Lei Ming & Zou Pei:On Targeted Poverty Alleviation: The Strategy of China’s Poverty Reduction

2020-12-01 18:07:00 | Author:Lei Ming & Zou Pei | Source:Marxism and Reality, No 4, 2020


Abstract: Since the 18th CPC National Congress, the CPC Central Committee, with Xi Jinping at its core, has made poverty alleviation through development one of the most challenging tasks in achieving the first of the Two Centenary Goals. The CPC has taken on the daunting task of leading the Chinese people in a joint effort to combat poverty and created a “spider web” type of poverty alleviation pattern with Chinese characteristics, making remarkable achievements. This demonstrates China’s capability and wisdom in governing the country, and sets a good example for the global project of ending poverty. Focusing on the leading strategy of poverty alleviation in the new era – targeted poverty alleviation, this article expounds on seven aspects of its conceptual significance: targeted groups, targeted measures, sustainable development, empowerment with rights and expansion of capacity, full participation, “live together, build together, and enjoy together,” and the anti-poverty community with a shared future. It also summarizes the theoretical innovations made through targeted poverty alleviation on the level of practice, theory, and institution, and reveals the value contribution of targeted poverty alleviation after pointing out the viability of Marxism, the CPC, and socialism.


Key Words: targeted poverty alleviation, poverty alleviation, sustainable development


The criteria for what constitutes poverty have varied over time. According to the latest definition given by the United Nations,


Poverty entails more than the lack of income and productive resources to ensure sustainable livelihoods. Its manifestations include hunger and malnutrition, limited access to education and other basic services, social discrimination and exclusion, as well as the lack of participation in decision-making.[1]


In this light, over the past 40 years of reform and opening up, China has followed the founding mission since the establishment of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and worked accordingly on the country’s modernization and poverty management in a manner with Chinese characteristics. As Xi Jinping points out, “Without a well-off countryside, especially in poverty-stricken areas, there can be no moderately prosperous society in all respects.”[2] Poverty management is an organic component of China’s construction of a well-off society, and the lifting of impoverished regions and underprivileged people out of poverty has special significance for China at the primary stage of socialism. However, the number of poor people in rural areas in China is overwhelming, the situation in poor areas complex, and the factors that cause poverty manifold, so it is necessary to reform and innovate in order to effectively “help everyone in need and leave none behind” in rural areas over the span of just a few years. Under the deployment of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, with President Xi Jinping at its core, the methodology of China’s poverty alleviation and development has transformed itself from the once “flood irrigation” and “regional irrigation” (at the level of county, village and subsection), modes of a particular historical period, into the precise “drip irrigation” mode of targeted poverty alleviation, setting a model for other countries and contributing wisdom to the global cause of poverty reduction. In definition, targeted poverty alleviation as China’s national strategy to eradicate absolute poverty refers to the systemization of precisely contrived and implemented measures for clearly identified and documented poor groups with the goal of not only improving their living standards, but also empowering them with rights and capabilities needed for a sustainable development, so as to strengthen the material, societal and cultural well-being of the whole country.

From a developmental perspective, targeted poverty alleviation can be considered as yet another new chapter in the Communist Party’s efforts to lead the Chinese people to eradicate poverty and achieve prosperity and strength. Xi Jinping first established the strategy of “targeted poverty alleviation” in November 2013. During a visit to Shibadong Village, Pibi Township, Huayuan County, Xiangxi Tujia and Miao Autonomous Prefecture, as regards the work on poverty alleviation there, he said, “We must take a fact-based approach and be adapted to local conditions. We must be precise in poverty alleviation.”[3] In June 2015 in Guizhou Province, he proposed six “targeted” principles for poverty alleviation. In October of the same year, he put forward five approaches to aid people in “groups” as the main ways of targeted poverty alleviation at the China High-Level Forum on Poverty Reduction and Development. As a matter of fact, since the 18th CPC National Congress, a series of documents on poverty alleviation and development have been issued and gradually formed a system of targeted poverty alleviation policies. The system is vertically linked from the central government to the provinces, cities, counties and villages, and horizontally includes a funding system, a transport facilities system, an education system, a health system, a civil administration system, a responsibility system, a ganbu or primary-level official system, a mobilization system, a supervision system and an assessment system, all of which involve different authorities. Supported by a policy matrix, it has formulated a “spider web” work pattern of poverty alleviation, which is led by the government and involves the participation of the whole society; which relies on east-west collaboration and requires the solid implementation of policies by Party secretaries at provincial, city, county, town and village levels. The work pattern, the entire poverty alleviation policy system is guided by Xi Jinping’s instructional report on targeted poverty alleviation. It is vertically and horizontally interwoven and focuses on precise policy implementation. It lays special emphasis on contiguous areas with extreme destitution and coordinates cross-regional major infrastructure construction so as to “help everyone in need and leave none behind.” As such, the conceptual significance, theoretical innovations and value contributions of targeted poverty alleviation are thus incorporated into the system.


I. Conceptual Significance


Poverty has long been a matter of concern to the world as a major obstacle on its road toward a harmonious, stable and sustainable development of human society. Over the past 70 years, since the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the CPC has been exploring tirelessly ways to get rid of poverty and achieve prosperity, and has greatly enriched its localized theory of Marxism with the practice of socialism with Chinese characteristics. The CPC has managed to provide for the vast majority of Chinese people, and is making the final push to eradicate poverty completely in rural China so as to reach the goal of building a moderately prosperous society in all respects.

