China's Battle Against Poverty
It is the night of December 31, 2020 in Beijing.
In front of the electronic board outside the State Council Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development, people were counting down in unison. As the numbers reached zero, with a storm of applause, many people wiped tears from their eyes.
"In 2020 we completed the great, historic achievement of building a moderately prosperous society in all respects and secured a decisive victory in the battle against poverty in China."
This was President Xi Jinping's triumphant New Year message to the world.
It is a magnificent achievement that will go down in the annals of Chinese history: an eight-year battle against poverty in which all of China's rural poor were lifted above the poverty line and all impoverished counties were removed from the list of deprivation. In all, nearly 100 million poor people threw poverty behind them.
It has been a heroic and triumphant journey, and through a century of struggle, the Chinese Communists have established solid roots, stayed true to their founding mission, worked tirelessly, and ensured that every part of China achieves moderate prosperity in all respects.
I. The oath — "Poverty alleviation is a tough battle that must be won, and it is a solemn promise our Party has made to the people of the whole country."
As the first rays of sunshine flooded the earth on the morning of January 1, 2021, Wen Anmei and her fellow villagers performed a traditional dance of the Yi people as usual in the town square of Ameiqituo Township in Qinglong County, part of the Qianxinan Buyi and Miao Autonomous Prefecture in Guizhou Province and one of the last places in China to move out of the list of poverty-stricken counties.
They are all from nearby Sanbao Yi Township, one of 20 extremely townships of extreme poverty in the province.
In late 2015, Guizhou Province launched a large-scale poverty alleviation resettlement program, with plans to relocate 1.88 million people during the 13th Five-Year Plan period (2016-2020). Sanbao was included in the list of townships whose residents would all be resettled.
In June 2019 all the people who lived in Sanbao Township moved out of the mountains to their new homes in the small town of Ameiqituo. "The government arranged a job as a cleaner for my mother, with a salary of 1,800 yuan a month. My father became a forest ranger and earns 800 yuan a month. I work in a tourism company in the town and get paid 3,800 yuan a month." This is the kind of income Wen Anmei could only dream of previously.
A worker processes products made from goji berries at an industrial park set up through the Fujian-Ningxia poverty alleviation partnership in Xiji County, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, September 17, 2020. The county was officially taken off the list of impoverished counties, November 16, 2020, and now all nine impoverished counties in the region have exited poverty. PHOTO BY XINHUA REPORTER WANG PENG
In November 2020, nine counties, including Qinglong, were removed from the list of poverty-stricken counties. All 832 counties across China that were previously identified as poverty-stricken have now eradicated poverty.
At a meeting of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee on December 3, 2020, President Xi solemnly declared, "After eight years of continuous struggle, we have completed our poverty alleviation mission for the new era on schedule. We have eliminated poverty among all rural residents living below the current poverty line and in all poor counties. Absolute poverty and region-wide poverty have been eradicated, and nearly 100 million poor people have been lifted out of poverty. We have achieved a major victory admired by the world over."
This victory was won through a battle against poverty on an unprecedented scale, of the greatest intensity, and benefiting the largest number of people in human history. China has completely eliminated absolute poverty and region-wide poverty, laying a solid foundation for the realization of its First Centenary Goal. It is a miracle that has been realized by hundreds of millions of people under the leadership of Communist Party of China.
Since the 18th CPC National Congress of 2012, President Xi Jinping and the rest of the CPC Central Committee have consistently practiced a people-first philosophy and prioritized poverty alleviation among their governance tasks, and President Xi has assumed personal command and responsibility for this battle.
On the chilly morning of December 30, 2012, President Xi made his way through the snow to visit the poor villagers of Luotuowan and Gujiatai in Fuping County, Hebei Province.
He visited numerous households, supporting the elderly and showing concern for people's wellbeing. He then sat cross-legged on a traditional kang, heated bed built with mud and stone typical in rural areas in northern China, and chatted with the villagers. President Xi, who had just been elected the General Secretary of the CPC Central Committee, explained that he was there to see what conditions were really like.
