China's entrepreneurs: keeping 'leftism' down on the farm

A grape grower in Shandong Province makes 17,000 yuan ($8,500 US) a year raising and selling grapes.

A forester in Hubei earns more than 1,000 yuan per family member by selling saplings and forest products.

An orchardist in Yunnan expects to make 2,300 yuan for each of his 17 employees next year harvesting bananas, pineapples, lichees and other tropical fruit.

These examples, culled from recent issues of the People's Daily, the official Communist Party newspaper, show the Chinese leadership's interest in encouraging individual enterprise and initiative in rural areas. The point these articles are trying to get across is that such enterprise and initiative deserves a fair reward.

But there are also problems. All three individuals mentioned were accused by some local officials and neighbors of using collective land to amass riches for themselves, or of exploiting the labor of others. The forester, Chen Qiyan, was so discouraged that he decided to give up forestry and go back to growing grain and oil-bearing crops, as do most of his neighbors.

One of the major purposes of the 12th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in September was to assure China's 800 million peasants that the economic incentives policy was here to stay. The party wanted to show that the ''leftist'' errors of the Cultural Revolution period (officially from 1966 to 1976) - notably the equal distribution of wealth and branding of farmers who tried to make more money than others as ''captialist roaders'' - would never be repeated.

China's leaders - Deng Xiaoping, Hu Yaobang, and Zhao Ziyang - have frequently made statements to this effect. But implementation still meets with resistance from local officials who are more comfortable with the philosophy of ''let everyone eat from the same rice pot'' - of no one working harder or earning more than anyone else.

The grape farmer, Song Zeming, came from a family that had raised grapes for generations. During the Cultural Revolution Mr. Song's father was allowed to raise grapes only on his tiny private plot. When he sold the grapes for more than 1,000 yuan, he was promptly called a ''typical case of capitalist tendencies'' and his vines were all uprooted.

Mr. Song, however, has revived his family's grape-growing tradition under the new policy that allows households with special skills to make contracts with their commune to manage a particular tract of land and to do as they like with whatever they grow that exceeds the contracted amount. Mr. Song has 11 people in his household, six of whom are of working age. Last year their income totaled 17 ,000 yuan or nearly 3,000 yuan per worker. (The average industrial wage in China is about 720 yuan a year.)

Zhao Zhigang, the orchardist, showed enterprise also. In October 1981 at the age of 40, he resigned his carpenter job with a construction company and applied to start a large fruit farm on a tract of wasteland. The fruit farm was organized as a collective, and Mr. Zhao hired 17 young people, almost all junior high or high school graduates who, as the euphemism goes, were ''waiting for jobs.''

Already this year the orchard has produced some income. Next year will be the first full harvest year, with a total estimated income of 58,000 yuan, the average production per worker being worth about 2,300 yuan. But since the collective was started with borrowed funds, local tongues have accused Mr. Zhao of ''using state funds to hire workers and run a farm.''

Mr. Zhao was asked to hand over the farm to a commune, or to a abandon it. At this point a certain unnamed central party leader entered the picture, saying: ''I definitely support this comrade's action. If the broad masses of the youth awaiting jobs could have similar work, that would be splendid.''

Thus Mr. Zhao's farm was saved. Things have not gone as well for the forester , Chen Qiyan, at this point.

He used wasteland on a mountain slope to grow trees from seeds and to sell the saplings. He also contracted with a forestry bureau to plant 200,000 pine seedlings. He hired workers from his commune for the equivalent of 772 workdays , paying wages of 4 yuan (about $2) per work-day. His own family's wages, he said, did not come to more than three yuan per workday for this cone-transporting and planting operation, yet he was accused of exploiting the labor of others.

Lacking transportation to market his saplings, he bought a diesel truck for 3 ,000 yuan, but the authorities would not let him drive the truck and he had to sell it at a loss of 300 yuan. So, he says, he is giving up his forestry project and will go back to ordinary farming.

Now that the People's Daily has carried his story, however, it may have a happy ending. An editorial comment on Mr. Chen's story says, ''This shows how important it still is to purge the influence of 'leftism.' ''

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