Household Responsibility System

Updated on March 1, 2024
Article byJyotsna Suthar
Edited byShreeya Jain
Reviewed byDheeraj Vaidya, CFA, FRM

Household Responsibility System Definition

The household responsibility system (HRS) was a system in China, where individual households were given more autonomy and control over their agricultural productionThe primary purpose of the household responsibility system was to promote agricultural production and replace collective farming with public land ownership.

Household Responsibility System

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As a part of the plan, the households would contract the land and agricultural products from collective organizations. In return, the households have to contribute their products to the nation. Moreover, the peasants are also happy to contribute to the program. Moreover, each household was responsible for managing its production, making decisions about crops to grow, and retaining a portion of the harvest for personal use or sale.

Key Takeaways

  • The Household Responsibility System (HRS) is a departure from collective farming aimed at boosting agricultural productivity by giving individual households greater control over their farming activities.
  • It is a reformative step taken by the farmers and peasants in China to increase the nation’s agricultural productivity.
  • Since 1978, the HRS has been in force. There were two rounds consisting of 15 years and 30 years as the duration period.
  • There was a social, economic, and cultural influence on the economy. The participation of women, transition in the traditional family structures, and technology adoption are a few of them.
  • Thus, this system aimed to increase productivity and efficiency by providing farmers with a personal stake in their agricultural activities.

Household Responsibility System Explained

The household responsibility system refers to a system where families were allocated specific plots of land to cultivate. The adoption of the household responsibility system created a drastic change in the economy by boosting the nation’s primary occupation. HRS was first introduced in 1978. As per the household responsibility system reform, each household will receive a piece of land. This unit becomes a source for the households to fulfill the demand for the economy. However, this reform brought many social, economic, and cultural changes in the economy. It played a crucial role in transforming the country’s rural sector and contributed to a significant increase in agricultural productivity.

As per the household responsibility system, the head of the household has to sign and seal the agreement with their fingerprint. This agreement ensures that each household will fulfill the required quotas. Hence, this system aimed to increase productivity and efficiency by providing farmers with a personal stake in their agricultural activities. The hope was that by allowing individual households to benefit directly from their hard work and investments, overall agricultural output would increase.

Since its enforcement in 1978, more than 97% of the collective teams became a part of the household responsibility system reform (1983). It has since made a lot of changes in the Chinese economy. Various new policies like market liberalization and the one-child policy came into existence. As a result, rural families and households saw a drastic change.

Each household worked as a unit of production. There was a seedling of robust and unified management. Furthermore, the rural household responsibility system caused unreal growth and development in agriculture. In addition, the nation’s institutional arrangement also witnessed extreme growth.

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Although the rural house responsibility system originated in 1978, its history and evolution went on for decades. Let us look at the chronology of the events that occurred during the HRS phase:

#1 – The Collective Era (1958 To 1978)

After the cooperation movement and land reforms, a commune was created in China. They were organizations or groups owning the collective farms. As land was under their control, the farmers cultivated their daily bread. Each person received only 70% of their total productivity under the renqilaoshan system. So, if a person has more skills and strength, they receive more points. 

Slowly, farming households lost all their productive rights. During the famine period of 1959 to 1961, China’s production team faced a massive shortage of food grains. In the later years, the number of deaths also surged. The government refrained from practicing it due to the capitalist trend in 1967.  

#2 – The Initial Household Responsibility System Era (The 1970s Till 2000s)

By the late 1970s, Chinese leaders, led by Deng Xiaoping, recognized the shortcomings of the collective farming system. Agricultural productivity was stagnating, and there were issues with inefficiency, lack of incentives, and low yields. In the late 1970s, some rural areas in China began experimenting with agricultural reforms. These experiments included the decollectivization of agriculture, with households given more control over their farming activities.

  • Formal Implementation (early 1980s): The household responsibility system was formally introduced and implemented in the early 1980s. Under this system, individual households were allocated specific plots of land and given responsibility for their agricultural production. They could decide what crops to plant and had the freedom to manage their land.
  • Expansion and Institutionalization: The success of the HRS led to its expansion across rural China. The system became more institutionalized, and the household contracting system was implemented widely. Local governments had the flexibility to adapt the system to their specific circumstances. 


Let us look at the examples of rural household responsibility systems in China for a better understanding:

Example #1

Imagine a small rural village called Greenfield, where traditional collective farming has long been the norm. The government of Greenfield decides to implement a Household Responsibility System (HRS) to revitalize its stagnant agricultural sector. Under the HRS, each family in Greenfield is allocated a specific piece of arable land for cultivation. The Smith family, for instance, now has the autonomy to decide what crops to plant, when to plant them, and how to manage their plot. Unlike the previous collective model, the Smiths are entitled to keep a substantial portion of their harvest for personal use or to sell in the local market.

Hence, this newfound responsibility sparks a sense of ownership and motivation within the Smith family, leading them to invest time and effort to maximize their yields. As a result, Greenfield witnesses a surge in overall agricultural productivity, with each household contributing to the community’s economic growth. The success of the system in Greenfield inspires neighboring villages to adopt similar reforms, fostering a positive ripple effect throughout the region. This hypothetical example illustrates how the implementation of this system can transform a traditional collective farming community into a dynamic and individually driven agricultural system.

Example #2

Kate Xiao Zhou notes in her book, How the Farmers Changed China: Power of the People, how reforms like HRS helped shape the Chinese economy as it is today. According to Zhou, the fundamental component of the household responsibility system emerged on its own when farmers wanted to raise their standard of living and become more independent in their daily lives. More prosperous farmers started to establish village and township businesses (TVEs). Thus, the HRS reform played a huge part in the progress of the market economy.


Let us understand the impact and influence of the household responsibility system on the Chinese economy:

  • There was a sudden surge in the nation’s agricultural production.
  • Traditional family structures converted to modern family patterns in rural areas.
  • Moreover, the livelihood of the farmers also changed. Besides agriculture, off-farming and non-farming activities were also practiced.
  • The existence of homogeneous groups vanished, and the farmer’s lifestyles also improved.
  • Therefore, the employment search influenced the involvement of women in agriculture. They became independent leaseholders. Plus, the gender roles also got switched.
  • Farming households adopted technology to boost existing productivity.
  • After the Implementation of HRS, the number of arranged marriages was reduced. Individuals were able to explore different opportunities.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. What are Household Contract Responsibility System reforms?

Feminization in the agriculture sector and the replacement of collective farming were among the major reforms. Others included more induced decision power to the farmers, changes in the family structures and composition, farming methods, and many others.

2. How does the Household Contract Responsibility System promote poverty alleviation?

The following are the ways in which HRS helped eradicate poverty from its root cause. Let us look at them:
1 By increased productivity and agricultural yield
2  Development of the rural areas and their standard of living
3  Providing education facilities to the family members.  

3. Was the Household Contract Responsibility System good or bad?

Overall, the household responsibility system proved a boon to the Chinese economy. HRS was able to solve various social and cultural causes in the nation. The shortage of essential food grains started reducing after its implementation. In addition, the capitalist trend finally came to an end.

This article is a guide to Household Responsibility System and its definition. Here, we explain its history, examples, and impact. You may also take a look at the useful articles below –

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