AMAC Exclusive – By Ben Solis
Chinese President Xi Jinping’s revival of Maoist agricultural policies could soon spell disaster for the world’s second-most populous country.
Last month, on Chinese Youth Day, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) state media published a response from Xi to a letter written by students at the China Agricultural University. In it, Xi calls on students to “go deep into the fields and villages to seek hardships and cultivate a love for farmers as well as the ability to promote agriculture, contributing on the big stage of rural revitalization.”
That call echoed the words of Xi’s most notorious predecessor, Mao Zedong, who similarly believed the Party should dispatch Chinese youth to the countryside. “Youth should seek hardships to master themselves,” Mao once declared.
Notably, Xi’s letter comes as China faces an unprecedented crisis of youth unemployment. The jobless rate for young people recently topped 20 percent, and is expected to grow in the months ahead.
Around 11.5 million more students are expected to graduate from Chinese universities this year. Most of them face dim job prospects amid a continued slowdown of China’s economy.
Western media outlets have reported that the jobless rate inside China is high, but most have failed to make the connection between the economic struggles and Xi’s commitment to communist ideology – or how Xi’s remedy of flooding the countryside with CCP zealots will likely prove catastrophic.
Like Mao during the Cultural Revolution, Xi is pushing a new program of “agricultural management.” In practice, this means hundreds of thousands of party bureaucrats or simply average job seekers turned into state-sanctioned “agriculture managers” (effectively rural “enforcers” for the CCP) descending on villages and small towns – a nightmare scenario for farmers.
These enforcers have already sowed resentment and chaos in rural communities. In one instance from earlier this year that went viral on Chinese social media, agricultural managers threatened to uproot backyard fruit and vegetable plots as part of a rural “beautification” campaign.
“Due to the need to create a civilized environment, the planting of climbing vegetables like beans or melons and squashes in front and backyards is strictly forbidden,” a notice placed in a village near the northern city of Xian said. Amid severe backlash, the local CCP committee was forced to reverse course.
But this was only one example of the arbitrary and capricious new restrictions imposed by Xi’s army of rural enforcers. Another policy as part of the “rural beautification” campaign bans farmers from tying ropes to trees in front of their houses to dry quilts, since “they spoil the view.”
According to some reports, if a farmer kills a pig without first asking the local CCP manager’s permission, it can result in beatings and a fine of three months’ wages. Meanwhile, party officials often steal livestock to sell on the black market.
Critics of the new policies have warned that Xi risks repeating the same mistakes as previous Chinese leaders that led to mass famine and social unrest, pointing to three particularly alarming aspects of this round of “reforms.”
The first is the massive influx of people out of the cities and into the countryside – a reversal of the population migration issues seen under Deng Xiaoping. During the last round of societal “reorganization,” when CCP officials pressured peasants to relocate to cities, urban areas were woefully unprepared for the sudden influx of residents.
As a result, chaos reigned in cities and open conflict broke out between the agricultural managers and real estate firms in the urban areas who could not absorb the waves of new residents.
Now, Xi’s reforms have caused clashes in rural villages as they are unable to receive the children and grandchildren of farmers who immigrated to cities decades ago.
A second source of brewing conflict has been revelations that most of the rural enforcers are former “White Guards” – the name given to the hordes of police officers and CCP volunteers who enforced the government’s draconian COVID-19 policies, often through threats and physical violence.
According to dozens of reports, including Chinese citizens who have fled to Taiwan, 5,000 former White Guards are now in Hubei Province armed with electric batons and pistols to crack down on any dissent from the new policies. Simmering resentment from COVID lockdowns, which led many Chinese to die from secondary illnesses and even starvation, is now spilling over into opposition to the new agricultural policies.
Thirdly, critics have argued that, just like Mao, Xi is pillaging the agricultural class in an attempt to offset his errors in other areas. Specifically, Xi’s over-taxation and state takeover of private enterprises have dashed economic growth and job prospects for young people. Now, Xi is forcing farmers to carry this burden.
Dr. Song Yongyi, a former Red Guard and follower of Mao who is now a professor at the University of California specializing in the Cultural Revolution, has warned that Xi’s policies have placed China in serious danger of a repeat of the suffering seen during the Cultural Revolution. The Great Famine that resulted from Mao’s farming “reforms” led to millions of deaths – estimates vary greatly between 15 million and 55 million.
Dr. Song has also pointed out how Mao’s reforms, which Xi appears to be repeating, stirred enormous hatred among the Chinese people, leading to open class warfare. In at least one horrifying instance Dr. Song has spoken about, revolutionaries inspired by “class war” ate other people’s hearts and livers, convinced it would prolong their own lives.
Many of the terrors of the Cultural Revolution stemmed first from Mao’s devastating failures in China’s agricultural sector. Now, Xi seems determined to make the same mistakes.
Ben Solis is the pen name of an international affairs journalist, historian, and researcher.