China's people's communes nearly replaced with more autonomous governments

China has replaced nearly all the people's communes and production brigades of Mao Tse-tung's era with local administrative governments, the official New China News Agency reported Sunday. Civil Affairs Minister Cui Naifu told a conference Saturday that since the replacement process began in October 1983, 75,870 township governments and 700,000 villagers' committees had been set up in the countryside, the agency said.

The report did not explain how many of the Maoist people's communes and production brigades are still functioning, but quoted Mr. Cui as saying, ``Efforts to establish township governments all over the country have almost been completed.''

The discarded system, in force since Mao's catastrophic ``Great Leap Forward'' campaign in 1958, had strictly controlled local politics, production, and administration.

Peasant families had been grouped together in production brigades, in which each member received the same renumeration regardless of how hard he worked. A group of production brigades constituted a people's commune.

Once such commune -- the village of Dazhai in Shanxi Province -- was held up by Mao as a pacesetter for his egalitarian policies. But in 1980, the leadership under Mao's successor, Deng Xiaoping, denounced the village and said the commune faked good harvest figures while some of its peasants went hungry.

In contrast, China's rural model for the 1980s -- Daqiu, near Tianjin -- has food-processing plants and mechanized farming. These have increased the village's output five-fold in the last six years. Per-capita income has risen from $36 to $714 a year, more than six times the national average.

Cui was quoted as saying the new township governments take care of administration and production plans.

The replacement structure is part of Deng's economic reforms, which have decollectivized the countryside and allowed peasant families to farm individually under the ``responsibility system.''

Overall peasant income has increased sharply as a result of the new system. The government admits, however, that some peasants are more wealthy than others, and at least 70 million peasants, 8 percent of the total, still live in extreme poverty.

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