At the center of the targeted poverty alleviation system are the six “targeted” principles and five approaches to aid people in “groups.” In terms of the six principles, it is imperative for the system to target persons in need precisely, to manage relevant projects properly, to use funding appropriately, to take measures effectively, to arrange for different talents and officials to help different villages, and to evaluate the effect of poverty alleviation meticulously. In terms of the five approaches, it is necessary for different targets or “groups” to take one or more approaches; the system offers support for production and employment, for relocation, for ecological protection and resettlement, for education, and through subsistence allowance policies – all with a view to realizing the goal of lifting all necessitous people out of poverty in rural China. The six “targeted” principles cover the whole process of poverty alleviation and development and serve the five approaches; the five approaches specify five different types of precise ways to alleviate poverty, which is where the six principles are headed for. These two sets of strategies include inputs of people, money and materials as well as operation and management. If the target of poverty alleviation and development is a villager, a village or a project, micro-management is then needed; otherwise, if it is a whole concentrated area of contiguous poverty-stricken places, or if the five approaches are to be coordinated in areas of extreme poverty, macro-management then has to be applied. The idea of being “targeted” runs through the entire process of poverty alleviation and development, reflecting the governing philosophy of pursuing quality, efficiency and a high input-output ratio. Therefore, targeted poverty alleviation can be defined as such: to identify the targets of poverty alleviation, and to implement targeted measures of assistance and management according to the different environments of different poverty-stricken regions and the different situations of different households of poor farmers, in order to ultimately achieve the goal of “not worrying about food and clothing and getting proper education, medical service and housing.”[4] From a philosophical point of view, the spirit of seeking truth from facts and adapting to local conditions of the system implies a Marxist worldview and methodological basis for targeted poverty alleviation. Meanwhile, targeted poverty alleviation is an example of practice as well as a step of development of Marxist theory through Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era. From a developmental perspective, in contrast to the once “flood irrigation” or large-scale mode of poverty alleviation for a specific time, targeted poverty alleviation marks a new historical period for China’s poverty alleviation and development.

After carefully investigating Xi Jinping’s speeches on targeted poverty alleviation since the eighteenth National Congress of the Communist Party of China as well as relevant documents and poverty-alleviation practices involving poverty alleviation and development, the present author would review the conceptual significance of targeted poverty alleviation from seven aspects.

Firstly, we need to be exact about who needs support.

Identifying the target of poverty alleviation is the starting point of poverty alleviation and development, and is also the most crucial aspect of targeted poverty alleviation. At the beginning of the reform and opening-up period, there were more than 700 million people living in absolute poverty in China. Thus, a series of reform measures were implemented consecutively, such as the household contract responsibility system, self-employment, township enterprises, market economy and shareholding reform, which led to an exponential economic growth in China. The function of economic development to reduce poverty lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, and urban and rural areas became more affluent gradually. Later, the government focused on supporting the underdeveloped areas, such as impoverished districts of contiguous mountainous areas, historical sites with a revolutionary legacy, frontier areas, ethnic minority settlements and destitute counties. By strengthening the infrastructure construction of transportation, water conservancy, energy and communications, local conditions of production and living standards of the people were greatly improved. With the funding and agricultural materials provided by the government, villagers were able to lead a much better life than before. In order to make good use of the limited resources for poverty alleviation and speed up the pace of poverty reduction, it is necessary to target households that are truly in need, find out about their situation clearly, and provide them with the benefits of poverty alleviation policies.

In practice, China follows the guidelines as specified in the Implementation Plan for the Establishment of a Targeted Poverty Alleviation Work Mechanism. Resident officials of the village will pay visits to families in need in order to understand the basic situation of each household, its income composition, housing, education, health condition, poverty level and the cause of poverty, which are to be registered and compiled. Then the village council will come to a decision as to the qualification of the households, the number of which is determined by higher bodies of government, and offer the list of results for public review. Finally, the township government will take samples from the list at random, investigate the concerned households, screen out and disqualify those who do not meet the standards, and submit the reviewed list of households to the poverty alleviation office of the county. The county government will then set up a profile for each household as well as each village and upload these data to the national poverty alleviation information system. Once the targets have been identified, we need to think about how to help them.

Secondly, we need to be precise about how to help them.

Targeted poverty alleviation puts more emphasis on the precise implementation of policies, requiring meticulousness as regards how to help the poor. In the past when there were no resident officials of the village, higher bodies of government simply sent people to the villages to donate funds and materials and then let the villagers seek their way out by themselves. In 2014, the government of Guizhou Province followed the guidelines of the central government’s documents on targeted poverty alleviation and created the strategy of bringing six types of support to villages and households, which include infrastructure construction, industrial support, education and training, reconstruction of dilapidated houses, ecological migration, and pairing villagers with officials. Resident officials would cooperate with poor households themselves to find out the causes of poverty and taking into consideration these major problems, they would lay out certain methods, coordinate relevant resources and supervise the projects accordingly in the spirit of “one lock, one key.” Their work would be assessed by higher bodies of government in terms of the effectiveness of their poverty alleviation measures.

