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Ju Li:Poverty Alleviation,A 70-Year Miracle in China

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Author:Ju Li | Source:English Edition of Qiushi Journal October-December 2019|Vol.11,No.4,Issue No.41


Poverty is like a tumor stuck deep in the fibers of human society, and for generation after generation, people around the world have dreamed of throwing it behind.

Since the founding of the PRC in 1949, the Chinese people have tirelessly pursued the dream of shaking off poverty, bringing about extraordinary transformations in the process.

I. Once on the right path, we do not fear the length of the journey.

“Just as the frailest chick could be the first one to spread its wings and fly, the poorest areas could be the first to become prosperous.” In 1988, Ningde in Fujian Province was a typically impoverished region. In that year, Xi Jinping arrived there to take up office as secretary of the local CPC committee. After touring the area extensively and getting to know every corner of the land, he came up with the inspirational appeal that the weakest of the flock can be the first to take wing. Over 30 years of continuous hard work, Ningde lived up to these words and gradually took off. In 2018, the region’s GDP reached 194.28 billion yuan. Meanwhile, per capita income for rural residents was 16,147 yuan, nearly 100 times higher than it was 30 years previously. This epitomizes China’s efforts in forging ahead and pursuing rapid development, and is just one of countless examples of success in shaking off poverty. Over the last 70 years, China has brought more of its people out of poverty than any other country, and is leading the world in completing the UN Millennium Development Goals. This is an achievement worthy of note in the history of the development of human society.

Poverty is a global phenomenon. It not only affects developing countries, but also is difficult for developed countries to avoid. Sub-Saharan Africa is home to 40% of the world’s extremely impoverished people, but in the United States, which is the world’s largest economy, there are still about 42 million people living in poverty, accounting for 13.4% of the country’s population.

Ningde in Fujian Province used to stand out on the otherwise prosperous southeastern coast as an area known for its poverty and backwardness. For decades, Ningde has worked with unrelenting efforts in the spirit of optimism to alleviate poverty, becoming a shining example of success in this regard.


Is it possible for us to escape from poverty? How can we leave poverty behind? With each country searching for its own answers to these questions, China has responded as follows:

In 1949, immediately following the founding of the PRC, China was a country in shambles as it was riddled with problems beyond counting. Restoring production and resolving widespread poverty became the most urgent tasks. The CPC led the people through more than two decades of continuous hard efforts, in which they instituted and consolidated the basic system of socialism and established relatively complete industrial and national economic structures. The rural economy was restored, and the conditions in which farmers lived and produced were markedly improved as compared to those before liberation in 1949. China was thus transformed from its previous state of backwardness and destitution. Between 1949 and 1976, China’s population increased by nearly 400 million. At the same time, per-capita grain production increased from 461 pounds to 678 pounds, representing the first steps in satisfying the basic needs of one quarter of the world’s population. This period of development laid crucial material and institutional foundations for China’s efforts to eliminate poverty and continuously improve public wellbeing.

A Tibetan woman who sells Tibetan handicrafts by the road in Daocheng County, Sichuan Province, smiles happily as she sits in her vehicle and checks her cellphone after helping tourists on an October day in 2018. The tourism industry has become an increasingly important way for ethnic minority areas to shake off poverty and become prosperous.


The Third Plenary Session of the 11th CPC Central Committee was held in 1978. This marked the beginning of the glorious process of reform and opening up, as well as sweeping reduction of poverty across China. Development-oriented poverty alleviation was incorporated into China’s overall strategy for national development, as exemplified by the launch of the “Three Xis” poverty alleviation plan in 1982 (referring to the deeply impoverished regions of Hexi and Dingxi in Gansu Province and Xihai in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region), the launch of a national campaign to reduce poverty through regional development in 1986, the launch of the Seven-Year National Action Plan to Lift 80 Million People out of Poverty through focused efforts, and the promulgation of the Ten-Year Rural Poverty Alleviation and Development Program (2001-2010). This promoted poverty alleviation and development concentrated on contiguous areas with extreme poverty, which in turn led to great advances in socioeconomic development for China’s impoverished regions. Between 1978 and 2012, standards were raised significantly on two occasions in the fight against poverty. According to calculations using the current standards, the rural poverty rate has fallen from 97.5% to 10.2%. The conditions in which our poor citizens live and work have markedly improved, and our success in reducing poverty has far outstripped the global average.

