The number of rural dwellers on the mainland dropped by more than 80 million between 1996 and 2006, according to a national rural census released yesterday.
At the end of 2006, 70.8 per cent of the working rural population was engaged in the agricultural sector such as farming, forestry, animal husbandry, fishing and related services - nearly five percentage points lower than at the end of 1996, according to the survey released by the National Bureau of Statistics.
The number of rural migrant workers reached 130 million by the end of 2006, nearly 60 million more than a decade before. Among them, 64 per cent were male, 82.1 per cent were aged below 40 and 80.1 per cent were educated to at least junior middle school level.
The survey - probably the largest of its kind in the world - interviewed 230 million households in 650,000 villages in 40,000 towns.
The results were findings from nearly 500 million questionnaires collected, according to a report by Xinhua.
China's first rural census was conducted in 1996.
Along with the exodus of farmers to the cities, the census also warned that China faced the problem of dwindling farmland as the government strived to keep the total size of arable land at a minimum of 120 million hectares.
According to the census, China's arable land stood at 130 million hectares by the end of 2006.
The census findings were released at a time when more farmers and rural scholars are campaigning for the privatisation of farm land.
Authorities have arrested at least two farmers in Heilongjiang and sentenced them to labour re-education for making such bold calls.
Officials have acknowledged the plight faced by landless farmers but maintain that privatisation of farmland is against the constitution and mainland laws.