Peking has ordered a major shift in farm policy and expressed sympathy for peasant protests as the post-Mao government begins to address the largely unsolved problems of the vast Chinese countryside.
In a landmark policy change affecting 750 million Chinese peasants, an editorial in yesterday's official People's Daily released here today indicted China had given up a much publicized effort to mechanize all grain production in favor of producing more money-making crops in a few areas.
Although the new policy seemed unlikely to solve the food crisis facing some parts of the country, the editorial followed a Communist Party statement last week responding warmly to demonstrations against hunger and persecution conducted by hundreds of ragged peasants coming to Peking.
"The majority of those who have come to Peking to lodge complaints with the central authorities are good people.It is necessary to heed their complaints and help them solve their problems," said party Chairman Hua Kuo-feng, who was the target of some of the demonstrations last month outside the compound for high party officials in the center of the city.
A French correspondent in Peking reported that eight peasants had died since coming to Peking, apparently because of the effects of cold and disease and, in many cases, advanced age. Many protested not only hard conditions in the countryside but also persecution by the party because of political crimes they allegedly had committed years before.
The People's Daily said Jan. 27 that peasants should be allowed to "speak their minds" but that "the number of people pouring into Peking is increasing daily" and in "the dead of winter... there are grave difficulties in providing them with food and accommodation."
Local officials were told to see to the peasants' problems so they would not have to come to Peking. The announcement seemed to fit with another major move announced by the party last week to end discrimination against the social classes that have been labeled public enemies since 1949: "Landlords, rich peasants, counter-revolutionaries and bad elements."
The party announcement said members of such groups and their offspring who supported the government would no longer have to identify themselves with the odious labels. It said the party Central Committee had ordered an end to discrimination against them in "school enrollment, job allocation, joining the army, the Communist Youth League and the party," the key avenues to success in modern Chinese society. It is expected that former members of these "black classes" will still find themselves at a disadvantage in Chinese society despite the edict, just as blacks in American society suffered discrimination even after the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Yesterday's People's Daily editorial appeared to cancel a nationwide campaign to achieve basic farm mechanization by 1980 that had been closely associated with party chairman Hua. Foreign analysts had predicted that the target of 85 percent mechanization by 1980 would prove difficult to achieve.
The editorial said the government would now "concentrate on building modern mechanized production bases in crop farming, forestry, animal husbandry and fisheries." These pilot areas will apparently supply food to large cities, the focus of China's modernization campaign and a source of high profits for rural suppliers. Farm communities outside the pilot areas may continue to mechanize their work, but "according to local conditions and in the spirit of self-reliance, efforts must be made to obtain greater and quicker results with less money."
While Hua's overall mechanization program was dropped, his name was given great prominence in the announcement of aid for distressed peasants.The announcement indicated agricultural policy was not fixed, and perhaps was the source of some debate. It said, "There are problems concerning major policies, especially economic policies, which cannot be solved right away..."
The government that has followed the late chairman Mao Tse-tung, now inspired by Vice Premier Teng Hsiaoping, has begun to emphasize increased rewards to peasants who produce the most. This leaves peasants living in areas with poor weather or soil in a difficult situation and debate over this matter seems to be under way.
People's Daily recently sympathized with peasant leaders who have not moved quickly to support the new policies out of fear that they are "expediency measures" and that the past, in which "rural policies have changed too often" might repeat itself.