When Xi Jinping visited Guizhou in June 2015, he pointed out, “being targeted is not only valuable and desirable but most significant in poverty alleviation and development, and is where the success of the whole enterprise lies in.”[5] In what may be termed the six “targeted” principles, he urged local governments to “think of useful ways, make practical moves and strive for real impact as they try to target persons in need precisely, to manage relevant projects properly, to use funding appropriately, to take measures effectively, to arrange for different talents and officials (especially the “First Secretaries”[6]) to help different villages, and to evaluate the effect of poverty alleviation meticulously.”[7]

Officials would adapt their poverty alleviation measures for specific targets and “provide one household with one method and design one policy for one village,” which not only requires “accuracy and precision” in ways and means, but also demands “accurate and precise” ideas, systems, mechanism and organizations. The abovementioned six types of support that are brought into villages and households have indeed incorporated President Xi Jinping’s six “targeted” principles and would ensure the maximization of the comprehensive benefits of the five approaches to aid people in “groups.”

Thirdly, we need to think about how to end our support properly and aim for a sustainable development.

With the financial resources of the national government, it is not difficult to make all of the poor households meet the standard of poverty alleviation. However, “if a village is renewed entirely out of external support, with its appearance being slightly polished, there is still no vitality within itself. That won’t attract the labor force back to the place or provide the source of a sustainable economy. The problems are sure to return to this place in the future stages of its development.”[8] One of the tasks of targeted poverty alleviation is to ensure the sustainability after precise measures have been integrated and address the issue of how to end the support for the target to stand on itself. Only when the sustainability of poverty reduction and poverty eradication is ensured, only when the poor acquire a sustainable capacity to combat poverty (including production capacity, market capacity and social capacity), can targeted poverty alleviation be truly and fully accomplished.

The goal of the highest level in targeted poverty alleviation is the achievement of sustainability. The realization of sustainable poverty reduction is two-fold. On the one hand, the income of the poor would have to be on the rise steadily and their life standards continuously bettered. With sustainable personal income or transfer payment from the government, they wouldn’t have to worry about food or clothing. On the other hand, we must prevent the poor from falling into poverty again and work on a non-poverty environment. In order to foil the return of poverty consequent upon the pollution of natural environment, the shortage of educational and medical resources and the destruction from natural disasters, the government should establish a sound system of basic safeguards in the areas of education, health, medical care, disaster prevention, relief and insurance, so that compulsory education, basic medical care and housing security can be guaranteed. Only when both are achieved can the United Nations’ standards for poverty eradication be met, and only then can we hope to procure a sustainable effect in poverty alleviation. In the context of the socialist market economy with Chinese characteristics, the real significance of sustainable poverty reduction lies in the fact that the poor subjects will be enabled to continuously acquire wealth from the market and can thus be able to share the beneficial results of the market economy on an equal footing and finally become one of the participants of the market.

Fourthly, we need to empower targeted groups with their proper rights and expand their capacity, which is the essence of poverty alleviation.

Targeted poverty alleviation is essentially a process of empowering poor groups with their proper rights and expanding the capabilities of them. In terms of empowerment, we have to guarantee their right to survival, to development, and to sustainable development, which means respectively to guarantee a minimum income, i.e. reaching the absolute poverty line; to keep the poor “not worrying about food and clothing and getting proper education, medical service and housing,” i.e. ensuring the basic bottom line; and to stimulate their motivation for them to actively upgrade their own capacity for the purpose of sustainable development. In terms of the expansion of capacity, we have to enable poor groups to fully actualize their potential and elevate themselves from merely being able to survive (as a natural person), to being able to produce and develop (as a market participant), and to being able to develop sustainably (as a socially responsible citizen).

From the onset of targeted poverty alleviation, China has paid particular attention to cultivating the “blood-forming” or self-development capacity of poor people in impoverished regions, especially ethnic groups in extreme destitute areas. For example, we have strengthened skill training to ensure that every farming household learns at least one practical skill. We have increased subsidies for nine-year compulsory education and higher education for the children of poor households so as to lower dropout rates and prevent villagers from falling into poverty or returning to poverty due to the lack of proper education. We have protected the equal rights and interests of women and girls in Muslim areas. We have promoted the learning and acquisition of Mandarin Chinese in ethnic areas so that the people there can better integrate into the labor market and social life. The mode has transmuted from the once “blood-transfusion” method of supporting everyone and ensuring everything, to the “blood-forming” method of development, and to the sustainable method of “blood-forming” and self-development. The poor groups are finally motivated to take matters into their own hands and create for themselves. They are now equipped with both the right and the capacity to make new blood, survive and thrive. Herein lies one essential tactic in our battle against poverty.

Fifthly, we need to make clear that it is through the joint effort and full participation of relevant parties, the targets themselves included, that poverty alleviation will be achieved.

    The model of targeted poverty alleviation is one of “full participation,” one that is led by the CPC, managed by the government, and guided by market mechanisms and one that includes the poor groups themselves, which reflects the unique advantages of the socialist system with Chinese characteristics. It is vertically led by the Central Committee of the CPC and the State Council and managed by the Party committees and governments at provincial, city, county, town and village levels and it horizontally connects different regions, sectors and industries. It is encouraged by political bodies and driven by relevant parties out of moral integrity. It receives poverty alleviation investments from both home, in terms of capital, manpower, supplies, policies, technology, education, culture, and abroad. Under the model of “full participation,” the role of the government gradually changes from that of a leader to that of a guide; targeted poor groups that used to be quite passive become now active in their efforts against poverty; the once non-existent or rather enervated market mechanism either comes into effect or becomes stronger in its influence; a full participation that involves the whole society instead of simply several parties is now actualized; an ecology of poverty alleviation that requires an all-in effort (that of the targets themselves included) comes into shape in place of the outdated paradigm of multi-party coordination.

