Achievements of 60 Years of Poverty Alleviation Efforts

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    When the People’s Republic of China was founded in 1949, China gained its independence and the Chinese people were liberated. Since that time, the Chinese people have persevered and struggled together for 60 years under the leadership of the CPC to successfully wage a difficult battle to reduce poverty and achieve moderate prosperity for the country as a whole, a tremendous contribution to global poverty reduction efforts.

    China was one of the poorest countries on earth in 1949. According to statistics compiled by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific average per capita income in China was only US$27 in 1949, less than 2/3 of the US$44 average for Asia and less than half of the US$57 average for India.

    New China gradually developed a fairly comprehensive industrial system and national economy, providing the material base needed to accelerate development. We carried out land reform so that tillers of the soil have fields to plant, creating the institutional base to address the root cause of poverty. We also basically set up a social safety net, education and health care for rural residents, greatly improving their lives. Due to various restricting factors, however, as late as 1978 there were still 250 million rural residents living in dire poverty without adequate food and shelter.

    Following the Third Plenary Session of the Eleventh CPC Central Committee, China set up a two-tier operating system based on the household contract system. This gave a strong boost to agricultural production and helped relieve rural poverty. By 1985, rural net per capita income had increased 2.6-fold and the number of people in the countryside living in abject poverty dropped from 250 million to 125 million. In 1986 the Leading Group for Poverty Alleviation and Development Programs and its standing body, the Poverty Alleviation Office, was set up under the State Council specifically to address the basic national condition of large numbers of people living in poverty who still had inadequate access to food and shelter. Poverty alleviation efforts were therefore able to be carried out in an organized, planned, and large-scale manner.

    Zhang Erdan, a farmer from Yinshan Village in Ulanqab, Inner Mongolia, watching over his sheep. The “Program to Alleviate Poverty in Thousands of Villages” was launched in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region in 2001. The program focused on 5,000 villages with poor transportation, natural and living conditions, with specific poverty alleviation measures tailored to the needs of each locality. / Photo supplied by Xinhua

    In 1994 the State Council introduced the Seven-Year National Action Plan to Lift 80 Million People out of Poverty, which called for basically resolving the problem of inadequate food and shelter for 80 million rural residents within about seven years. Budgetary allocations for poverty alleviation programs were greatly increased, a responsibility system was set up specifying financing, tasks, rights and obligations at provincial level, a mechanism was developed for the eastern coastal region to support poverty alleviation efforts in the underdeveloped western region and the responsibility of government agencies in poverty alleviation at designated localities was standardized. Thanks to unremitting efforts, the number of Chinese rural residents living in abject poverty in 2000 was reduced to 32.09 million, basically realizing the goal of this seven-year priority poverty alleviation program.

    In 2001 the State Council introduced the China Outline for Rural Poverty Alleviation through Development (2001-2010), which defined a standard for low income. It also called for a shift in China’s poverty alleviation work to put the emphasis on promoting the development of villages as a whole, training of rural workers for non-farming jobs, and industrialization. Later, the approach of balancing urban and rural development was introduced at the Sixteenth National Party Congress. At the same time, the policies of “giving more, taking less and loosening control” and “industry promoting agriculture and urban prosperity spreading to the countryside” were formulated. In this way, a three-prong approach to poverty alleviation was gradually developed combining industrial, regional and social policies. As of the end of 2007 the number of people living in abject poverty was reduced to 14.79 million and the low-income population was reduced to 28.41 million.

    In 2007, the CPC Central Committee and the State Council decided to set up a cost of living allowance program for all rural areas. This policy was actually an institutional measure that guaranteed the minimum level of living for the rural poor. In 2008, it was decided at the Third Plenary Session of the Seventeenth CPC Central Committee to set new standards for poverty alleviation and to extend coverage of the poverty alleviation policy to the entire low-income population. In 2009, a new low-income standard for poverty alleviation work of 1,196 yuan per capita was introduced in China. The target population according to this standard totaled 40.07 million. This marked a new stage in China’s poverty alleviation efforts.

    Sixty years of unceasing poverty alleviation efforts has produced tremendous results. The number of rural residents living in abject poverty as determined by the national poverty line established by the government fell from 250 million in 1978 to 14.79 million in 2007, or from 30.7% of the rural population to 1.6%. The number of low-income people who have basically adequate food and shelter but whose economic situation is not stable fell from 62.13 million in 2000 to 28.41 million in 2007, or from 6.7% of the rural population to 3%. Between 1989 and 2008 the net per capita income of people living in counties targeted by national poverty alleviation programs increased from 303 yuan to 2,611 yuan. The increase between 2002 and 2007, in particular, has seldom been seen in history. The net per capita income of people living in counties targeted by national poverty alleviation programs increased from 1,305 yuan to 2,278 yuan, an average annual increase of 9.04%, which was higher than the national average all five years in a row.

    China’s poverty alleviation efforts have also helped accelerate the process of reducing global poverty, contributing to the effort to reduce poverty in the world. According to the China’s Progress towards the Millennium Development Goals Report jointly compiled by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China and the UN System in China, China is the first developing country to cut in half ahead of time the number of people in the country living under the poverty line as one of the Millennium Development Goals. China met this goal regardless of whether the poverty line used is the standard defined by the Chinese government or the international standard. The number of people in the world living on less than US$1 a day was reduced by 418 million between 1990 and 2005, bringing the total down to 1.4 billion, a reduction of 23%. Using the same standard, but excluding China from the calculations, the number of people in the world living on less than US$1 a day would have increased by 58 million.

