Commune education and rural development in China


Pedro Pak-tao Ng

TitleCommune education and rural development in China
PublisherSocial Research Center, the Chinese University of Hong Kong
Publication DateAugust, 1979


Rural development

Abstract/ Concluding Remarks:

The spread of education is itself part of the development process since the provision of education, like that of health and other welfare services, is necessary to meet the basic social needs of a population. But this is mainly the consumption aspect of education. In addition, education may be viewed as investment in human capital with the hope that the product of education will have a useful input into the development process. This perspective is generally taken in the developing countries and usually advocated by writers on development. What is likely to be problematic, however, is the linkage between education and other spheres of development. Is education designed in such a way as to meet local manpower needs? Is the education that the young receive such that the latter are suitably equipped and committed to work for rural development? Does education contribute to a diversification of the rural economy? Is education capable of instilling in the young the ideology on which the whole social structure of the society rests? These are among the major questions particularly relevant to China’s rural development.


We have pointed out that primary and secondary education for the rural population in China is organized and operated by the communes which are by now well-established bodies or rural local administration as well as units of large scale collectivized production. We have also described the ways in which this commune-run educational system is oriented closely toward local needs and adapted to agricultural requirements. This has been made possible by the implementation of a policy which stresses the following: 1) the development of human resources not only in pure manpower requirement terms but also in terms of value commitment as required for building a socialist country; 2) the importance of integrating education with local administration, production activities and rural life in general in order to maximize education’s relevance and utility in rural development; and 3) the need to use education as a means to strengthen the commitment of not just the leaders and administrators but also the rural masses to the commune system and the many tasks of “socialist construction” for the sake of a more egalitarian society. To appreciate the significance of these policy emphases more fully, let us dwell on their meaning a little longer.


First, it must be remembered that China’ development objective is basically to become a modern socialist country by the end of the present century. In many ways, this requires not just technology and the boosting of economic growth but also the commitment to a set of socialist values. From the Chinese point of view, such values call for both an orientation to collective needs as a primary action goal and the principle of “walking on two legs” as a strategy to achieve that goal. Thus, “to serve the people” is the action goal and “self-reliance,” which is directly relevant to development of rural potentials and is an application of the “walking on two legs” principle, becomes a development strategy. Although China is now much more outreaching in international relations compared to a few years ago and has embarked on a number of projects to absorb Western experience to facilitate its own economic and technological growth, this can be seen as basically a more extensive application of the “two legs” principle, without any substantive change in the core of China’s socialist values. As has been observed by many writers on Chinese development, the combination of modernization efforts and commitment to socialist values in China’s unique quality as a development model. The viability of this model therefore hinges greatly on the degree to which education can cultivate and strengthen value commitment at the same time as it is training manpower.


Secondly, given the centrality of socialist value commitment, education must seek ways and means to demonstrate the rationale of such values. If the content and methods of education are integrated with realities and needs of the commune, the viability of the commune model and the values which this model represents are more effectively demonstrated.


Finally, and this is closely related to the above two points, assuming that commune education odes indeed serve the instrumental purpose of cultivating a socialist value commitment, the responsibility of supporting and facilitating the future of the commune system and hence rural development generally falls in effect on the shoulders of the commune masses themselves. This is especially so with the accumulation of the results of rural industrialization and diversification of rural economic activities.


Allowing for the existence of regional differences – some of which are still quite marked – many rural communes have increased their productivity as well as their employment opportunities and have thus improved their quality of life over the years. This being the case, differences between rural and urban areas have been greatly reduced. To a large extent, this has been possible not only because China has chosen the commune model of development but also because a very important aspect of China’s socialist value system is to strive toward a more egalitarian society. China makes no pretense that egalitarianism has been achieved already. However, as far as inequalities arising from barriers between mental and manual work, and barriers between town and country are concerned, one has to admit that a considerable social transformation has indeed taken place. By adapting rural education to commune needs, by making education a community concern, and by stressing the importance of commitment to socialist values, it seems fair to say that the Chinese have expended considerable efforts in allocating a primary role to education as an integral part of rural development. As China has recently decided to move more rapidly towards a modern economy, more attention will have to be paid to the quality of education in terms of technical skills and academic standards. The whole educational system will need to be further expanded, yet becoming much more selective and competitive than previously. In rural education, while local production needs will continue to be taken into account and education will continue to be instrumental in manpower training and helping the spread of technology for agricultural and rural industrialization requirements, the effort towards achieving more egalitarianism through socialist value commitment may be affected. But such developments are still in the future.

NoteIncludes bibliographical references
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