The officials who are dispatched to villages to be paired with poor households in targeted poverty alleviation come from all domestic fields. Governments at all levels “mobilize the whole society to participate extensively in poverty alleviation, and encourage and support all kinds of enterprises, social organizations and individuals to participate in poverty alleviation.”[9] By the end of 2017, 435,000 “First Secretaries” and 2,780,000 officials from all fields nationwide have been sent to help poor villages. “With only three years to go before the advent of 2020, the whole society must take action, put out all our strength for this battle and implement precise policies.”[10]

    Sixthly, the essence of socialism is to live together, build together, and enjoy together, which also applies in the case of poverty alleviation.

“Eliminating poverty, improving people’s livelihood and gradually realizing common prosperity are the essential requirements of socialism.”[11] Under the market economic system of socialism with Chinese characteristics, the aim for all Chinese people to live together, build together, and enjoy together runs through the systematic design of governance. To enjoy the benefits together is the value orientation of social development. To live together in our society is the condition for people to build together and enjoy together. To build together is a basis for people to enjoy together and to enjoy together is an ideal for people as they live and build together. China is and will remain in the primary stage of socialism for a long time and it is necessary to keep a balance between these three aspects. If we overly emphasize the desire of people to live and enjoy together and distribute resources according to needs, then our society might be faced with a welfare trap where people “wait for, rely on, and demand from” the country for their own living. If, otherwise, we overly emphasize the efficiency of market economy in building together and therefore allow one certain batch of people to get rich first, it may lead to an uneven development and intensify social conflicts in the end. In targeted poverty alleviation, we have to be efficient in development indeed, and we still have to keep the poor “not worrying about food and clothing and getting proper education, medical service and housing,” a must and a standard for people to live together. Meanwhile, we should try to stimulate the inner motivation of poor groups to get rid of poverty and replenish opportunities as we reduce economic inequality, thereby promoting a joint effort.

In October 2015, the Central Committee of the CPC promulgated the Proposal of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China on Formulating the Thirteenth Five-Year Plan for National Economic and Social Development. It focuses on institutional arrangements and the democratic rights and interests of poor groups, proposing “to apply more effective institutional arrangements and innovative democratic mechanisms so as to enable all poor groups to make progress together with other social groups in the ecosystem of poverty alleviation through building the society together” and emphasizing that targeted poverty alleviation should be carried out in accordance with the principles of participation by all, endeavor by all, poverty alleviation by all and harmonious coexistence. The three aspects of living together, building together, and enjoying together should be prerequisites for each other. We must strike a balance between equity and efficiency, survival and development, and economy and politics, and strive to unify the rights and obligations of development subjects, the impetus and the goals, the process and the results organically in the project of targeted poverty alleviation.

The report of the 19th Party Congress in 2017 has stated clearly that the conflict between the people’s growing need for a better life and the unbalanced and inadequate social development has become the main conflict of our society in the new era. To further resolve this conflict by way of poverty reduction with Chinese characteristics, the government has formulated in 2018 strategies of rural revitalization to organically link poverty alleviation with rural revitalization and ensure that the growth of disposable income per capita in poor areas is higher than the national average and that indicators in major areas of basic public services are close to the national average, so as to continuously narrow the gap of development.

Seventhly, we should be committed to building an anti-poverty community with a shared future.

“As we human beings live in the same global village, in the same space and time where history and reality converge, we are gradually becoming a human community with a shared future in which your life is intertwined with mine and mine yours.”[12] Upholding the partnership of the global human society, China is always adhering to the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Not only our own people of the whole nation participate in the endeavor to alleviate poverty, but we also cooperate with other countries and organizations, receiving guidance from international organizations, establishing the China-UN Peace and Development Fund and the South-South Cooperation Assistance Fund, and tackling the issue of poverty through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

The internal aspects of targeted poverty alleviation are interrelated. The five approaches to aid people in “groups” demonstrate the crucial role of ecological environment construction, people’s own development, economic development and a sound social security system in poverty alleviation. In the precise “drip irrigation” mode of targeted poverty alleviation, funds, projects, technology and personnel are ingeniously coordinated to wage war against poverty. In 2014, fifteen ministries of the State Council jointly issued the Implementation Plan for the Innovation of the Social Participation Mechanism in Poverty Alleviation and Development to guide the whole society towards proper action, such as “experimenting the pairing and cooperation between all types of Party organizations and combining the forces of city and township neighborhood committees, enterprises and social organizations within the reach of the poor villages so as to bring new resources for poverty alleviation and infuse new blood.”[13] The orderly flow and efficient allocation of production factors will promote the deeper integration of underdeveloped regions into the market economy and foster their participation in supply chains, industrial chains and value chains, thereby forming a new pattern of social relations that is interdependent and mutually beneficial.