After 2012, socialism with Chinese characteristics entered a new era. Under new historical conditions, rural areas, particularly those in impoverished regions, became the greatest constraint and most prominent drag on development. The CPC Central Committee with Xi Jinping at its core introduced the basic policy of targeted poverty alleviation and eradication, and between 2013 and 2019 the central government has put over 500 billion yuan of funding into poverty alleviation. Our fight against poverty reached unprecedented levels in terms of intensity, scale, and impact, securing decisive progress and historic achievements. Over this period, China’s poor population shrunk from 98.99 million in 2012 to 16.6 million in 2018, with an average of 13 million people lifted out of poverty each year for six consecutive years. Impoverished areas took on a brand new look as almost all naturally formed villages were electrified, more than 98% connected by phone services, and almost 80% linked with paved roads. Meanwhile, the incomes of residents continued to rapidly increase, roughly 77 million poor people became covered with medical insurance, and people’s living standards rose across the board. By the end of 2018, half of the 832 poor counties throughout the country had bid farewell to poverty, as did more than 100,000 registered poor villages, marking the greatest results ever recorded in the history of China’s poverty reduction efforts.

With the conviction that persistent struggle would inevitably lead to victory, the CPC has led the people in consistently battling against poverty for 70 years. More than 700 million people have been lifted out of poverty, accounting for more than 70% of the world total. China is the only developing country that has brought about a historic leap in which its economy has rapidly developed and its overall national strength has increased at the same time as extensive poverty reduction and enhancement of living standards have occurred. This is a miraculous achievement.

II. Development is the solution to casting off poverty.

Looking at poverty reduction against the wider backdrop of the times, it is easy to see that the history of China’s farmers breaking free of poverty and the history of the PRC’s development are one and the same. Before 1949, poverty was the norm, with more than half of rural households struggling to survive as tenant farmers. After the founding of the PRC, development of the socialist economy began, and farmers became self-sufficient for the most part. After reform and opening up when productive forces grew much stronger, the poor population shrunk significantly and China’s society became moderately prosperous overall. Now in the new era, as we are shifting toward high-quality development, we have entered a stage in which poverty alleviation and eradication are being carried out in a targeted manner and people are enthusiastically pursuing better lives. From each of these stages, it is apparent that miraculous achievements in poverty reduction have always emerged in the wake of miraculous economic achievements.

If poverty eradication is a musical composition, then it is played to the melody of rapid growth while the poverty alleviation through industrial development is the key note of the music. For 70 years, China has, on the basis of development and according to long-term goals, channeled as many resources as possible to impoverished regions and people. Since 2012, China has helped its central and western provinces formulate provincial and county-level plans for alleviating poverty through industrial development, assisted impoverished areas in developing unique industries and specialty agricultural products, and pushed toward a shift in poverty alleviation from simply propping up poor areas to enabling them to sustain themselves, thus addressing poverty at the root of the problem.

III. Making the leap from poverty to prosperity depends on resolve.

Though it is only 5am and the sky has just started turning light, Wu Jiujiang has already set off, full of energy and with walking stick in hand, for today a specialist is coming to the local beekeeping association. The elderly Mr. Wu, who was once disregarded as an empty nester in his 70s and had fallen back into poverty due to illness, is now the leader for 71 poor households in Heli Village, Chongwang, Sichuan Province in their efforts to throw poverty behind.

Mr. Wu often says, “Poverty is just a paper tiger. With just a little confidence, even an old man like myself from a poor mountain area can escape poverty and move toward prosperity.” A few years prior he had lapsed back into poverty due to an illness called avascular necrosis, and he had almost lost his passion for life. The launch of the fight against poverty inspired him to pick up beekeeping again and brought hope back to his life. As a result, he not only overcame his illness and economic difficulties and shook off poverty himself, but also was able to help build a honey making business with his fellow villagers.

