SHIJIAZHUANG, Oct. 17 (Xinhua) -- Dongying, a village in Linzhang County of North China's Hebei Province, has attracted experts' attention due to its account books that has kept unbroken record of the village's economy-related events for 58 years.
Chinese economic scholars and officials are attaching high value to Dongying Village's account books in recording true history.
"Through the account books, we can see changes of China's countryside in economy, society and administration system for more than half a century," said Zhu Shouyin, an expert on rural reform of the Ministry of Agriculture.
Dongying Village owned its first account book in 1948 when the then Outline Land Law of China was issued.
There were only 213 households in the village with a population of 1,149 and a crop land acreage of 4294 mu (286 hectare). The per capita crop land occupation was 3.7 mu (0.25 hectare) at the time, according to the books.
Since then, income assignment, land reform and operation, collective asset increment, and development of social welfare became major subjects of the village's account books kept intact for 58 years.
In 1958, with China entering "Great Leap Forward" period, a special time when all levels of governments were busy speeding up industrial and agricultural development, villages across the country made inaccurate or exaggerated statistics to the governments about crop output, usually times more than the reality.
"We made two versions of account books during that period, the false one which exaggerated the crop output was sent to the superior government and the true records were kept by ourselves," said Li Taihua, the village's accountant at that time.
The true books showed that the village harvested 4.5 tons of summer wheat, three tons of autumn grain and 37.5 tons of sweet potato per hectare, which was twice less than what was written in the books given to the superior government.
Subsequently, dozens of natural disasters occurred nationwide in China, resulting in severe famine over three years from 1959 to1961. Thousands of people starved to death due to harvestless cropland from floods, drought and plague of pasts.
The per-capita food supply at Dongying village was only 0.17 kgper day and 53 villagers suffered from starvation.
According to 1960's account books, the village's crop output dropped greatly, with only 840 kilograms of summer wheat per hectare, and 2,300 kilograms of corn per hectare.
A round of land reform kicked off in the early 1980s in China's rural areas. Based on "contract responsibility system", a milestone in process of China's rural land reform, cropland was allocated to each farmer household.
Since then, Chinese farmers have gained the right to operate the cropland and became taxpayers. Before the time, the farmers conducted farming for collectives (villages or townships) and didn't have to pay tax themselves.
Liu Ruilin, a farmer of Dongying Village, got 0.69 hectare of cropland and his family paid 251 yuan (31.4 U.S. dollars ) as agriculture tax, according to the account books.
The books also indicates the per-capita income reached 800 yuan (100 U.S. dollars) at Dongying Village during the period.
From then on, work on family planning and collecting agriculture tax became two main tasks for the Villagers' Committee of Dongying.
In order to increase public welfare fund, the committee had setup three factories with the aim to gain profits from industrial activities. But the plants were all closed till 1994 due to poor management.
In mid 1990s, some villagers began to leave the village and earn money in towns and cities. The rural migrant workers make their families in countryside richer than before.
According to the books, the per-capita income in Dongying reached 2,000 yuan (250 U.S. dollars) in 1995.
"Most of young farmers prefer working in cities, only a few plant crops in field," said Li Taihua, the accountant. Being short of collective income, the village began to suffer debt.
According to the account books, the village's collective debt was200,000 yuan (25,000 U.S. dollars) in 1996, and jumped to 600,000 yuan (75,000 U.S. dollars) by the end of 2004.
"The debt was resulted from many reasons," said Zhang Aiguo, a local agricultural official, "large sum of money was invested in public welfare, such as construction of water-supply facilities and building of rural roads."
But the villagers had no enough money to pay for the cost on the construction projects, they could only owe, thus the debt relation between the villagers and the village committee was formed," Zhang added.
According to the official, each peasant owed 150 yuan (18.75 U.S. dollars) per year at that time.
The year of 2004 was a turning point. Chinese government announced to reduce agriculture tax for the first time. The load on each villager was reduced to 29 yuan (3.63 U.S. dollars) from the year.
Agriculture tax has been exempted since 2005, and agriculture tax account became history. How to resolve the past debt and increase the income of peasants is still a big problem for Dongying and its villagers.
Dongying Village now keeps 90 volumes of account books, 400 books of receipts and bills, and 120 contracts of investment and business activities. More than 350,000 bills have been included in the account books since 1948.
"The set of account books witnesses the changes of Dongying Village over the past half century," said Zhu Shouyin. "A village-level account books under such good protection is rare."
"The books provide valuable clues and a good example for studying social development among the rural areas in China," Zhu said.
Historical documents and written materials are too few while the scholars are carrying out research on the institutional evolvement, especially financial situations in the rural areas, according to the scholar.
In the past, the research depended mainly on memories of aged villagers due to a lack of account books reserved so well as those of Dongying village.
But old people's memories are always not so complete and accurate, Zhu said, adding that the account books of Dongying Village are detailed and accurate, offering great significance to the research.
Thanks to the account books, Dongying Village was recently appointed as a sample site by the Ministry of Agriculture for research projects on China's rural reform and development. Enditem