    China’s poverty alleviation efforts have not only resulted in a reduction in the number of people living in poverty and faster development in poverty stricken areas. Even more importantly China has successfully worked out a path to poverty alleviation relying on development that is suitable for conditions in China, and this path has become a component of the theoretical system of socialism with Chinese characteristics.

    China’s rural poverty alleviation programs have been accompanied by a freeing of people’s thinking. Prompted by this freeing in people’s thinking, the CPC has defined the objectives and main tasks for poverty alleviation by stages in light of the level of national economic development and changes in the main characteristics of rural poverty and constantly made institutional innovations, optimized policies and improved techniques to establish an institutional framework for eliminating rural poverty. In particular since the institution of the reform and opening up policy, China has been tightly focusing efforts on the main issues involved in the problem of rural poverty, giving development first priority, continually strengthening the position of agriculture as the foundation of the economy, doing everything possible to ensure steady economic growth and developing a strong material base for reducing and eliminating poverty in an effort to raise the living standards of the people. China has been working to balance urban and rural development since the dawn of the new century, constantly raising government spending on programs to support agriculture, rural areas and rural residents, energetically developing rural infrastructure and carrying out social programs, and devoting a great deal of effort to the development strategy of developing the western region, rejuvenating the northeast region and stimulating development of the central region to form a strong system for promoting development of poverty stricken areas and helping people shake off poverty and get on the road to prosperity. China has successfully worked out a new path to poverty alleviation relying on development. The main things we have learned in this process are:

    First of all, we must maintain the dominant role of the government. One, we improved leadership. We set up sound leading organs and work organs for poverty alleviation work from the central government to local governments and practiced a leader responsibility system for poverty alleviation work at each level of government. Two, we formulated plans. We made rural poverty alleviation work an important part of medium- and long-term plans for national economic and social development. Both the Seven-Year National Action Plan to Lift 80 Million People out of Poverty issued in 1994 and the China Outline for Rural Poverty Alleviation through Development issued in 2001 are programmatic documents to guide poverty alleviation work. Three, we strengthened standards. We determined the national standards for poverty alleviation in light of the level of national economic development and the country’s financial strength, determined and revised the focus areas for poverty alleviation efforts as required by distribution of the poverty stricken population and shifted the emphasis of efforts from poverty stricken areas to directly concentrate on poverty stricken counties and villages. By focusing on villages, poverty alleviation programs were able to help individual families and therefore more precisely target the poverty stricken population. Four, we increased government spending. Government spending on poverty alleviation efforts has constantly increased at all levels. In the period between 1978 and 2008 alone, the central government allocated over 170 billion yuan on poverty alleviation programs and arranged for over 200 billion yuan in soft loans for poverty reduction. Five, we promoted poverty reduction through organizational means. We actively mobilized the resources of government departments, regions and industries to fight poverty. A total of 272 central government organs, democratic parties and large state-owned enterprises were organized to help 481 counties designated by the government as the focus of poverty alleviation efforts and 15 eastern coastal developed provinces, municipalities directly under the central government and cities specially designated in the state plan were paired up with 11 relatively poor provinces, autonomous regions and cities in the western region to help in their poverty alleviation.

    Second is the involvement of all of society. One, we carried out extensive publicity work. We used a variety of formats to help the general public understand the situation in the poverty stricken areas and poverty stricken population to create a willingness throughout society to help in poverty alleviation efforts and to promote concern for poverty stricken people and promote people’s participation in poverty alleviation efforts. Two, we carried out extensive mobilization efforts. Thanks to the strong publicity efforts of government departments, there was extensive participation in poverty alleviation efforts on the part of civic organizations. Three, we expanded international cooperation. We mainly cooperated with international organizations, bilateral organizations and foreign civic organizations to jointly carry out various forms of poverty alleviation projects and activities.

    Third is encouraging people to use their own strengths and resources to shake off poverty. We vigorously promoted the concept and method of self-help to shake off poverty and actively encourage people to rely on their own strengths and resources to improve their poverty and backwardness. Through the concept of “self-help to improve village conditions,” poverty stricken people were encouraged to directly participate in poverty alleviation projects and decisions on how to use poverty alleviation funds to strengthen the ability of poverty stricken areas and people to help themselves find the road to prosperity. Moreover, through the trial to allow community leadership of development, we promoted village autonomy and democratic politics at the village level and turned up the flame of self-help and independence among poverty stricken people so that they can administer their own affairs and manage their own development.   

    Fourth is coupling poverty alleviation to development. This mainly consisted of strengthening infrastructure and helping poverty stricken rural areas so they can be accessed by good roads, be connected to an electricity grid, receive mail service and have television and radio reception. We also built or improved water conservancy projects to increase the productivity of the land in poverty stricken areas, opened up channels to increase local incomes, supported efforts of poor farming families to develop their farming, livestock and small-scale processing operations and strengthened the application of science and technology in agricultural production by introducing new technologies and methods. China has been carrying out a program in recent years of lifting villages as a whole out of poverty coupled with their development, focusing on 150,000 poverty struck villages. The program is completely transforming the basic working and living conditions of local residents. In addition, we have been increasing training for the workforce in poverty stricken areas and increased job opportunities in other areas for poor rural residents. We encouraged industry to support poverty alleviation efforts, developed economies suited to local conditions and adjusted and improved the industrial structure of poverty stricken areas. We arranged for relocation of residents from inhospitable areas as an initial measure to help ensure their survival. We carried out trials of alleviating poverty in a concentrated region of poor areas and began working out ways to help areas with deep-rooted poverty.

(From Qiushi in Chinese No.20 2009)


Note: Author: Director of the Poverty Alleviation Office of the China State Council

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