HAIKOUZI, China (AP) — Bent under a load of corn stalks that weighs as much as he does, 61-year-old Xu Rongsheng trudges up a mountain road to the farmhouse where he was born and raised five children.Xu gets by on what he can grow on a few acres, meat and eggs from ducks, chickens and sheep in his backyard and occasional gifts from friends and relatives. He wishes he could pass the house on to his children, but they’ve left for jobs in the city.The story is the same throughout much of China’s poor countryside, home to 800 million people. Farmers like Xu have just manage to make ends meet while eastern cities have ridden to prosperity on an export-driven economic boom.As China’s legislature meets this week, making life better for farm families is a critical issue for the Communist government, which worries that rising anger at rural poverty could threaten political stability.“Solving the problems facing agriculture, rural areas and farmers remains a top priority of our work,” Premier Wen Jiabao said Saturday on the legislature’s opening day. “There are more than a few factors threatening social stability.”Wen promised to scrap farm taxes and said that by 2007, the government will see to it that every Chinese child gets nine years of schooling, with free textbooks for the poorest.Rising taxes have sparked violence between farmers and local authorities, causing embarrassment for leaders of a Communist Party that was founded on improving the lot of peasants.In his mountain village two hours north of Beijing, Xu already has benefited from pilot programs that eliminated agricultural taxes a few years ago. He gets government-supplied rice and flour and subsidized medical care.But even with that help, he scrapes by. The area offers no livelihood to pass on to his children, who have left for factory jobs and to work in construction in nearby cities.By the millions, other poor farmers have flooded into China’s cities looking for work over the past two decades.The economic reasons are stark: Annual incomes for city dwellers average more than $1,000, the government says, while farmers made an average of just $355 last year.With a deeply lined face and a toothless smile under a salt-and-pepper brush cut, Xu sits in his ramshackle farmhouse with his wife, chain-smoking cigarettes and offering persimmons and tea to a visiting reporter.The couple work, eat and sleep in one room. Wilted cabbages used to make dumplings through the winter line the windowsill. Sacks of flour lie stacked in the corner.Xu’s wife, Wang Chunfeng, complains about “Green for Trees,” an erosion-control campaign they have been forced to join that pays farmers to plant trees instead of more profitable crops.

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