Guest post by Graciela Rodriguez| Representative of REBRIP
Between November 4 and 10, 2014, at the invitation of GCAP China (Global Call to Action against Poverty and Inequalities – China), Graciela Rodriguez was in Beijing and Wuhan. Check out her impressions of the visit.
This is the first of two posts on Graciela´s Experience in China!
I participated in the visit as a representative of the Brazilian Network for the Integration of Peoples (REBRIP). Nikmah, a member of the International Forum on Indonesian Development (INFID), was also invited for the visit and we shared many intense hours and moments of camaraderie.We were there for 6 days and, during this time, we made various visits to research organizations as well as civil rights advocacy organizations, especially in the area of education.We had the opportunity to visit a very interesting Migrant Workers Museum on the outskirts of the city – whose surrounding area we also got to know –, we participated in a workshop (in the city of Wuhang), with various organizations from different cities and from the interior of the country, in addition to very revealing meetings and conversations with Oxfam and GCAP staff and with feminist activists, all this helping forge closer ties with these organizations and with all those in China who dedicate themselves to social work and militant activism.The visit also contributed to a better understanding of the Chinese society, something still distant and somewhat unknown to the Western world.
It is not an easy task to cover the trip to China briefly.Perhaps the word that spontaneously comes to mind and best describes it is “amazing”.Everything in China is impressive; from the grandeur of the whole – starting with population size or the Great Wall made up of 20,000 km, built over the course of 2,000 years – to the numerous signs of an ancient history, the grandeur of its cities, the seemingly infinite number of buildings under construction…. in short, everything is impressive!
Also trying to understand the deep process of change underway in recent years, bringing us the feeling of a unique and amazing moment and situation.Since the beginning of the industrialization process led by Mao during the communist era and later, after his death and the execution of the Gang of Four in 1976, which led to the well-known turning point and opening of the Chinese market, we have witnessed spectacular economic growth without comparison in the history of humanity, involving more than one billion people.
This also involving an unheard-of economic model that mixes market capitalism and a one-party political system, as well as an economy centralized by the state, which controls every aspect of people’s life, even the most minute.This model has been undergoing a massive change since the 1990s, opening up to foreign investment on a large scale – even though directed and under strong control – and that still continues to experience significant changes.
The rapprochement with Russia and the BRICs in general, the recent signing of free trade agreements with Korea and Australia, and the increase of China’s leading role in Southeast Asia – through the presence of Chinese banks and large investments, together with the efforts to create a regional monetary agreement – are generating a global and regional geopolitical turnaround.
In this context, more changes are predicted, which will certainly have serious political and economic consequences.I think that the first to be mentioned is the adoption of a comprehensive agrarian reform in the Chinese countryside to lead to a larger concentration of land, considered, in the last years, as more appropriate for increased large scale production, in order to ensure food sovereignty itself for the country.This may result in more profound and even unpredictable changes.
In order for us to better understand this process, it is important to remember that China today uses a particular system that divides the population into rural and urban dwellers.Due to increasing industrialization, internal migration has been enormous in the last decades.Initially, workers moved to cities, but their families stayed in the rural areas, thus maintaining ownership of family plots of land.Every extended holiday and at year’s end they returned home with savings from their work in the city.But, and despite their stay in the city, they kept their rural status through an identity card called hukou, which kept the link with their place of origin.
However, with the gradual advance of globalized industrialization, and lower and lower income, workers were pushed to live in the cities, and thus they began to reside permanently on city outskirts (this was a long and complex political process that entailed many social conflicts).
This discriminatory policy was clearly perpetuated as a way to keep the workers in a situation of social inequality, which ended up helping to maintain extremely low Chinese wages.In turn, maintenance of rural property – even if it is in extensive areas with a countless number of small farms – made it possible to keep a large part of the population in the countryside, without increasing even further the very bad conditions of access to public services in cities. Even today there is no land market in China, and ownership of land for agriculture continues to be entirely in state hands, organized in its majority in “family held” plots of land.
Notwithstanding, despite moving to the city, their rural status and documents did not undergo any change, and they and their children continue to keep their rural identity, thus becoming internal migrants and, in a way, “second class” citizens, since the identity provided by the hukou prevents them from having access to city services they would enjoy if they were in their areas of origin (to which they always have to return in order to update their documents, thus being trapped by this mechanism).
Therefore, each day, government is called upon more and more to get involved and solve the rural issue, putting the need for a new agrarian reform program on the political agenda.This seems to be one of the most important programs being planned for implementation in the short term.At the same time, the need to eliminate the mechanism that differentiates rural and urban citizens (the hukou) is clear, notwithstanding the fact that it has been made more flexible in various ways.
This process is being dubbed the “third agrarian reform,” although it is a reverse agrarian reform, since, in fact, it has strengthened the longstanding process of excluding peasants from the countryside, perhaps this time in a quicker and more concentrated manner, given China’s urgent need to increase food production.