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Abstract

Because of the growing influence of China, the rapid economic development and the transformation of Chinese society have attracted the attention of analysts, politicians and mass media. There are, however, many aspects of these changes that are less well known. This is not only because of the sheer size of China ‐ with a population of more than 1.3 billion – but also because of the lack of information on the enormously large and varied rural areas, where still now more than 55% of the Chinese population lives. The great reform of the Chinese economy began 30 years ago in 1978. The basic change was liberalization of foreign trade, the so‐called “Open Door Policy”. This involved a deep reform of the economy and in particular of agriculture, which entailed the dismantling of the collectives and the establishment of a family‐based farming structure, the so‐called “Household Responsibility System”. The rapid development of the Chinese economy in recent decades is the result of the combined effect of these reforms. However the role that reforms in agriculture and rural areas have played in this transformation have often been overlooked, and in particular the effect of reliable food supplies on a continually growing population, such as the Chinese one. The great reduction in hunger and malnutrition, which in the past affected millions of Chinese citizens, has had a decisive impact on the reduction of poverty, thus increasing the social stability of the whole country.

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