, VI Conference of BRICS Initiative of Critical Agrarian Studies

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Agrarian Transition in China: the triadic connection between the state, capital and family farming
Lu Pan

Last modified: 2018-12-14


With the goal of agricultural modernization, the trajectory of Chinese agrarian transition has been constantly shaped through the triadic connection between the state, capital and family farming in the countryside. What’s unique for agrarian transition in China is the special role of the state in tuning national development and welfare of rural population. To realize agricultural modernization, the state has been devoting in rebuilding large holding and new entities to strengthen capitalization of agriculture. As the consequence, national policies in agriculture have a strong orientation of de-peasantization and pro-capital. However, the state development strategy is also in dynamic adjustment in changing context and shows its balance between depeasantization and repeasantization.

Agrarian transition in China in last decades went side by side with the deepening capitalization in agriculture. Capitalization of Chinese agriculture at current stage is characterized as increasing penetration and domination of urban capital into agricultural production and operation. Capitalization of agriculture led by urban capital have three major modalities, including incorporation of family farming through commodification, large scale farming with land transfer and wage labor, and the vertical integration of family farming led by agribusiness. With the intact form of small-scale family farming, urban capitals have sustained their accumulation through exclusion or incorporation of family farming. The multiple modalities of capital accumulation ‘from above’ also show the complicated variation of Chinese agrarian change vis-à-vis classical theories.

At the same time, family farming, as the major entities of agricultural operation in China is in the similar trend of evolution. Subsistence farming, commercial farming and capitalized farming exceeding household boundary are the three major modalities of family farming in China. The multiple modalities of family farming are shaped by structural factors such as national development policy, industry market and capital competition at the macro level, and by factors at micro levels such as the dynamics of rural household. Different modalities coexist synchronically in agriculture, reflecting the complexity of agrarian transition in China. For rural households, they also have dynamic transition between different ways of agricultural operation depending on their specificity at different point. With no doubt, either way of operation by family farming has been involved in external market and the society at large. It is the internal agency of family farming and their subordination to external capital that dialectically constitutes the dynamics of Chinese agrarian transition.