Top: Large-scale afforestation with the goal of turning barren mountains green, making the people prosperous, and improving public wellbeing


Bottom: Farmers of Daning County working in the fields in the 1990s


Daning County of Linfen City is situated on the Loess Plateau deep in the Luliang Mountains in north China where it is surrounded by desolate gullies. It is one of China’s deeply impoverished counties, as well as a national ecological conservation zone where there are limits on development activities. In recent years, Daning has thoroughly implemented Xi Jinping thought on eco-civilization, and brought remarkable improvement to the environment by pioneering the method of purchase-based afforestation, thus scoring simultaneous success in the battles to protect the environment and eradicate poverty.

In his book Up and Out of Poverty, Xi Jinping vividly explains the relationship between alleviating poverty and nurturing people’s resolve. He wrote, “Poverty alleviation requires a change of attitude”; “Impoverished regions cannot have impoverished mindset”; and “We mustn’t get used to talking about how poor our county or prefecture is because our county is designated as an impoverished one. Over time we will see ourselves as inferior to others and lose spirit, and this sense of inferiority will lead to a ‘poor county mentality.’” As reflected in these quotes, poverty of spirit is even more menacing than material poverty, for this kind of invisible poverty can turn the fear in people’s minds into an obstacle that slows their actions, thus having an extremely negative impact on efforts to escape poverty. The idea that one can sit idly by and wait for somebody to bring prosperity to them is pure fantasy. The reason why China has scored such historic success in its struggle against poverty over the last 70 years is that we have always remained committed to weeding out the mental roots of poverty. For seven decades, generation after generation have passed on the torch, continued the struggle, and brought together the strength of millions upon millions of people in order to keep surging forward, thus inspiring the sons and daughters of the Chinese nation to fight tenaciously against poverty and secure victory after victory.

IV. To fully realize the goal of moderate prosperity, no ethnic group should be left behind.

The key to poverty alleviation is its path. This means finding the right path, making sure that it is solid, and persistently following it forward. For ethnic minority regions, this “path” takes physical form as bridges that cross rivers and roads that reach into the countryside, as well as metaphorical form as the path of poverty reduction. From the arrangement of industrial development projects under the First Five-Year Plan, to the relocation of enterprises under the Third Front Movement in the 1960s, and finally to the implementation of the Western Development Strategy, industrialization, urbanization, and agricultural modernization in ethnic minority regions have consistently accelerated. China has allocated 214 billion yuan of additional funds for the fight against poverty in deeply impoverished regions between 2018 and 2020, with half of these funds earmarked for key ethnic minority regions. Over the last 70 years, as the support of the Party and government toward ethnic minority regions has constantly grown stronger, these regions have gone through vast changes. Where once there was slash and burn cultivation there is now specialized agriculture; where once mountains and rivers hindered transportation there are now roads that traverse all obstacles; and where once illiteracy was the norm there are now university students from all 55 ethnic minorities.

However, since the causes of poverty are varied and complex, ethnic minority regions are still lagging behind on the path toward moderate prosperity. The fact that groups of deeply impoverished people are scattered in the depths of thick forests and in the folds between towering mountains means that broad and unrestrained methods of poverty alleviation will produce few results, which further highlights the importance of targeted poverty alleviation.

Xi Jinping has stated that dedication to precision is the reason why our poverty alleviation efforts have attained the progress that we see today. Our poverty alleviation can only be satisfactory and really address the issue at its roots, when we manage to ensure precision in the identification of target groups for poverty alleviation, carefully plan the projects, make good use of funds, resolutely implement our initiatives, assign officials based on local needs, accurately identify the causes of poverty, set clear targets, tailor measures to specific circumstances, and take concrete actions, particularly in areas where there are large concentrations of ethnic minority groups including the autonomous regions of Inner Monglia, Ningxia, Xinjiang, Tibet, and Guangxi as well as the provinces of Guizhou, Yunnan, and Qinghai.

Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan has implemented poverty alleviation through education, Guizhou has committed to reducing poverty through the application of big data, Qinghai has sought to eradicate poverty by fostering businesses of the local noodles delicacy, and the city of Ulanhot in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region has developed a system in which a whole menu of poverty alleviation options are available. Guided by the basic policy of alleviating and eradicating poverty in a targeted manner, ethnic minority regions have gradually found paths suited to their own conditions. At the end of 2018, the rural poor population in the eight provinces and autonomous regions mentioned above was 6.02 million, 25.19 million lower than it was at the end of 2012. This represents a total decrease of 80.7% over six years. The rural poverty rate fell from 21.1% at the end of 2012 to 4% at the end of 2018.

V. Two battles on a single battlefield should be won simultaneously.

General Secretary Xi’s speech at the Central Conference on Development-Oriented Poverty Reduction in 2015 opened up a brand new train of thought on how to conduct poverty alleviation and eradication in a new stage of development. He said, “Many impoverished regions now blame their condition on their surroundings. However, looking at it from another perspective, if these regions wish to become prosperous, it is precisely by relying on their natural surroundings that they will do so.”

Daning County in Shanxi is situated on the Loess Plateau where it is surrounded by desolate gullies. The place is one of China’s deeply impoverished counties, as well as a national ecological conservation zone where there are limits on development. “Purchase-based afforestation” (farmers being paid by the government through a contract arrangement for planting trees as part of the national afforestation drive) has turned this poor county, where poverty and ecological fragility once fed into each other, into a happy community that is covered with trees and filled with smiling people.

Fifty-three-year-old Feng Suoping was once a registered poor resident living in Baicun Village, Qu’e Town, Daning County. Like many of the other locals, he worked away from home for many years but remained poor nonetheless. When his village launched a “purchase-based afforestation” pilot project, Feng joined as one of the first participants in the cooperative. In just 22 days, he made 2,860 yuan, which made him feel that tree planting really was a good thing. But that’s not all: according to the calculations of a local official, in addition to the 10,000 yuan in tree planting income that Feng has already received, he also holds the rights over a share of more than 16 hectares of forest, which is the equivalent of owning more than 200,000 yuan worth of lumber resources. He can also earn a fee for maintaining the forest, ecological benefit compensation, and carbon trading subsidies. With all of this income, escaping from poverty is no longer a problem. Whereas local residents were previously forced to split up and go elsewhere to work, they have now come home to plant trees together. In Daning today, men and women of all ages are eagerly taking part in afforestation, allowing them to embark on a beautiful green path out of poverty and toward prosperity.

As the concept that lucid waters and lush mountains are invaluable assets has taken root in the hearts of the people, poor residents of key ecological functional zones including Shanxi, the Tibetan-inhabited area in Sichuan, the Wuling Mountains, and the Yunnan-Guizhou-Guangxi rocky desertification zone have all been able to benefit from ecological development. As a result, we have been able to simultaneously win the battles to protect the environment and lift people out of poverty on a single battlefield. The shift from previous times where people needed to exploit the environment just to make a living to today where they can become prosperous by planting trees and making their surroundings greener represents a massive transformation in the structure of development and the means of eradicating poverty, as well as a great step forward for our philosophy on development.

It is not worth it for impoverished regions to sacrifice their environments in order to secure a temporary escape from poverty. The real fast track out of poverty involves transforming ecological resources into economic resources, and using ecological advantages to forge economic advantages. Nowadays more and more poor people are obtaining real benefits as compensation for ecological conservation has come to cover key fields, areas where development is restricted, and major ecological functional zones. Up until November 2018, more than 500,000 registered poor citizens had been selected as forest wardens, and more than 1.8 million members of the poor population had been pulled out of poverty through targeted measures to increase incomes, mostly in closely-linked areas with extreme poverty. In line with local conditions, many areas have developed eco-tourism and green agriculture, truly achieving unity between a prosperous populace and a beautiful environment by putting ecological factors to work.

