Construction of a "new rural community" in Henan province.
Photo: Elena Meyer-Clement
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China’s political leadership has set out to “revitalise” the countryside and turn it into a pleasant place with “beautiful villages”. Only a decade ago, the leadership at the time had attempted something similar in the form of the large-scale “Building a New Socialist Countryside” programme. But China’s official vision of a rural modernisation based on fewer peasants and more industrialised agriculture has not changed. The question therefore remains whether rural regions and, above all, the rural population, are really going to benefit from the new policy.

China’s rapid urbanisation has not failed to leave its mark on the countryside. Over the past few decades, millions of people have left their villages to find work and a new life in the cities. Hundreds of thousands are still moving between the countryside and the city. Many villages have emptied out or are mainly inhabited by those who have been “left behind” in China’s migration movement: the elderly, the children and the disabled. Other villages have been swallowed up by the expanding cities – a process that has destroyed valuable farmland and left millions of peasants landless.

Run on rural construction land fuelling land conflicts

Mr Zhang (name changed) is a village party secretary in Henan province. In 2014, he led us through his tidy village just a few kilometres outside an economically ambitious county-city. The village seemed well-off. On the main road, people were meeting and talking, and children were playing.

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