People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 40

October 06, 2013








Spectacular Progress, Formidable Challenges – (4)


Ashok Dhawale


THE fourth aspect that we tried to understand during our visit was the massive urbanisation drive. China’s urbanisation rate increased from 17.92 per cent in 1978 to 52.57 per cent in 2012, an annual growth of 1 per cent. This is a scale unprecedented in human history. Its urban population today is nearly 700 million. China had 262.61 million migrant workers by the end of 2012, about a fifth of its total population. More than 10 million people come from the villages to the cities each year. The UNDP has forecast that by 2025 the proportion of China's population living in cities will rise to 70 per cent, resulting in an additional 310 million new city dwellers. Its cities will then house a population of one billion.


The new Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has said, “Urbanisation is a complex and big project that will trigger profound changes in economy and society. It needs to be supported by integrated reforms in many different areas. It also offers huge potential for long-term domestic demand. Of the people living in the countryside, more than 100 million are set to be absorbed into cities over the next decade or so. There will be many difficulties, but it is what we must accomplish in order to narrow the urban-rural gap. Urbanisation will unleash enormous consumption and investment demand and will create many job opportunities. It is also the aspiration of rural residents. More directly, it can enrich farmers and benefit the nation. What we stress is a new type that puts the people at its heart. It needs massive job creation and provision of services.”


There are three distinctive features of this urbanisation drive. The first is that it is accompanied by a rapid drive for industrialisation, as a result of which a large number of jobs are created. In 2011 a historic high of 12.21 million new urban jobs were created in China. The second is that there is not a single slum to be seen anywhere. This is indeed the most unique and welcome characteristic of the urbanisation drive in China, which has absolutely no parallel in the developing world today. And the third is that it is consciously accompanied by the expansion of social welfare services, an aspect that we shall see later.


As a result of these three features, urban per capita annual disposable income and rural per capita annual net income for the year 2011 were 21,810 yuan and 6977 yuan respectively, showing an increase of 8.4 per cent and 11.4 per cent. (One yuan equals eleven rupees and six yuan equals one dollar).


Although the minimum wage of industrial workers varied from 1500 to 1700 yuan per month, most of the non-migrant workers generally got over 2000 yuan per month. The wage of government servants was around 3000 to 5000 yuan per month and that of college and university teachers was also around 4000 to 5000 yuan per month. However, the latter two categories had some perquisites like concessions in house rent, extra allowances etc. But the wages of private sector workers and managers were generally higher than the above categories.


R Ramakumar of TISS, Mumbai, who had been to China recently in an academic delegation, says, “Over 50 per cent of the Chinese population lives in urban areas. In 2011, more people lived in China’s cities than in its villages for the first time. China has carefully followed a path of ‘urbanisation of the countryside’. This refers to in situ urbanisation of rural areas, by extending diversification of incomes and changing the spatial pattern of settlements. The important advantage of this planned shift, according to the Chinese leadership, is its potential to reduce rural to urban migration by disincentivising migration.”




The fifth aspect that we witnessed all through our visit was that concerted efforts were being made to extend social welfare programmes to the people in a very big way. We saw in the various community centres that special care was taken of the elderly people and also of women and children. Several initiatives were being taken in spheres like education, employment, medical and health care and for extending the social safety net like pensions and insurance.


One salient feature of the Chinese social welfare programme was the raising of the poverty line by the Chinese government to 2300 yuan per month  in 2011, which marked an increase of 92 per cent over 2009 (see the official publication China: Facts and Figures 2012 , page 92). With this many more low-income people were covered by the government’s poverty reduction programmes.


China Daily on August 26, 2013 reported that the financial aid that Chinese college students received from the government rose from 27.29 billion yuan in 2007 to 54.78 billion yuan in 2012. The total financial aid that all students from KG to PG received in 2012 touched 112.6 billion yuan. More than 84 million students received this financial aid. In 2009, the government began a large-scale healthcare provision initiative that will cover 90 per cent of China's population.


Millions of people in both urban and rural areas were covered by the urban basic pension, the rural old-age insurance, basic health insurance, unemployment insurance, maternity insurance, living allowance and so on.




The sixth vital issue related to the social sector is the question of the status of women and of minorities in China. We tried to study this aspect carefully.


Feudalism was crushed in China with the success of the Revolution and this led to a qualitative and radical improvement in the status of women. The socialist road traversed by China further fortified this improvement. We saw women everywhere in the forefront of educational, economic, productive and social activity. A large network of crèches looked after the children when their mothers were at work. There appeared to be no gender prejudice against women who, we were told, were given equal pay for equal work. When we asked about atrocities against women, we were told that these were very rare indeed because of the high socio-economic status enjoyed by women under socialism.


The one-child norm was generally followed in the cities, but there were cases where it was broken and consequently fines were paid to the government. The norm had been relaxed somewhat in the countryside, where couples having two children were a common occurrence. However, divorce rates were increasing.


But the Chinese comrades frankly admitted that so far as political participation of women in Party committees and in elected or administrative bodies was concerned, China still had a very long way to go. They said that the Communist Party had made it a rule to see that at least one or two women were represented in these bodies at each level. When we told them that in all the urban and rural local body elections in India half the seats were reserved for women, they readily conceded that India was ahead of them in this respect.


So far as minorities are concerned, China pays special attention to its 55 different ethnic minorities. There are autonomous regions, areas and districts for these minorities, and special financial provisions for their uplift are regularly made by the central government. We saw this especially in the backward Gansu province that we visited. It has several ethnic and religious minority groups, including Muslims. We saw several well-preserved mosques, Buddhist temples and a large statue of Lao Tse, the founder of the indigenous Tao religion of China – all these in or near Lanzhou in Gansu province.




The seventh aspect that struck us during our visit was the key role of the Communist Party of China (CPC) as the leader and co-ordinator of all major activities in the country. In every place that we visited, there invariably was a functioning Party committee. Judging by our brief interactions with them, it was evident that the Party functionaries were generally sincere, honest, hard-working and motivated by the ideal of service. Among them and also among the people at large, we found a high sense of discipline, cleanliness and patriotism.


There was affection for us as citizens of India, which they referred to as a great neighbouring country, with as ancient a history, culture and civilisation as their own. We saw a sincere desire everywhere for better relations between India and China. And in their Party circles there was a special regard for the CPI(M).


A characteristic of their Party structure at all levels from the province downwards is that at every level there is a Party committee which, at the higher levels elects a standing committee of 7 to 11 members that takes collective decisions. There is a Party secretary at the top of the hierarchy, who is in charge of, and responsible for, everything in the area under his jurisdiction. He is helped by two deputy secretaries. The first deputy secretary is the administrative head (for example, governor of a province or an equivalent post at the lower level) and the second deputy secretary is in charge of Party affairs. Hence there is a close and inseparable connection between the Party and the administration. All Party functionaries are elected at Party conferences once every five years.


Parallel to this is the system of People’s Congresses from the National People’s Congress downwards. Currently the representatives to the local Congress at the village and town level are directly elected by the people in a multi-candidate (not multi-Party, as we know it) election. In some places, non-CPC candidates – of the eight other small democratic parties or even independents – are elected at the lower levels. For instance, in the Dongmen village of Gansu province that we visited, the elected administrative head was a popular non-CPC person. Representatives to the higher People’s Congresses are indirectly elected by the people’s representatives at the lower levels. At a third parallel level is the strict Central Commission for Discipline Inspection of the Party, Ministry of Supervision of the State, and the various Courts and judiciary.


(To be continued)