The success of aquaculture in China stems partly, of course, from historical, resource and technological factors. The Mission believes, however, that a large measure of this success has come from the close linking of fish culture with agriculture and with other sectors of production, and from various other characteristics of the Chinese social and economic system. As background for considering how China's experience might be put to use in other countries, these characteristics are summarized in this section.
“Comprehensive integrated development”, and especially “integrated rural development” are popular concepts in development planning. However, such integration remains a somewhat elusive goal in most developing countries. In China it is happening - and on a large scale.
It was not until 18 years ago that the communes became the accepted major unit of social and economic organization. They are large enough (in the order of tens of thousands of persons) to undertake major supporting projects such as road and reservoir construction, industry and merchandizing. But they are also small enough to ensure that local experience and local needs are the basis of planning.
Individual income is also distributed from this level by sharing communal proceeds. Thus integration of production is beneficial to everyone, provided it leads to an overall gain in communal income, even if some kinds of productive activity are reduced. An improvement in fish production is as much concern to the farmer or factory worker as to the fisherman. Cost/benefit ratios are calculated on a community, not a project basis, and not on strictly monetary grounds.
Following the difficulties of the Great Leap Forward in 1958, and particularly since the Cultural Revolution (1969), China has given development of agriculture first priority. China intends to achieve self-sufficiency in grain with a sound rural economic base. Irrational growth of cities is to be prevented. Hence, industry must grow on the purchasing power of the countryside, that is, of the farmer. Fish culture has benefited greatly from this emphasis. Accelerated development of irrigation and electrification of grain farms provides water and power for fish farms. Fish make efficient use of waste agricultural products and are useful in maintaining soil fertility. In many areas fish culture is as traditionally a part of farming as the raising of pigs and ducks.
The Chinese have traditionally used proverbs and slogans as a major tool of social instruction. Such instructions are repeated everywhere and convey national policy to the farthest villages. These directives are repeated in every explanation. They appear on signs and posters, in meetings for criticism and meetings for planning, in the education of small children as well as of fishery technicians and workers.
Among the sayings are:
“Take grain as the key link, and ensure an all-round development of agriculture, industry, animal husbandry, forestry, sideline occupations and fisheries”
“In fisheries do stocking and catching in rotation”
“Freshwater fishery is the side-line of agriculture”
“Lay stress on culture and simultaneous development of culture and capture”
“Wherever there is water there should be fish”
The Chinese Revolution sought to curb the gross economic inequalities of the landlord system of old China. The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution aimed, among other things, at curbing elitism specially among officials and intellectuals. The result is that working experience is put ahead of education as a qualification of the individual, and practice (experience) is seen to precede theory (summing up of experience). There is full recognition given to the special experience of all. Thus work and planning are done by “three-in-one” combinations such as: “young, middle-aged, and old”; “researcher, technician, and peasant-farmer”.
Universities are now open to the farmer, not only to learn, but also to teach. The fisherman now has access to the research laboratory not only so he may get new ideas but also so that he may give his own ideas. Conversely, the teacher and the research scientist spend time in the field, on the fish farms or on the fishing boats in order to share experiences and to learn what the problems really are. Similarly, management is opened to all (though there appears to be an emphasis on political and production experience). “Three-in-one” combinations are also a part of the structure of the Revolutionary Committees of communes as well as of production brigades and teams.
The benefits of emphasis on practice and experience, and the frequent movement of people from production to education and research and back to production, carrying the experience from one place to the other, were seen by the Mission in the relatively rapid spread of techniques in artificial propagation of fish, large-scale fish catching and the design and use of aerators in fish ponds. A proven idea is rapidly put into practice.
