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China's Silent Rural Revolution

When China's National People's Congress (NPC) concluded its annual meeting recently, it voted to enshrine protection of human rights and private property in the constitution. But other major changes in China's development strategies that appear to be taking place have attracted far less notice.

China's current leadership, one year after coming to power, has criticized "the single-minded pursuit of GDP growth" over the past decade and unveiled a new approach to modernization characterized as "balanced, human-centered, and environmentally friendly." The change in priorities - and outsiders' tendency to overlook it - is not difficult to understand.

The world is fascinated by China's economic miracle, but it is much less interested in the costs associated with the country's 8-9% annual growth rate in the past 25 years. For instance, the energy consumption of every unit of Chinese industrial output is close to three times the global average. In may places, the environment has been devastated almost beyond recovery.

Similarly, a recent Chinese bestseller, A Survey of Chinese Peasants , reveals the tremendous human costs of China's modernization drive. The book caught the attention of both the elites and the mass public with its heart-breaking stories of the suffering endured by 900 million farmers and its bold criticism of the government's rural policies.