The Grievances of Chinese farmers—An Endless Story

Farmer, Photo by Hou Yimin

More than six decades after the end of feudalism in China, land-right still remains the number one problem facing Chinese farmers despite the Law implemented in 1990 articulate that “agricultural land must be formally contracted to farmers who will have limited but sufficient freedom on the using of the land, for a term of 30 years”.

Farmers’ rights to land are often trespassed by local authorities and real estate developers who often work in collusion to expropriate or purchase arable lands. In either case, farmers are given pathetically small amount of compensation.  In 2010, farmers in a Henan Province blocked a highway to protest against the bulldozing of a real estate developer after the real estate company sent seven trucks to pull down thousands of trees, destroyed 100 Mu (a Chinese measurement of land, 100 Mu = 6.7 hectares) of farmlands and injured five villagers

Another problem facing Chinese rural population are the profitability of farming. Food prices in China have soared over the past years, but the net profit of 1 Mu (670 sq. meters) of crops stays at RMB1, 000 ($166), whereas each farmer on average are contacted to 1.59 Mu (1000 sq. meters) of land— ½ to the amount of land owned by each farmer in India, 1/6 to US and 1/10 to Canada.  Scarce land and low profitability squeeze the annual income of farming to as low as $240.  Nevertheless, farmers in China are under constant exploitation from local authorities. It was reported earlier this month that  villagers in Gu County, Henan Province had been charged for using the rainwater to irrigate their lands since 2008; In 2010, a investigate news programs showed on the national channel (CCTV1) covered a story about a “silkworm egg fees” charged  by the  local authority in Ankang City, Shaanxi Province.

unwanted tomato rotten in field in Xi’an

Farmers’ economic conditions are often deteriorated by fluctuations in market demand and unexpected weather conditions due to ineffective forecasting tools, if there is any.  “Chinese farmers tend to grow vegetables that were previously in short supply, which then leads to a sudden glut of certain vegetables,”, says Dai, an industry insider, on China Daily. Just during this week, in  a farm in Xi’an, Shan Xi Province, 86 hectares (86000 sq. meter) of tomato harvests are left rotten in the fields,  despite the tomato growers’ attempt to sell them at RMB 0.4 Yuan (that is $6 cents) each kilograms .

But Chinese farmers’ grievances do not end here. Being distinguished by the household registration system, they are discriminated in almost every aspects of their life such as health care, pension, education, housing, etc. Certain parts of rural China are close to dangerous industrial waste damping sites which pose huge health risks. Without affordable health care, many of those who fall sick have to live with the diseases and disabilities, quietly waiting for the death to knock on their doors, a scene very much different from what Mao has once promised when he was starting the revolution from the rural China.

Feeling so difficult to make ends meet by farming, millions of farmers rush into the cities, trying to find jobs along factory lines, on construction fields or in service sectors. It is predicted that by 2020, the number of rural residents in China will tumble down to 280 million from 300 million in this year,[ii] but another report in 2011 predicts the decrease would be as big as 100 million[iii]. Those remained in rural China will be older and less mobile, and their life will be even harder.


[i] BBC, 2010. Chinese farmers block highway to protest against property developers. BBC Monitoring Asia Pacific , 15 Jan.

[ii] Cheng, Y.; Jin, Z; & Liu, C., 2012. Arable land idle in China as farmers work in cities. McClatchy – Tribune Business News, 27 Mar.

[iii] BBC , 2011,Over 100 million farmers to migrate to Chinese cities over next decade – report. BBC Monitoring Asia Pacific [London] , 10 Oct.


3 thoughts on “The Grievances of Chinese farmers—An Endless Story

  1. So sad. Really. I live in a very lucky country! So what’s being done to fix this? Can it be fixed or is it just another problem that gets dismissed? I mean charging someone for their rainwater (I’m assuming their own rainwater), which last time I checked rain falls from the sky which no one owns is ridiculous.

    • Yeah the central government is trying to put a ban on illicit taxation on farmers. But improvement has been slow, whereas public attention could only relieve the pain but would not remove the cause. Hopefully this would change in the future.

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