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Chinese rich farmers don't have to till the soil

2011-06-22 10:12    Shanghai Daily     Web Editor: Li Heng

Life is so good in some of Shanghai's rural suburbs that many rich farmers don't farm anymore, they enjoy new houses and hold shares in collectively owned projects.

Fifty-year-old Chen Baokang, a farmer in Lianming Village, hasn't had to plant grain, cotton and vegetables since 2000. He rents out his two-story house, earns dividends on a collectively owned project and receives various local government subsidies. And he works for the village's Party committee.

"I ride an electric bike to work, but that doesn't mean I can't afford to buy a car - I just don't think it necessary," Chen says.

He bought a 100-square-meter apartment in Jiuting, Songjiang District in western Shanghai, and rents out his old 180-square-meter residence in the village.

Chen is one of many success stories in Lianming Village of around 2,200 people that owes its prosperity to the Party's policies of reform and opening up. It is the third largest of nine villages in Qibao Town of Minhang District. All are prospering and Lianming isn't the richest.

And there are quite a few "Lianming Villages" in Songjiang District and elsewhere in the Shanghai suburbs.

Chen - and all the other farmers interviewed - decline to reveal their income. But they are known as "rich farmers" because of their land and are financially better off than many city dwellers.

From 1990 to 2000 Chen gradually lost his 3-mu (about 1,998 square meters) of farmland to urban sprawl. He got a 15-year pension subsidy from the local government, which means he doesn't need to pour his own money into his pension fund for 15 years.

His livelihood has improved significantly over the decades.

"I made a living by farming for about 30 years, and great changes have taken place in my life over the decades thanks to the reform and opening-up policy."

In the 1990s, Chen started selling his fruits and vegetables, a capitalist practice that was not allowed during the years of the planned economy. In 2000, he bought his home (non-subsidized) in Jiuting.

He has a stable income and steady profits.

Despite the rent and his income, he gets around 10,000 yuan (US$1,538) in subsidies from the district government every year, including a 2,400-yuan subsidy of utility costs and a 4,000-yuan subsidy of property management fees.

In 1980, he earned around 800 yuan and it was hard to make ends meet.

The change has been dramatic.

"I live well and my housing and income have improved greatly over the decades. I feel happy and satisfied," he says with a big smile.

Chen is not the richest person in the village. Others with larger houses than his received more compensation when they had to make way for urban progress. They usually received three or four apartments totaling about 260 square meters on average. Around 40-50 percent of the villagers own at least one car.

The per capita disposable income of farmers in the village averages more than 20,000 yuan a year.

Chen is also one of the beneficiaries of - in fact, a shareholder in - the Lianmingyayuan project on collectively owned land. The polluting factory on the site was closed down and residents pooled their money for a new housing project for white-collar professionals from outside of Shanghai.

In 2008, 608 households invested 150,000 yuan each for its construction. They were promised a 7-percent return on their money every year, to be paid out of rents and other income-producing properties controlled by the village.

Yang Zhirong, Party secretary of the village, says residents came up with the idea of funding the project themselves. It cost 93 million yuan.

"The village is not rich, and we had planned to apply for bank loans at first," Yang explains. "But then the villagers said they could provide the money."

The plan was unanimously approved as a good way to make efficient use of excess land and give villagers some investment income, Yang says.