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70 Years on: Comprehend China's Shared Development Through Its Poverty Alleviation Efforts,September 16, 2019 Adjust font size:

Based on a comprehensive summary of development experiences and future trends both in China and abroad, the Recommendations for the 13th Five-Year Plan for Economic and Social Development approved by the Fifth Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee in 2015 established five new concepts—innovative, coordinated, green, open, and shared development. These five concepts, which are known as “new development concepts”, have become the fundamental guides and drivers of China’s social and economic development in the new era.

Shared development is one of the five new development concepts. How do weshare development? How does China put it in practice? China’s efforts in poverty alleviation might offer some answers to these questions.

The fruits of development should be shared by all the people. Development should be inclusive, especially concerning those living below the poverty line.

When the People’s Republic of China (PRC) was founded 70 years ago, about 480 million people lived in the countryside, and most of them suffered extreme poverty—sustaining their lives was the biggest challenge at that time. When China started to adopt reform and opening up, most of the rural population still lived in poverty as defined by the standard poverty line of US$341 (RMB2300) set in 2010. By the year 2018, the number of poor people in the rural areas had been reduced to 16.6 million according to the same standard, and the incidence of poverty in rural China was only 1.7 percent;down by 96 percentage points or 750 million people compared to the figures at the end of 1978.

More than 90 percent of those living in extreme poverty have been lifted out of poverty since the founding of the PRC, and this is the most convincing example of shared development. Since the 18th CPC National Congress, China’s targeted measures against poverty also comprehensively demonstrate the philosophy of shared development. In order to build a moderately prosperous society in all respects, China has put in place a strategy of targeted poverty alleviation which enables local governments to accurately identify and locate thepoor population and provide efficient assistance according to their specific needs. By 2020, China will completely eradicate rural poverty, which will be a further step in demonstrating the importance of shared development and China’s commitment to the concept.

Sharing means sharing the results in every respect and ensuring that everyone benefits from China’s achievements in economic, political, cultural, social and environmental development, so as to fully guarantee people’s lawful rights and interests.

China’s development started from the lowest of bases. Over the past 70 years, China’s poverty alleviation effort has not been limited to granting people material assistance. Especially since the 18th CPC National Congress, China has further increased investment in education and medical care and the public services in poor regions have improved faster than in other locations. Reviewing the changes that have taken place in the education, medical care and housing provided toChina’s rural population over the past 70 years can help give a better understanding of the comprehensive gains achieved in poverty alleviation and the meaning of shared development. Before the founding of the PRC, most rural people were illiterate, and the new country invested a lot of effort popularizing basic education. By 2018, around 90 percent of the children in poor regions had easy access to kindergarten and primary school education. Fighting poverty through education has become an important element of targeted poverty alleviation. Free compulsory education for childrenfrom poor families is the basis of this policy; they can also enjoy free vocational education and obtain subsidies for ordinary university education after high school. Before the founding of the PRC, the rural areas suffered from a lack of medical resources, and the new country took measures to develop cooperative medical care. By 2018, over 90 percent of the villages in the poverty-stricken areas hadset up village clinics, and those who fall below the poverty line because of serious illness can get assistance through the new rural cooperative system, serious illnessinsurance, and medical aid. Before the founding of the PRC, most rural people lived in dilapidated houses; after 1949, and especially since reform and opening up, the government has stepped up its effort in renovating dangerous houses. By 2018, less than two percent of rural residents still lived in adobe houses. The government has also built a lot of residential buildings and encourages those who live in areas susceptible to natural disasters to move out while strengthening environmental conservation and offering forest-protection jobs.

In terms of the means of sharing, shared development is also a process of shared construction, which means encouraging the people to create wealth and incentivize them to participate in improving material, cultural and ethical, and ecological standards during the sharing process, so that everyone can have the opportunity to contribute to shared development.

How has the poor population in the rural areas been so sharply reduced? How did the poor share the achievements of social and economic development? The main reason is that China approaches poverty alleviation through development by identifying poor regions and increasing investment in infrastructure in order to improve their traffic flow and potential for business. These regions can subsequently develop on their own and the poor population will gain access to the higher incomes and social welfare resulting from social and economic development.

Identifying and developing poverty-stricken regions reflects a feature of shared growth. In the process of China’s economic development, natural and historical factors have resulted in a severe imbalance in growth, and poverty is a major challenge facing China’s central and western regions. Since the mid-1980s, China has been focusing its efforts in those poor regions by identifying some of the places that need special care. By the end of 2018, almost all villages in all poor regions had an electricity supplyand about 90 percent had access to telephone, cable TV and the internet. More than 80 percent of the trunk roads in these villages hadbeen paved with cement or asphalt. Now that this infrastructure has been put in place, the poverty-stricken areas will have more local momentum for growth.

China attaches great importance to providing employment to the poor by launching infrastructure projects rather than giving them handouts. In the past, with the increase in poverty alleviation policies and measures, some people actually went out of their way to be registered as poor households so they could get more support from the government. In order to avoid creating this kind of welfare trap, local governments also attach great importance to improving education for the poor population so that they are more motivated to participate in the development process andshare the achievements.

In terms of sharing the development results, the sharing process is progressively pushed forward in different stages. By the end of 2018, according to the current poverty standard, the incidence of poverty in eastern, central and western China was 0.4 percent, 1.8 percent and 3.2 percent respectively. The regional differences reflect the results of progressive poverty alleviation.

70 years on, there have been many changes in the way that China battles against poverty, from economic relief to promoting development and then to specific measures targeting individual cases. Immediately after the founding of the PRC, the country directed most of its attention to economic relief. At a time when food and materials were scarce, China made sure its rural people were fed and met their other material needs. After China adopted reform and opening up, it set up special funds for underdeveloped regions to support agriculture, township enterprises and infrastructure. By the 1990s China had stepped up its investment in project-based employment and subsidies for poverty alleviation loans, and implemented the plan of “lifting 80 million people out of poverty in seven years” from 1994 to 2000. From 2001 to 2020 China drafted two Ten-Year Poverty Alleviation Outlines, and launched a special five-year campaign starting from 2015 whose goal isto lift all those living under the current poverty line out of poverty.

Li Guoxiang is a researcher of Institute of Rural Development, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors only, not necessarily those of