Although relative poverty would endure, targeted poverty alleviation will eventually establish an anti-poverty community with a shared future. The community will be characterized by the pluralism of governing subjects, the clarification of responsibilities and rights among subjects, and the interdependence and interaction of managerial power among subjects. An interdependent view of power and an emphasis on common interests, sustainable development and collaborative governance will become the value basis of the community. The government, the market, social organizations, individual residents, and the targets themselves will cooperate and consult with each other, in the hope of realizing a two-way or multidimensional or even all-round governance. The community should take into account the reasonable demands of other social subjects in achieving the goal of poverty eradication and promote the simultaneous development of other social subjects in its overall pursuit of the development of poor groups, therefore strengthening the common interests of all social subjects through a more equal and balanced anti-poverty partnership.


II. Theoretical Innovation


Targeted poverty alleviation is a practical, theoretical and institutional innovation in China’s development, which seeks truth from facts and chooses the untrodden road. In the practice of targeted poverty alleviation, China has taken advantage of its social system to adopt a series of poverty alleviation measures which are unprecedented in the history of poverty alleviation at home and abroad, such as the village “dual-committee” system (consisting of the Party branch committee and the village committee, in which the Party branch of the village takes charge of its poverty alleviation efforts), the system of in-village task forces, the system of profile setup, all-in participation of the whole society, and the cultivation of the capacities for sustainable development. These initiatives are interlinked and coordinated and run throughout the entire campaign against poverty.

Firstly, a sound system of in-village task forces must be established and constantly improved. In the hope of “helping everyone in need and leaving none behind,” the system of targeted poverty alleviation requires us to consider the situation of the targets in different poor households and contrive a series of methods to decide who would find the poor households and how to find them, who would help them after they’ve been found and how to help them, who would evaluate the effect of our help and how to evaluate it, and how to achieve sustainable development after they get rid of poverty for the time being. Poor households are usually scattered all over the place in different villages, and the Party and government organizations of the villages are directly responsible for implementing the various national poverty alleviation policies. Normally, that would be the shortest route and naturally the most efficient. However, the vast majority of the original Party organizations in poor villages are often equipped with unqualified “dual-committee” teams whose capacity for policy implementation is lamentable. For this reason, the national government has set up in-village task forces in poor villages, selecting and dispatching outstanding officials from Party and government organs, state-owned enterprises and institutions of higher learning to serve as “First Secretaries” or resident officials. Under the paradigm of “one team for one village,” the officials can help the village “dual-committee” system to identify targets and then form pairs with poor households under the principle of “one official responsible for one household” before they can implement targeted policies for the root causes of poverty. On the one hand, the officials can help to strengthen the village “dual-committee” system itself – the outermost circle as well as the most basic level of the “spider web” system of poverty alleviation – through which the “blood-forming” function or self-help ability of the entire village may be reinforced.

Secondly, the most basic unit of poverty alleviation has to be moved downward. The village committee, which is the villagers’ self-governing organization under the leadership of the Party branch (the “dual-committee” system), should be the most basic organization for the work of poverty alleviation. Since the village committees have the most knowledge about the actual situation in their villages, they should be conveniently transformed into in-village task forces that are permanently stationed in the villages and should be endowed with the power to carry out specific poverty alleviation work. Thus, members of the two committees are transformed from assistants to in-village task forces, to bearers of the most practical work of poverty alleviation. As the saying goes, “It depends on the Party branch for the villagers to be rich.” The two committees, whose capacity has been enhanced now, will indeed embed targeted poverty alleviation in the daily lives of villagers and work hard to lift farm households out of poverty, prevent villages from returning to poverty, ensure that the growth rate of impoverished areas exceeds the national average growth rate, and achieve sustainable development.

Thirdly, we should implement the profile system. The system of setting up profiles aims to record the accurately identified information of farmers, the content of assistance, the annual changes of poor and low-income households, and the results of poverty alleviation. Due to the large number of low-income farming households in underdeveloped areas as well as the convolutedness of personal relationships in these villages, only by going from door to door to learn about the income and expenditure of farming households, infrastructure, family property, education, medical care, environment, natural disasters, and other information can we ensure that the comprehensive assessment for every household is faultless. The government requires that information on poor households be documented, and that the main causes of poverty and the measures taken to address them be clearly indicated in the profiles. Every time a poor household receives payments for poverty alleviation or other poverty alleviation supplies, both the distributor and the receiver must sign certain documents for record. Annual changes in the family, such as children’s schooling, family members’ access to medical care, income from labor, grain, fruit and vegetable harvests, farming conditions, housing construction, etc., must be documented in different categories. As the number of profiles is large, the scope of information wide, and the work highly professional, the officials should upload them onto a special database for poverty alleviation, so as to track and evaluate the effect of poverty alleviation every year and adjust the assistance program. The establishment of the profile system can help us best to grasp the situation of “drip irrigation” and make it easier for higher bodies of government to conduct inspection, supervision, assessment and comparison, thereby ensuring the precision of poverty alleviation.

Fourthly, the whole society should participate in poverty alleviation under the conditions of market economy. It is indeed an urgent task and a tough fight for the country to tackle the issue of poverty that has lasted thousands of years in merely seven years. In this regard, China has elevated the campaign of targeted poverty alleviation to the status of a “hard-fought battle” and divided the battle against poverty into a front line and a rear line, with the front line being the grass-roots officials and masses struggling to alleviate poverty in the countryside, and the rear line being the people of the whole country. State organs, the army, the armed police, institutions of higher learning, state-owned enterprises and other institutions directly under the State Council have been mobilized to provide targeted assistance and unconditional support. Non-state agencies are encouraged to participate in poverty alleviation; for instance, private enterprises will be given tax incentives for their contribution to poverty alleviation. The traditional Chinese virtues of mutual help and assistance should be promoted and various forms of education and mobilization of social organizations, such as associations and communities, should be carried out through public media, so as to form an integrated approach to policy implementation and eventually achieve full social participation in the fight against poverty.

