Photo taken on 5 July shows a river in Yantou, one of the first villages in Zhejiang Province to benefit from the Green Rural Revival Programme
In 2003, Xi Jinping, then secretary of the Zhejiang Provincial Committee of the Communist Party of China, launched the Green Rural Revival Programme aimed at renovating 10,000 administrative villages in the province and turning a thousand key ones among them into all-round well-off model villages.
Since then, the programme has evolved and now has a new target: common prosperity for all villages. After 20 years of implementation, the programme has become a successful model of pursuing common prosperity through Chinese-style modernisation in rural areas.
Enabling villagers to lead a decent life and ensuring their right to development are two universal values embodied in this programme. Over the last 20 years, the programme has been constantly upgraded based on socio-economic development trends in the countryside and villagers’ expectations for a better life, addressing various issues in agriculture, rural areas and the wellbeing of farmers.
Many of these issues are universal and can emerge in any province or in any country during the process of modernisation of agriculture and rural areas, including how to strike a balance between environmental protection and economic development, how to achieve prosperity for all villagers, and how to better preserve the cultures of ethnic minorities. The Zhejiang programme’s experiences on these issues can provide inspiration for other places.
Thanks to the past 20 years of sustained efforts, Zhejiang now boasts around ten thousand of beautiful and relatively prosperous villages. The good results of this programme provide strong evidence that its goals are realistic and attainable instead of being just words. In April 2018, after a field visit to Pujiang and Anji, Eric Solheim, then UN under-secretary general and executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), said what he saw in Zhejiang is what China and even the world will look like in the future.
Zhang Weiwu, secretary of the Party branch of Yantou Village in Lishui City, Zhejiang Province, has witnessed the implementation of the Green Rural Revival Programme over the years
In modern times, serious damage has been done to the ecological system in the pursuit of rapid economic growth. Highlighting the idea that clear rivers and green mountains are invaluable assets, the programme involves a series of actions targeted at protecting mountains, forests, waters and other natural resources. Thanks to such an integrated approach for sustainable environmental and socio-economic development, villages in Zhejiang now enjoy a clean environment and a vibrant economy. It has opened up an effective path for countries around the world that wish to balance economic development with environmental protection.
In September 2018, Zhejiang was recognized with a Champions of the Earth Award by UNEP for its green rural revival programme. “This exceptionally successful eco-restoration programme shows the transformative power of economic and environmental development together,” UNEP stated, adding that the fact that some regions in China have achieved quickly what took some Western countries several decades in terms of environmental governance shows China’s determination and wisdom in promoting environmental governance and building an ecological civilisation.
Promoting agricultural and rural modernisation is a necessary step in the transition from a traditional to a modern society in many countries. In China, the world’s largest developing country with rural areas occupying a large majority of the territory and farmers making up a large share of the population, agriculture plays a fundamental role in the country’s development. Yet agricultural development is now a weak link in its pursuit of building a modern socialist country. The programme in Zhejiang has shown an an effective way to address this weakness and set a good example for other developing countries pursuing agricultural and rural modernisation.
How to handle the relationships between villages and cities, tradition and modernity, nation and world, and preservation and innovation is an issue a country faces in the process of its modernisation. This is also true for China, a large agricultural country with a unique agrarian civilisation.
The programme provides valuable opportunities for villages to reinvent themselves by respecting their history and prioritising the inheritance and innovative development of local traditions and culture. Recognizing the evolving requirements of people for living space and the similarities and differences between rural and urban development, the programme has renovated or reshaped the villages in a way that embodies the trends of the contemporary period.
Zhejiang’s programme to revive its villages has proven to be an outstanding attempt towards rural modernisation that can be shared by other provinces and countries. It shows Chinese-style modernisation can realise modern prosperity without causing damage to the environment.
Looking ahead, China will continue to promote its national Beautiful Villages Initiative and Beautiful China Initiative to make an even greater contribution to global ecological progress.