In September 2019, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres highly praised China’s poverty alleviation achievement. In his speech, he presented an interesting fact, that China’s poverty alleviation campaign has helped over 800 million people get out of poverty – a massive number bigger than the whole European population combined. However, suspicions regarding China’s achievements came along quickly. For one, many commentators questioned China’s poverty line, suspecting that the Chinese government has changed the poverty line in order to make the number look bigger. In an attempt to help mitigate these types of concerns and bring more awareness of China’s achievements to the masses, our Mango Press researchers have dug into China’s poverty alleviation program in more intricate detail.
China’s long and difficult anti-poverty course
Since the middle of the 1950s, China has adopted a dual economic structure that separates rural and urban economies. The poverty problem of rural residents has been the main object of the national poverty alleviation policy, which is the focus of this report. Eliminating poverty has always been one of the major topics for the Chinese government, but only since 1978, when China decided to enforce economic reform, the mission was put forward and expanded to a nation-wide level. Generally, the process can be divided into five main phases, 1978-1985, 1986-1993, 1994-2000, 2001-2010, 2011-2020.
In 1978, China pushed forward land reform in which the people’s commune system was replaced by the family contract system. The reform had boosted land output dramatically as a result of improved working efficiency. According to official data, grain output per capita increased by 14% from 1978-1985, and, on average, over 17.8 million people were lifted out of poverty each year during this phase as a result of this. Starting from 1986, various anti-poverty institutions were set up, special funds were put in place, and for the first time, the government introduced a poverty standard by calculating Engel’s coefficient level.
The turning point occurred in 1994, when the government held the National Poverty Alleviation Work Conference. They made the promise that in seven years, 80 million people would be lifted out of poverty. The plan was extremely comprehensive and included various aspects that could help poor people sustain the promised better living standards, besides income or food. The main policies can be summarised into the following:
- Support for poor households with basic conditions for stable food and clothing. Each household could contract 0.16 acres of the orchard or 0.16 acres of cropland on average, and at least one person in each household was offered job opportunities in the town enterprises or developed areas.
- Infrastructure construction will be strengthened. This includes ensuring residents and livestock will have clean water, roads will be built in the vast majority of poverty-stricken villages, towns, and local markets; and the vast majority of poverty-stricken villages will have access to electricity.
- Improve the education and health level in impoverished areas. Popularising primary education and actively eliminating illiteracy among young and middle-aged people; carrying out adult vocational and technical education and training so that most young and middle-aged workers can master one or two practical skills; improving medical and health conditions.
The results were stunning. During the 15 years from 1986 to 2000, 16.3 million acres of basic farmland was built in the poor rural areas of China, which helped provide clean drinking water for more than 77.25 million people and 83.98 million large livestock. By the end of 2000, 95.5%, 89%, 69%, and 67.7% of administrative villages in poverty-stricken areas had access to electricity, roads, postal services, and telephones respectively.