Interpersonal competition and rivalry have not disappeared from Chinese life. Yet the currency by which achievement is judged seems to have been effectively changed from consumption to production. Prestige is not earned by individual possessions. (In fact, they seem to be something of a liability, if not shared by others.) Nor is it earned by purely intellectual achievement. One succeeds by producing individually, and more importantly as member of a group. “Learn from Tachai” is one of the most common mottoes seen and heard. Such groups as the “Iron Girls” are praised and emulated. The ease with which large volunteer work teams are mobilized to build dams, or dikes or fish ponds is difficult to understand for an outsider. This kind of motivation also makes it relatively easy to assign people to work at jobs which are needed by the community rather than those corresponding to the individual's interest or even previous experience. Over-fishing of lakes in China is, for example, no longer a difficult problem to correct owing to this communal perspective on production.
There are other social and economic factors that have helped stimulate the development of fish culture. These include: movement of fishermen from their boats to the shore for housing; the needs and special characteristics of the planned economy; provision of parks and other recreational facilities for the workers, and also the traditional appreciation of fish as food.
Until recently, Chinese fishermen of lakes, rivers, and sea lived on their fishing boats. The 1949 Revolution freed them of the worst of the economic abuses of the “fishery despots”. It was not until some time later that their special problems were considered. First, cooperatives were formed to help them buy gear, share labour and market their fish. But the cooperatives were unable to cope with larger problems. The formation of communes from cooperatives provided a structure to cope with these problems. A policy decision to emphasize fish culture rather than capture then followed. This policy sought to increase productivity and settle fishermen on the land. Fishermen were encouraged to farm as well as fish. In the communes formed from fish cooperatives, such as Chen-Tung Commune, many persons are no longer solely engaged in fishing at all but have diversified their economic base. The first fishermen's village was built in Shanghai Municipality, a traditional fishery area, in 1965. Now fishermen all over the country are settled in such fishing villages or in other kinds of housing units such as Ten-Shan Workers Village Complex visited by the Mission. These changes have spurred fish culture.
The socialist economic system attempts to produce only those things for which there is need and only in the amount required. It was difficult for Mission members to understand such responses as: “No, we are not planning to expand fry production facilities. We are already producing all that are required”. Certainly this approach facilitates planning. It can stabilize prices and encourage diversified development. It stimulates fish stocking in lakes and canals to curb fluctuation in catch.
It also produces some peculiar problems for fisheries. The Mission, for example, was not quite sure how the three or four large catches per year, which comprise most of the harvest in Pai Tan Lake or Ho Lung Reservoir, are coordinated with harvests in other places to ensure a steady supply of fish in the markets. As most of the fish sold in the south is fresh or live, there is little flexibility in distributing fish once harvested.
Water resources near cities have received extra attention in China as sites for recreation as well as fishing. Recreational use places some constraints on fish production (e.g., distribution of feeding sites) but the overall relationship seems beneficial. Recreational use is an additional stimulus to lake and reservoir improvements.
In most of China, freshwater fish is a highly appreciated food item. The Chinese have developed many ways of preparing fish for the table. In some places, per caput consumption is high, as in the Le Liu People's Commune (48 kg/year). In other areas, however, fish has not been a traditional item in the diet. This is the case in Shansi and Kansu Provinces, or in the Inner Mongolian or Ningsia Autonomous Regions, though there are fishery resources there. This is now changing. But fish consumption, for the country as a whole, is still relatively low. And the need for fish for domestic consumption has certainly not yet been satisfied. This need and desire for fish will continue to encourage the expansion of fish culture for some time.
The Mission believes that the kind and rate of expansion of aquaculture which has occurred recently is linked to China's socialist economic and social system. The Mission is not fully convinced that such socio-economic organization is, however, essential or pre-requisite to the rapid development of aquaculture and freshwater fisheries elsewhere. But it does believe that such development will occur only when careful attention is paid, as it is in China, to the simultaneous development of all local resources, as well as to the technology of fish culture, and above all when the details of aquaculture are planned and evolved at the level of the fisherman or fish worker. The Mission further thinks that it is essential to strengthen motivation conducive to real “integrated rural development”, and to the development of practice along with theory in all developing countries.