Fifthly, we must maintain the sustainability of the results of poverty alleviation. The practice of targeted poverty alleviation has created a unique system of methods and measures with Chinese characteristics, which should not only ensure that poor people meet the poverty alleviation standard of “not worrying about food and clothing and getting proper education, medical service and housing,” but also focus on enhancing the ability of those who have temporarily escaped poverty to reduce poverty on a sustainable basis and on improving their external conditions. The measures are often designated by expressions that contain specific numbers and are unique to the Chinese language, such as wu ge yi pi (five approaches to aid people in “groups”), si ge qie shi (four “effectively”: effectively implementing leadership responsibilities, effectively achieving targeted poverty alleviation, effectively strengthening social cooperation, and effectively strengthening basic organizations), liu ge dao cun dao hu (bringing six types of support to villages and households), shi xiang xing dong (ten actions: unobstructed village roads, safe drinking water, rural electricity supply, reconstruction of dilapidated houses, increased income from special industries, poverty alleviation through rural tourism, education, health and family planning, cultural construction, and digitalization of poor villages), liu da ti xi (six systems: indicator system, policy system, standard system, statistical system, performance evaluation system and performance appraisal system), wu wei yi ti (five elements in one: policy poverty alleviation, project poverty alleviation, industrial poverty alleviation, social poverty alleviation and financial poverty alleviation), etc.. These measures are designed to promote the construction of major infrastructure projects and key livelihood projects in contiguous areas of extreme destitution, achieve full coverage of basic public services, and provide an environment in which people who have been lifted out of poverty can continue “forming blood.” As such, strategies of targeted poverty alleviation and rural revitalization will naturally converge, further solving the problem of relative poverty.

Targeted poverty alleviation can be said to be the first of its kind in human history, and its innovative ideas have undergone a process of development from practice to theory and then back to practice again. Ever since the reform and opening up, China has long emphasized a high-speed development, and the “flood irrigation” mode of poverty alleviation with a view to high GDP growth rates has indeed brought rapid poverty alleviation to hundreds of millions of poor people in both urban and rural areas. Nevertheless, this large-scale and rough mode of development has also led to serious problems such as resource depletion, ecological and environmental damage, and the overly dependence of poverty alleviation on national economy. Consequently, the regions and people in direst need of poverty alleviation become the slowest and feeblest in development and the problem of relative poverty becomes more and more acute. Targeted poverty alleviation is a manifestation of the country’s innovation in its development philosophies. As regards how to evaluate the level of development of poor regions, the government has shifted its perspective from assessing the growth of GNP to mainly assessing the effectiveness of poverty alleviation and development. As for regions that are restricted to limited development or ecologically fragile, instead of the growth of gross regional product, the improvement of the living standard of poor people and the reduction of poor people have been taken as the main indicators. Accordingly, the government has done away with the poverty alleviation touchline of per capita income of RMB 2,300 and turned to a comprehensive assessment of the poor people’s living standards as required in the goal of “not worrying about food and clothing and getting proper education, medical service and housing,” therefore steering the Party and government leadership in poor areas to focus their work on poverty alleviation and development. The stratagem of targeted poverty alleviation, as an early experimentation, has laid the foundation for the five development philosophies of the 13th Five-Year Plan period established at the Fifth Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee in 2015, and initiated the development theory for the new era of socialism with Chinese characteristics.

Firstly, it has enriched and developed Marxism. Guided by Marxism, the CPC has employed its collective wisdom to lead the people in exploring a path of development with Chinese characteristics to get rid of poverty. China has gradually resolved the problem of unbalanced social development, and has adopted the methods of “flood irrigation,” “regional irrigation,” and “drip irrigation” to help the poor escape poverty, laying the foundations for building a moderately prosperous society in all respects by 2050 and achieving socialist modernization by 2050. To ensure that neither a single village nor an individual person will be forgotten would be a basic indictor of success in building a moderately prosperous society in all respects. Moreover, the success of the battle against poverty in China would also be a major achievement of human self-liberation under the system of socialism. In this light, the theory of poverty alleviation with Chinese characteristics is an important supplement and contribution to the Marxist concept of human development and anti-poverty ideology.

Secondly, it has also developed the theory of social governance. In order to build a social governance pattern of “build together, govern together, enjoy together” and to complete the goal of poverty alleviation by 2020, China has been emphasizing social governance reform by building a policy system on targeted poverty alleviation and a “spider web” pattern of poverty alleviation supported by policies, and has formulated a system of poverty alleviation, which is led by the government and involves the participation of the whole society; which relies on east-west collaboration and requires the solid implementation of policies by Party secretaries at provincial, city, county, town and village levels; which demands that the first heads at all levels hold officials accountable for their work, that the two committees of villages act as pioneers in the fight against poverty, that the concerned functional departments provide various types of services. The whole system clarifies responsibility and division of labor, assigns specific tasks to specific personnel and pays adequate attention to assessment. It coordinates the abovementioned measures of poverty alleviation: targeting each person and each household, six “targeted” principles for poverty alleviation, five approaches to aid people in “groups”, four “effectively,” bringing six types of support to villages and households, ten actions, six systems, and five elements in one. It not only utilizes but also develops the system theory and the control theory. With the further implementation of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, China’s campaign of targeted poverty alleviation will become a valuable reference for research in global governance.