VI. It is easier to work together than go it alone.

At the eastern foot of the Helan Mountains in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region lies Minning, a modern town that is a model for ecological migration. The town was born of the poverty alleviation campaign, and flourished through efforts to eradicate poverty. Its transformation from a desolate wasteland into a thriving town makes it a vivid representation of the success of cooperation in poverty alleviation and paired assistance between China’s eastern and western regions.

In October 1996, Fujian Province established a leading group for paired assistance with Ningxia, with then Deputy Secretary of the Fujian Provincial Party Committee Xi Jinping put in charge of the group. This marked the beginning of cooperation on poverty alleviation with Minning. Thanks to more than 20 years of cooperation, the town has become a shining example of ecological migration and resettlement in the Xihaigu region, and the model it represents has been replicated across Ningxia. The work group for providing aid to Ningxia in Minhou County, Fujian Province pioneered the model of institutional care + poverty alleviation workshops + cooperatives, building a care and entrepreneurship center for disabled persons in Longde County. As a result, 1,300 disabled people were lifted out of poverty and given opportunities to make more money, thus resolving the situation in which severely disabled persons had no work to support themselves and no means of escaping poverty. For example, Xin Baotong, a disabled man, saw his family’s income increase to 7,000 yuan per month, after which he requested that his three-person household be taken off of subsistence allowances. He said, “We have discovered our worth in this place, and thrown off poverty.”

An aerial view of the world’s highest bridge – Beipanjiang Bridge. The work we are doing today is paving our path toward the future. The cause of alleviating and eradicating poverty will never come to a conclusion, but rather continue springing forward from new starting points. The Beipanjiang Bridge is emblematic of China’s rapid development, as its completion has greatly improved traffic flows between Yunnan and Guizhou provinces.


Cooperation on poverty alleviation and paired assistance has allowed developed regions in eastern China and impoverished regions in western China to join hands and work together across the distance that separates them. In 2018 alone, nine eastern provinces contributed more than 17.7 billion yuan in public assistance funds, 28,500 exchanges of officials and specialists took place, and 1.44 million poor people were provided help in relocating and finding employment. Invigorated by strong assistance from the east, impoverished regions in western China have all the confidence and stamina they need to win the fight against poverty.

Since 2012, China has been building a three-pronged poverty alleviation structure composed of special projects, industry support, and social participation. This has mobilized broad and effective support from all sides, adding fuel to drive forward the cause of poverty alleviation. As it stands, 117 departments and affiliated organizations of the central government and state agencies have provided designated assistance to 233 poor counties, assigned 1,727 officials to participate in work exchanges or to be stationed in villages as first secretaries, and directly or indirectly contributed 71.37 billion yuan in poverty alleviation funds; the People’s Liberation Army and the People’s Armed Police have set up a local poverty alleviation network with 26,000 individual nodes, and helped 437,000 people escape poverty in 2018; and 76,400 private companies have provided aid to 48,800 poor villages through pairing programs, with more than 11 million poor people benefitting as a result. Broad participation in and dedication to aid efforts like these have made it so that on the road out of poverty, impoverished areas no longer have to walk alone.

VII. Leadership is key to winning the fight against poverty.

Speaking frankly about China’s experience in poverty alleviation, a foreign dignitary said the following: the immense success that China has achieved in the cause of poverty reduction is owed to the leadership of the CPC. Members of the public feel strongly that dedicated officials are the key to achieving prosperity, and that help in building a strong local CPC branch is more valuable than monetary or material aid.

“Medicine man” is the nickname that CPC branch secretary Hu Dewen was given by the poor locals, and the title that made him the most proud. Now over 50 years old, Hu is a veteran CPC member and a veteran of the fight to eradicate poverty. In the 15 years since his election as CPC branch secretary for Lianying Village, Yinjiang County, Guizhou Province, his mind has remained fixed on the question of how to help the local people escape poverty. Five years ago, he found out that he was suffering from the early stages of esophageal cancer. Though it was even difficult for him to walk, he made the following demand of himself: “The fight against poverty is a war, and a member of the Communist Party must never become a deserter.” When he was busy with work, he would always forget to go home and take his medicine, so his wife had to put the prepared pouches of Chinese medicine into the bag that he carried with him. Wherever he went, the medicine came with him. Within each of these little pouches of medicine was Mr. Hu’s great aspiration to lead every person in the village toward moderate prosperity.

