A new "revolution" is underway at Xiaogang Village, the cradle of China's rural reform in eastern Anhui Province.
In contrast to the division of the village's farmland among individual households some 30 years ago, the farmland will be pooled again to create a more efficient economy.
After nearly two months of deliberation and talks, an overwhelming majority of the 108 families at Xiaogang have agreed with the village committee's plan to establish a new type of cooperative.
Under the scheme, the 93 hectares of farmland that had been allocated to the village will be leased to an animal and poultry breeding company based in Shanghai at 7,500 yuan (about 940 US dollars) per hectare. The company will build a pig-breeding base on the land, and villagers will obtain dividends from the business. Some of the villagers may also get a job at the company for a monthly salary of 600 yuan (about 75 U.S. dollars).
Supporters of the plan believe that rather than being a throwback to a planned economy, it will be a development of the contract system initiated 28 years ago.
On one night in Nov. 1978, 18 villagers at Xiaogang risked their lives to sign a secret agreement which divided the then People's Commune-owned farmlands into pieces for each family to cultivate.
The practice was supported by Deng Xiaoping, chief architect of China's reform and opening to the outside world, and recognized by the Chinese government. Xiaogang has since been seen as the pace-setter of the nation's rural reform.
Allocating farmland to each household fired the locals' enthusiasm for agriculture production, which had been contained in the outmoded planned economy. The ensuing 1980s became a primary period for development in China's rural areas, which once outperformed their urban peers.
However, since 1990, rural areas have gradually lost their lustre, along with flows of large amounts of resources, including labor force, land and funds, to the cities.
Zhang Deyuan, an expert on rural issues from Anhui Province, said, "The land division and contract system did help release production forces, yet farming individually will not grant the farmers a prosperous life."
Independent operation does not allow rural farmers to become active players in a market-oriented economy, said He Kaiyin, another expert on rural problems from Anhui. Like Xiaogang, many villages across China have managed to make ends meet but are still incapable of getting wealthy, .
He said, "The new-countryside scheme China has adopted for the 2006-2010 period firstly targets increases in farmer's income. To attain the goal under the market economy, farmers should combine forces."
Yan Junchang, one of the 18 villagers who signed the landmark secret agreement on land division back in 1978, has agreed to lease his farmland to the animal and poultry breeding company.
"The move, like the former land contract system, aims to furrow a new path towards a wealthier life," Yan said.
According to He Kaiyin, the land lease is a kind of sub-contract practice which still retains farmers' rights to their land.
Yan Deyou, head of the village committee of Xiaogang, said, "After the breeding company's lease term expires, the land will be returned to the villagers."
Nevertheless, there are still some locals who do not approve of the land-leasing scheme.
Duan Yongxia, the 58-year-old wife of Yan Hongchang, who was also among the 18 pioneers of 1978, explained, "If the breeding company fails, how will farming be resumed on the land after the irrigation system had been destroyed for its business?"
Shen Hao, the party leader of the village, however, was confident about the company's future.
He predicted that the village, with a total population of 476, will realize a per-capita income of 6,000 yuan (some 740 U.S. dollars) this year, as against the year-earlier level of 4,000 yuan (493 U.S. dollars).
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, the per-capita income of farmers in China stood at 3,255 yuan (about 400 U.S. dollars) last year.