China’s road to poverty leads some to wealth, leaves others behind
Baojing (China) (AFP)
In his village along a “poverty alleviation road” in Hunan province, farmer Liu Qingyou shares a pamphlet detailing how Xi Jinping’s government released him and 100 million other Chinese from the bread line.
In it, the cause of her family’s hardship is diagnosed as “sickness” and “schooling,” followed by a list of state aid, from grain subsidies to improving the yield of their families. orange groves.
Authorities designated his family as impoverished in 2014, as Xi stepped up a “targeted poverty reduction” strategy that sent officials door-to-door to assess the poorest households.
For Liu, the following years brought another boost: a new road cutting through the mountainous Hunan countryside, helping to transport produce to market twice as fast and providing valuable links to neighboring towns.
But it has not been a smooth journey up China’s economic ladder.
Liu says her harvests have not improved despite efforts by local authorities to help her diversify her crop.
Meanwhile, her wooden house does little to keep temperatures from dropping near zero in the winter.
From his perspective, Liu and his family of five still live modestly, and he worries about their future even though he is seen as lifted out of poverty.
“We can get out of this,” he said. “But our house is bad.”
He wants what others have received from the state: relocation or enough money to build a brick house.
It is not clear to him why he did not qualify.
“Why can’t we have the same? ” He asked.
– War on poverty –
China’s decades-long war on want has produced remarkable results.
“Over the past 40 years, China’s economic growth has lifted more than 800 million Chinese out of extreme poverty … This is an extraordinary achievement,” said Martin Raiser, country director of the World Bank for China.
In 2015, Xi pledged to eradicate extreme poverty by 2020, a pillar of the Communist Party’s goal of building a “moderately prosperous society” by the 100th anniversary of its founding later this year.
Xi said the goal was met last year, announcing a “major victory.”
But the reality on the ground is more uneven, with experts warning that rising incomes have made China’s poverty line obsolete.
Complex criteria for determining who receives help have also fueled the discontent.
Liu’s family was officially lifted out of poverty about four years after being nominated, the result of a change in Beijing’s policy away from the skyrocketing growth that lifted nearly a billion people out of poverty. .
The authorities set a poverty line based on an income of around $ 2.30 per day and offered targeted assistance to those below the line.
But China is now an upper-middle-income country, for which the World Bank suggests a benchmark that doubles the current threshold.
“The current low, one-dimensional rural poverty line no longer reflects what it means to be poor in rapidly changing Chinese society,” said Terry Sicular of the University of Western Ontario.
Contacting the villagers remains tricky, with six cars of officials showing up unexpectedly during AFP’s visit to Hunan.
Authorities asked about AFP’s interview plans and insisted on accompanying reporters after obtaining details such as travel history for Covid-19 prevention.
A police officer showed up for another interview, staying to observe “sensitive” issues.
– Uneven results –
The Communist Party has based its legitimacy on continuous growth.
Before the 2020 deadline, party officials took action: identify poor households, distribute funds, and build infrastructure like the Qianqing road near Liu’s house.
But behind the fight against poverty, there are at least $ 1 trillion in loans over five years, and a burden of costs increasingly falling on local governments.
In Hunan, lack of local funds initially crippled progress on the winding 63-kilometer (40-mile) road – eventually completed after reports from state broadcasters increased pressure on authorities.
“Transportation has become more convenient … it has increased the income of ordinary people by at least 30 percent,” Liu said.
But although Liu received a subsidy as a poor household, he says business has been weak.
A coffee table sits in her sparsely decorated house, near a stove where her son prepares a lunch of dried bacon – a Hunan specialty.
The local government’s decision to branch out into tea plantations and plant new varieties of orange weighed on profits, he added.
“Before the trees were cut down, our family could earn 20,000 to 30,000 yuan ($ 3,100-4,700) a year,” Liu said. This dropped to a fraction of the amount.
– The bright side –
However, there are many signs of increasing wealth.
The per capita income of poor households in Hunan has increased from around 2,300 yuan to 12,200 yuan in five years, according to official figures.
The Qianqing Road is a sign of the growing wealth of the region.
Farmer Xiang Xiuli, 53, said villagers no longer had to carry produce over difficult terrain to the nearest roads to sell it.
His family said their orange business has doubled in size and their children can now attend better schools.
For farmer Mi Jiazhi, officially lifted out of poverty in 2017, things have never been better.
“We have all kinds of resources,” said the 71-year-old.
“Things are going well now … I can have 30,000 to 40,000 yuan of income (per year),” he said.
With better income and the help of his children, he will soon be moving into a newer and larger house.
“I am very happy,” he added.
– Demotion –
But more work is needed to ensure the sustainability of the mass movement in the economic chain.
As the poverty line rises, many city dwellers will also fall below it, Raiser warned.
Beijing has previously flagged the risk of a setback, while villagers said Covid-19 was also weighing on income.
Poverty alleviation official Ou Qingping warned in December that some people still dependent on aid had “insufficient” means to get rich.
“Once mitigation policies are suspended, they risk slipping back into poverty,” he said.
Setbacks like illness and unemployment – or pandemics – can also plunge households back into poverty.
“Eradicating poverty at one point does not eliminate poverty,” Sicular said.
© 2021 AFP