In the grand campaign of fighting against poverty, China has learned many valuable lessons through experience, the most important of which is that we must uphold the leadership of the Party and strengthen organizational guarantees. For many poor people, the Party members closest to them shape their impressions of the CPC. There are more than 200,000 village-stationed first secretaries, more than 700,000 village-stationed officials, more than 1.9 million poverty alleviation officials working at the township-level , and millions of village officials fighting day and night on the front lines against poverty. Serving in closest proximity to impoverished groups as the boots on the ground for Party organizations, these officials have traded their own hard work for the wellbeing of poor people.

Describing his experience in poverty alleviation, General Secretary Xi once said, “For 40 years, as I have worked in governance at the county, municipal, provincial, and central levels, poverty alleviation has always remained an important component of my work, and the area to which I have devoted the greatest effort.” Years ago, when the young Xi was sent to work in the countryside, the desperate conditions in Liangjiahe Village shook him deeply. Since becoming General Secretary, Xi has poured immense and painstaking effort into the cause of poverty alleviation. He has made dozens of trips to inspect impoverished regions, often bundled up in an overcoat to stave off the cold or holding an umbrella to keep off the rain, visiting 14 concentrated areas of extreme poverty throughout the country. Xi has taken the initiative to offer leadership and serve as an example, and made a series of arrangements such as systems under which officials pledge to complete their objectives in the fight against poverty, secretaries from the provincial, municipal, county, township, and village levels coordinate their poverty alleviation efforts, and Party members and officials serve on the front lines of the fight against poverty and build experience by leading people out of poverty and toward prosperity. He has thus fully reflected the fact that the leadership of the CPC is the greatest strength of the Chinese socialist system.

VIII. We must keep fighting until we secure a complete victory.

From the simple pursuit of seeking a little respite for the heavily burdened people, to the solemn promise of eliminating absolute poverty and building a moderately prosperous society in all respects, the CPC has taken on a project with great and historic significance for both the Chinese nation and the world as a whole.

Though we have already entered the decisive phase for securing victory in the fight against poverty, there are many regions and groups of people that remain in poverty. Fulfilling our objectives of assuring the rural poor that their food and clothing needs will be met and guaranteeing that they have access to compulsory education, basic medical services, and safe housing while also ensuring that no one is left behind in the push toward moderate prosperity will obviously be very difficult. In terms of quantity, there are still more than 16 million people that need to be pulled out of poverty; in terms of structure, most of the current poor are concentrated in deeply impoverished areas with high poverty rates, low per-capita disposable incomes, poor infrastructure and housing, and grave challenges in bringing people on subsistence allowances out of poverty, preventing people from slipping back into poverty due to illness, and helping the elderly escape poverty; and in terms of objectives, though it will be relatively easy to fulfill the goal of assuring people that their food and clothing needs will be met, the tasks in guaranteeing access to compulsory education, basic medical services, and safe housing remain daunting. There is little more than a year left until we will complete our poverty alleviation objectives in 2020, and the road ahead will not be without obstacles. We are still far removed from the point where we can catch our breath and put up our feet; now is the time for us to do battle and launch our most forceful offensive. We must redouble our courage and press forward, continuing the fight until we secure a complete victory.

Furthermore, the concept of poverty is relative and constantly changing. By winning the fight to eradicate poverty, we will be resolving the problem of absolute poverty that has plagued China for centuries. However, even after we have built a moderately prosperous society in all respects, relative poverty will still exist over the long term. The cause of alleviating and eradicating poverty will never end, but rather continue springing forward from new starting points.

(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No. 17, 2019)

From:English Edition of Qiushi Journal October-December 2019|Vol.11,No.4,Issue No.41

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