In rural communities, land was owned by a few landlords, while villagers lived on very little income, well below the poverty level. However, this began to change in the 1950s with land reform, wherein families were given land to grow crops. Women's role began to change as well, but as their status increased so did their workload. Not only did they care for the family but they also became involved in agriculture and production.
Rural women began taking part in collective labour and realized their role as wage earners, as well as their importance in production, thus broadening their potential. Women have also moved closer to having equal roles in the family, representing 41 per cent of the rural labour force in agriculture. Their participation in crop production has increased the families' income, enabling them to keep up with modern-day needs. Household chores are also shared more equally by the whole family.
During a conference in Beijing in December 2005, attended by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Vice-Premeier Huang Ju, discussion focused on the need to develop agricultural and rural areas over the next five years. The importance of grain production and ways to increase incomes were stressed. "Only when the problems relating to agriculture, rural areas and the farmers have been solved properly can China's economy develop in the correct direction", according to a forum document.
Poverty is common in China's countryside and is a way of life for a large section of the population. But within this poverty is a strength and determination to make ends meet with what is available. Facing numerous challenges, boys and girls as young as six years old work in the fields with their parents, often forgoing education. Few families own any mode of transport, so many walk to their cropland along steep hillsides.
Li Kaifeng, 78 years old (right photo), looks after her three grandchildren, who are left in her care while her youngest son and his wife work in the city. The grandchildren, age ranging from 5 to 9, attend a local school in the village and help tend the fields to grow potatoes, corn and cabbage. I never attended school", Kaifeng says. "My family was too poor to send us to school. We worked alongside our parents in the fields to provide for the family. It was a life that was very difficult. We only were able to grow enough, but even then it never seemed to be enough for all of us. There were five children--three brothers...