Thirdly, it has enriched the political economy of socialism with Chinese characteristics as well. With poverty alleviation being a quasi-public good, its public good feature requires government entities to shoulder the important responsibilities of infrastructure building and keeping the poor “not worrying about food and clothing and getting proper education, medical service and housing.” Meanwhile, its quasi-public good feature also requires other social entities to take part in and carry out multi-party or even all-in poverty alleviation and form a diversified supply system, thus ensuring market and social effectiveness in poverty alleviation and enhancing the sustainability and effectiveness of the results. Therefore, “social participation and the construction of a five-elements-in-one social pattern of poverty alleviation” is a major innovation made by the Chinese government in the new era, which uses macro-control, institutional frameworks, laws and regulations to remedy “market failures”, and uses transfer payments and equalization of public services to smooth out the primary distribution gap, overcome shortcomings in the livelihood of the poor, and improve the supply system of poverty alleviation services via quasi-public goods – a paramount contribution to the modern theory of quasi-public goods supply.

Fourthly, it has boosted the theory of the future development of mankind. At the 70th Session of the UN General Assembly in 2015, Xi Jinping proposed that mankind should take “peace, development, fairness, justice, democracy and freedom” as common values and build a human community with a shared future. “China has always been actively engaged in South-South cooperation while committing itself to eradicating poverty at home. China will provide assistance to other developing countries, within its own capacity and without any political demands, to support and help the developing countries, especially the least developed countries, to eradicate poverty.”[14] China’s theory and practice of targeted poverty alleviation will become an indispensable reference and component in building a modern system of global governance and a human community with a shared future.


III. Value Contribution


The achievements of targeted poverty alleviation offer sufficient answers to the three questions of our time: why Marxism works, why the CPC works, and why socialism prevails, and demonstrate with solid facts that by adhering to the Marxist faith, adhering to the socialist road with Chinese characteristics, and adhering to the leadership of the CPC, we can develop China and make it wealthy and powerful.

Firstly, the achievements of targeted poverty alleviation demonstrate why Marxism works. Marx in his discourse on poverty alleviation points out that systematic poverty and productive poverty are the fundamental causes of poverty, and that poverty alleviation through change of systems and through rise of productivity are the fundamental solutions to the problem of poverty. The transformation of poverty alleviation modes in China, from the coarse “flood irrigation” mode to the precise “drip irrigation” mode, is a systematic innovation in poverty alleviation. On the other hand, the five approaches to aid people in “groups” and the “five elements in one” strategy have replaced the previous dependent mode on growth spillovers and transfer payments, which enhances poverty alleviation by virtue of the rise of productivity. In terms of the latter aspect, industrial development is taken as a fundamental strategy for poverty alleviation. It employs the model of “leading enterprises + cooperatives + base + farmers + markets” and develops poverty-alleviation industries in accordance with local conditions, providing the farmers with jobs and income channels and laying a solid economic foundation. This has obtained remarkable success and sustainability in poverty reduction. Targeted poverty alleviation has enriched and developed the Marxist theory of poverty alleviation, and is a product of combining the Marxist theory of poverty alleviation with the practice of poverty alleviation in China. The unification of multi-dimensional poverty theory and multi-dimensional poverty alleviation practice, emphasized in targeted poverty alleviation, reflects the dialectical relationship between theory and practice. The unification of “not worrying about food and clothing and getting proper education, medical service and housing” reflects the dialectical relationship between food and clothing and basic social dignity. The unification of the five elements of productivity reflects the dialectical relationship between the elements of productivity in the narrow sense and the elements of productivity in the broad sense. The unification of external help and internal motivation reflects the dialectical relationship between internal and external factors. All of these are the application of Marxist dialectical materialism and historical materialism in the practice of poverty alleviation in China. In all, the achievements in poverty alleviation should notify us that “Marxism is not a study restricted to the private library, but was created to change the historical destiny of the people, and has been formed, enriched and developed in the practice of the people’s quest for liberation.”[15] Marxism can provide the Chinese people with powerful mental strength to understand and transform the world.

Secondly, they demonstrate why the CPC works. “The original intention and mission of the CPC is to seek happiness for the Chinese people and bring rejuvenation to the Chinese nation.”[16] In the process of building a moderately prosperous society in all aspects, the CPC keeps in mind the solemn promise that no one will be left behind on the road to prosperity. Through precise identification and targeted policy implementation, the supply of resources for poverty alleviation and the needs of the poor are precisely matched and effectively docked. The full set of procedures of “setting up profiles, dynamic adjustment, help and support in different categories, assessment and withdrawal” achieves a high degree of compatibility between the precision and comprehensiveness of poverty alleviation. The “spider web” mechanism of targeted poverty alleviation coordinates the efforts of all parties and forms a five-elements-in-one pattern of “government + market + society + poor groups + ecology” under the goal of “not worrying about food and clothing and getting proper education, medical service and housing.” This would obtain the poverty reduction goals set by the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development ten years ahead of schedule and provide China’s wisdom and solutions for the global cause of poverty reduction. Everything is for the masses and everything depends on the masses. In their work of targeted poverty alleviation, Party committees at primary levels carry forward the CPC’s mass line and help to change the trajectory of the poor people in their fight against poverty by virtue of poverty alleviation and systematic change as well as by uplifting their knowledge, wisdom and ambition. Herein forms a precise mechanism that combines top-down and bottom-up routes, and fuses villagers’ council with stepwise decomposition and level-by-level responsibility, which renders the six “targeted” principles for poverty alleviation and the five approaches to aid people in “groups” highly replicable and scalable and demonstrates the vigorousness of the CPC’s governing capacity.

