STATE cash levies on Chinese farmers soared 41 per cent in the first six months of the year, while their income rose just 9.5 per cent, according to a government survey. The survey of 67,000 families in rural China was revealed by State Councillor Chen Junsheng at a national meeting on how to reduce the farmers' financial burden. The sharp increase confirmed reports that many local officials have defied central government directives and imposed on the farmers taxes which were not approved by Beijing. Mr Chen admitted the situation was serious and he warned that if nothing was done to correct the prob-lem, the Communist Party would soon lose creditability. 'We can't just paid lip service [to farmers], or we will lost our trust with the people,' he was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua (New China News Agency). 'If we slip now, then all the efforts we made would be wasted,' he added. 'The problem of excessive burden on farmers has not been solved, the situation is still very acute.' At the same conference, Agriculture Minister Liu Jiang admitted that a lot of the 'excessive levies' remained in place despite orders from Beijing to lift them. He also said the countryside might become unstable if the problem remained unresolved. 'Leading officials in some departments and regions have failed to realise the significance of lightening heavy levies, and the policies and measures of the central Government have not yet been implemented in some areas, thus the levies on farmers have increased this year in some areas,' said Mr Liu. Mr Chen repeated that local governments were not allowed to revive levies which have been abolished or add new taxes without Beijing's approval. The officials' remarks highlighted fears running through the Communist Party leadership that it is losing its grip on the 800 million people who live in the countryside. However, an official from the State Planning Commission (SPC) said the situation would improve as most Chinese farmers were expected to earn more this year. Zou Xiangjun, a deputy secretary general of the SPC, said the real income of farmers would increase by about 20 billion yuan (HK$18.04 billion) this year after their material costs were deducted. He claimed the increases in income were mainly due to Beijing's decisions to lift the state procurement prices for harvests such as grain and cotton. Social unrest is seldom reported in the state-controlled media and protests by disgruntled farmers and peasants have been far more frequent than officials have admitted. The senior echelon of the Communist Party is said to be deeply worried about the possibility of protests spreading from the countryside where inflation has been running above 10 per cent throughout this year.