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China Table of Contents



Post-Mao reforms dramatically affected farm mechanization. Most commune tractor stations were disbanded, and farm households were allowed to purchase equipment. The percentage of privately owned tractors increased from near zero in 1975 to more than 80 percent in 1985. The area plowed and planted by machine decreased in this period, but peasant use of tractors and trucks to transport goods soared dramatically. As much as 60 percent of tractor use was devoted to local hauling. Firms manufacturing farm machinery adjusted to the shift in rural organization by producing more small tractors, appropriate tractor-drawn equipment, better quality hand tools, and food and feed processing equipment. A rural electric power system--dams, generators, and transmission lines--had been under construction since 1949, and in 1987 most villages had access to electricity. In the period of the Four Modernizations, rural electric power consumption rose by 179 percent, from 18.3 billion kilowatt-hours in 1975 to 51.2 billion kilowatt-hours in 1985.

Despite the large stock and high production rate of tractors, most farm tasks in the mid-1980s were performed manually. Rice continued to be transplanted by hand, as local engineers had yet to develop and produce rice transplanters in substantial quantities. Only 36 percent of the land was plowed by machines, only 8 percent sown by machines, and only 3 percent of the crop area was harvested by machines. Draft animals continued to be important sources of power, and the number of animals increased sharply in the post-Mao period. Success in mechanization enabled surplus rural laborers to leave the fields to find jobs in rural industry and commerce. In the 1980s most observers believed that China would continue for some time to use mechanization to solve labor shortages at times of peak labor demand and to concentrate mechanization in areas of large-scale farming, as in the North China Plain and the northeast.

Data as of July 1987