Women now rule the roost down on the farm
Josephine Ma in Beijing
As men swarm to cities for work, 53pc of soil tillers are female, census finds
There are more women tilling the soil in the countryside than men - for probably the first time in Chinese history - since able-bodied young males have swarmed to work in towns and cities.
By the end of 2006, 53 per cent of farm workers were women, according to agricultural census data released by the National Statistics Bureau.
The result is a significant departure from millennia of tradition in which men were the major labour force in agriculture and women were supposedly cooking, weaving and taking care of children at home.
There are 131 million people, 64 per cent male, who have left rural areas to work in towns and cities, according to details of the census released on Thursday.
The results also show that the countryside is increasingly relying on older people and children to farm because so many people have moved to cities and towns.
Almost a third of farmers - 32.5 per cent - are over 51, while 5.3 per cent are under 20.
The education level of farmers remained low - 9.5 per cent were illiterate, 41 per cent had received primary education and 45 per cent had completed junior high school. Only 4 per cent had continued to senior high school and 0.2 per cent had tertiary education.
The census shows there were 200 million households taking part in agricultural activities such as farming, animal husbandry, forestry and fisheries in 2006, up 3.7 per cent from a decade ago.
But only 58.4 per cent of them relied on farming as their major source of income, a significant drop of 7.2 percentage points from the first national agricultural census in 1996.
The survey also found there were only 2.07 million trained agricultural technicians in 2006, servicing the 348.7 million farmers on the mainland.
But farming was substantially more mechanised than in 1996, with the use of a variety of farm machinery more than doubling.
The census, the largest of its kind in the world, surveyed 225.9 million rural households in 637,011 villages in 40,656 township administrative units.
Xinhua reported that the number of farmers had fallen by 80 million between 1996 and 2006.
It said the figures reflected the massive shift to migrant work.
Analysts have pointed out many social problems in the countryside as young and middle-aged people from the countryside pour into towns and cities to work.
Many children grow up under the care of grandparents, while the rapidly greying rural population also puts immense pressure on old-age care.
Many analysts also say that discrimination against migrant workers has made genuine urbanisation impossible.
Although rural people move to cities to work, they cannot take their families with them and have their children educated, or enjoy social welfare on a par with their urban counterparts.