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China's land reform aims to revolutionize 750 million lives

Beijing hopes the policy will improve farming and free peasants to seek a better livelihood.

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Beijing wants peasants to copy Zhang Xiaosui, who bought others’ land rights to have a larger, more efficient farm.

Peter Ford/The Christian Science Monitor

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Zhang Xiaosui is the very model of a modern Chinese peasant.

Farming a field 10 times larger than any of his neighbors' in this scruffy village in central China, he is on the front lines of a new government drive to transform Chinese agriculture, and with it the lives of 750 million country dwellers.

If the land reform announced last week works as officials hope it will, many peasants will emulate Mr. Zhang's effort to turn family plots into a modern farm, and help bang one of the last nails into the coffin of Mao Zedong's collectivist dream.

"I wanted to farm more land before, but I didn't have the opportunity," Zhang says, sitting in his comfortably appointed front room. "Now I can, because the government is starting to support my idea."

In what the official news agency Xinhua called a "landmark policy document," the ruling Communist Party's Central Committee agreed last weekend to allow small farmers to sell their right to till the land. The plan is designed to consolidate landholdings, encourage uneconomic farmers to seek other employment, and boost rural incomes.

The decision did not privatize agricultural land, which remains collective property. But "it marks a huge improvement in tenure security for farmers and contains many, many good points," says Li Ping, a lawyer with the Seattle-based Rural Development Institute, which advocates wider land rights for peasants. "This new policy is really, really good."

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