China's Latest Document Number One: Promoting Rural Development

Trustee Chair in Chinese Business and Economics  >  Trustee China Hand

What is Document #1? 

Although China is increasingly urban (66.2% of Chinese live in cities and towns), the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) begins every year highlighting its rural foundations. Since 1982, the first document issued annually has been about agricultural and rural issues. The first “Document Number One” issued 42 years ago, soon after the beginning of the Reform and Opening era, formalized the “household responsibility system,” finalizing the shift from collectives to private family farming.

2023’s Document Number One included measures focused on stabilizing food production and increasing rural residents' incomes. The 2022 version discussed measures aimed at strengthening rural governance and improving infrastructure quality. 

Although highlighting rural China is a smart political signal, actual policies need to be substantially improved in order to revitalize China’s countryside and create better living conditions and opportunities for its rural residents. 

This Year's Priorities

This year’s Document Number One was circulated internally at the start of January but was not released publicly until early February. This year’s focus is clearly on food security, but also investments in services for rural villages, such as for the elderly. 

Although helpful, there are a number of issues that deserve additional emphasis given the country’s slowing economy. High on that list should be offering assistance to the rural under-employed and unemployed who are not being absorbed into the urban economy and are not interested in or capable of returning to the farm and engaging in agriculture.   

Remote Visualization

Also on the list of action items should be programs that encourage and support rural families to buy and rent property in third-, fourth- and fifth-tier cities. This would also effectively grant them access to better health, education, and early childhood care services available in those urban areas. Additionally, this would have the added benefit of relieving some of the weaknesses in the property markets in these smaller cities.

Finally, the government should renew support for rural schools where Covid-19 and disease prevention work ended up wiping out many of the schooling gains rural children had been making since the 2010s. This would help prevent these rural cohorts from falling permanently behind. 

Scott Rozelle is the Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and Co-director at Stanford Center on China’s Economy and Institutions (SCCEI) and collaborator with CSIS on their joint project, “Big Data China,” which introduces cutting-edge quantitative research on China to the policy community. 

Scott Kennedy is Senior Adviser and Trustee Chair in Chinese Business and Economics at CSIS.

Related Trustee Chair Activity 

Ilaria Mazzocco. “How Inequality is Undermining China’s Prosperity,” Big Data China Feature, May 26, 2022. 

Scott Rozelle et al. “China’s Entrenched Inequality Problem: A Big Data China Event,Big Data China Event, May 27, 2022.  

Scott Kennedy, Logan Wright, John L. Holden, and Claire Reade. “Experts React: China’s Economic Slowdown: Causes and Implications,” CSIS Commentary, August 30, 2023. 

Qin (Maya) Mei, Scott Kennedy, and Ilaria Mazzocco. “China Is Growing Old Before It Becomes Rich: Does It Matter?” Big Data China Feature, September 21, 2023. 

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Headshot of Scott Rozelle
Co-director, Stanford Center on China's Economy and Institutions
Scott Kennedy
Senior Adviser and Trustee Chair in Chinese Business and Economics