Thirdly, they demonstrate why socialism prevails. Targeted poverty alleviation, as a foundational task in the process of constructing a moderately prosperous society in all respects in the new era, materializes the aspiration for common prosperity as codified in the core socialist values. Catered to the particularities of China's national status quo, the “spider web” working system of alleviating poverty in a targeted way places at its center the leadership of the Central Committee of the CPC, thereby giving full play to the institutional strengths of socialism with Chinese characteristics and bringing together the energy and ingenuity of the whole society in the eradication of poverty. This all-inclusive enterprise not only relies on the administrative power of the central government in the coordination of various factors of production such as capital, manpower, supplies, technology and land, which indeed plays a decisive role, but it also aligns itself with market mechanisms when it comes to specific undertakings concerning the development of certain industries, the employment of labor force and the marketing of products, which further guarantees the efficiency of this endeavor. These principles and strategies would promise remarkable achievements in poverty alleviation and help continuously to resolve major social conflicts. They manifest the sophistication of the five major development philosophies – innovation, coordination, eco-friendliness, openness and mutuality.


All in all, targeted poverty alleviation is the path chosen by China to achieve the goal set for “Two Centuries.” As a vital part of Xi Jinping’s Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era and Xi Jinping’s New Development Philosophy for a New Era, targeted poverty alleviation fully embodies the people-centered development philosophy of the CPC. Its policy system and method system of individualized policy-making that targets each person and each household and alleviates poverty in a targeted way is the fundamental innovation of targeted poverty alleviation. The philosophy of targeted poverty alleviation has developed the Marxist concept of human development and anti-poverty ideology, and is a critical manifestation of Marxist dialectical materialism and historical materialism in the practice of poverty alleviation in China. Targeted poverty alleviation has also made significant contributions to the modern theory of poverty governance, and is an important foundation for building a modern system of global governance and a human community with a shared future.


About the authors


LEI Ming: Dean of the Institute on Poverty Research at Peking University, Professor of the Guanghua School of Management at Peking University, Member of the Expert Advisory Committee of the State Council Leading Group on Poverty Alleviation, Professor at the University of Edinburgh, UK.


ZOU Pei: Assistant Researcher of the Office of Humanities and Social Sciences at Peking University.

This paper was first published in Marxism and Reality, No 4, 2020 in Beijing, China.


[1] See the United Nations website at https://www.un.org/en/sections/issues-depth/poverty/index.html.

[2] Xi Jinping. To Be a County Party Secretary Like Jiao Yulu. Central Party Literature Press, 2015, p. 16.

[3] See the November 3, 2013 report “Xi Jinping Visits Xiangxi to Research Poverty Alleviation” on China.com.cn.

[4] Wang Sitie. “Targeted Poverty Alleviation: From ‘Flood Irrigation’ to ‘Drip Irrigation’.” Sichuan Party Construction (Rural Edition), 2014, No.4.

[5] See the September 6, 2017 report “The Six ‘Targeted’ Principles” on cpc.people.com.cn.

[6] “First Secretaries” refer to Party members selected from outstanding young officials and reserved officials of organs at all levels, outstanding personnel of state-owned enterprises and institutions, and officials who have been adjusted from leadership positions in the past for reasons of age and have not yet retired, to serve as heads of Party organizations in villages (generally weak and undisciplined villages and poor villages).

[7] See the September 6, 2017 report “The Six ‘Targeted’ Principles” on cpc.people.com.cn.

[8] Xi Jinping. To Be a County Party Secretary Like Jiao Yulu. Central Party Literature Press (2015), p. 17-18.

[9] Selected Critical Documents Since the 18th National Congress. Ed. Central Party Academy of Party History and Literature. Vol. 3. Central Party Literature Press, 2018, p. 50-51.

[10] Xi Jinping. President Xi Jinping’s New Year Messages (2014-2018). People’s Publishing House, 2018, p. 15.

[11] Xi Jinping. To Be a County Party Secretary Like Jiao Yulu. Central Party Literature Press, 2015, p. 15.

[12] Selected Critical Documents Since the 18th National Congress. Ed. Central Party Academy of Literature. Vol. 1. Central Party Literature Press, 2014, p. 259.

[13] Selected Critical Documents Since the 18th National Congress. Ed. Central Party Academy of Party History and Literature. Vol. 3. Central Party Literature Press, 2018, p. 48.

[14] Selected Critical Documents Since the 18th National Congress. Ed. Central Party Academy of Party History and Literature. Vol. 2. Central Party Literature Press, 2016, p. 721.

[15] Xi Jinping. Address to the General Assembly on the Occasion of the 200th Anniversary of the Birth of Karl Marx. People’s Publishing House, 2018, p. 9.

[16] Xi Jinping. Determined to Build a Moderately Prosperous Society in All Respects and Obtain the Great Victory of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics in the New Era. People’s Publishing House, 2017, p. 1.