Chinese agriculture has undergone a quiet transformation in the past fifteen years. The “old agriculture” of grain, cotton, and oil crops has seen a tremendous rise in uses of machinery (and also farm chemicals) to save labor. At the same time, the capital and labor dual-intensifying “new agriculture” of higher-value products—vegetables, fruit, meat, poultry, fish—has expanded greatly. These changes have been accompanied by substantial declines in the number of people working in agriculture. Together, the changes add up to a high degree of “capitalization” (i.e., increased capital inputs per unit labor) in Chinese agriculture. This article presents detailed quantitative evidence for these commonly neglected changes.
Contrary to conventional assumptions, the capitalization has been powered principally by peasant household investments, more than state or capitalist firm investments. This fact points to the need to rely more on peasant initiative in the future, by providing greater state guidance and support for peasant family farm-based endeavors, rather than strongly favoring “dragon head” enterprises as in the past decade.
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