will not be either. If farmers are poor, villages are backwards, and agriculture is in shambles when we are prosperous, the support base is at its most weakest. As the global economic crisis spreads, the predicament of the bottom rung of society is most affected. The current long period of agricultural poverty is history’s debt to these people. The reforms and propositions that we have called for merely acts to revalidate the equal status that farmers have been deprived of. Removing the mountains of repression and supporting agricultural reforms is the way to improve the livelihoods of farmers. To treat farmers as equals and to endow them with freedoms, long due respect and other basic rights is to love and honour them. Support farmers and their rights to self- rule, self-discipline, mutual help and participation in politics is to realise the path towards the resurgence of Chinese nationhood edging towards greater democracy. We sincerely believe that the above eight propositions will lead to the new dawn of a vision of free, peaceful and happy rural villages. We have reason to believe that autonomous, independent and strong new rural villages will make China a more prosperous, stable, wealthy and harmonious nation.

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