More than a month before, the 18th CPC National Congress had proposed the ambitious target of building a moderately prosperous society in all respects by 2020. In Fuping County, an old revolutionary base in the Taihang Mountains, President Xi pointed out that the most arduous task would be achieving moderate prosperity in rural areas, especially poverty-stricken areas.
"If rural areas do not achieve moderate prosperity, especially in poor regions, then we will not be able to achieve moderate prosperity in all respects." President Xi set out the conditions for building a moderately prosperous society. Looking back, the century of struggle by the CPC has been a struggle against poverty.
Eradicating poverty is an ideal to which all of humankind aspires. The CPC and the Chinese government have always made it their goal to achieve a good standard of living for the Chinese people, and they have worked assiduously to this end.
Since 1982, China has implemented three major rural development plans: the 8-7 National Poverty Reduction Plan of 1994-2000, the National Rural Poverty Alleviation Development Program of 2001-2010, and the National Rural Poverty Alleviation and Development Program of 2011-2020. Following the initial battle in the war on poverty, China has lifted 750 million rural poor people out of poverty through large-scale poverty alleviation and development efforts.
Since the 18th CPC National Congress, President Xi has toured China's most impoverished areas, including those in Shaanxi, Gansu, Ningxia, Guizhou, Yunnan, Guangxi, Tibet, and Xinjiang. Of greatest concern to him are the people who face difficulties.
On February 3, 2013, on the eve of the Spring Festival, he visited the home of veteran Party member Ma Gang at Yuangudui Village in Weiyuan County in northwest China's Gansu Province. "President Xi came into my house and sat on my kang. He wasn't worried about it being dusty. He just started chatting to me," said Ma Gang.
Water shortages and droughts are major problems that plague local poverty alleviation work. When President Xi saw the water tank in the house, he scooped some water up to his mouth but frowned at the taste.
The next day, President Xi visited the Weiyuan County Water Diversion Supply Project to inspect progress and urged local government officials to provide the people with clean water from the Taohe River as quickly as possible.
The fight against poverty has been a dynamic, people-centered process.
In the past eight years, President Xi has inspected 14 contiguous areas of extreme poverty in China and visited 24 poor villages. He remembers each and every one.
At the Central Conference on Poverty Alleviation and Development on November 27, 2015, President Xi stated that the call to arms in the fight against poverty had been sounded. He urged the Chinese people to become committed, like the Tenacious Old Man moving the mountains from the Chinese popular fable, by setting targets and working hard, so as to achieve a decisive victory in the battle against poverty and ensure that all poor areas and poor people could achieve moderate prosperity in all respects by 2020.
At the meeting, senior Party and government officials from 22 provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities in the central and western regions signed a letter addressed to the CPC Central Committee taking responsibility for poverty alleviation, and this was followed by provinces, cities, counties, townships, and villages also signing letters of responsibility.
"A vow is like iron, and a promise is like gold."
In the eight years up to the end of 2020, 832 impoverished counties, 128,000 impoverished villages, and 98.99 million impoverished people have been lifted out of poverty.
Having already achieved the United Nations Millennium Development Goals a decade early in 2005, China was again ten years ahead of schedule in achieving the poverty reduction goal set out in the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
II. Striving for victory —"The problem of absolute poverty that has plagued our nation for thousands of years will be brought to a historic conclusion by our generation."
It is October 2020 in Xunwu County, Jiangxi Province.
As the last household is removed from poverty in Liuche Village, which was previously entrenched in poverty, with 477 people from 107 households considered impoverished and a poverty incidence of 18%, Yong Xin, the first secretary stationed in the village who had been sent over by the Publicity Department of the CPC Central Committee, breathes a sigh of relief.
Due to the Hakka accent of the villagers, they pronounce Yong Xin's name the same as the word for "devoted." "To get rid of poverty, one must be devoted," Yong Xin joked.
There are hundreds of types of poverty, and thousands of types of difficulties.
From the northeast border to the southwest border, from steep loess slopes to snow-covered plateaus, from old revolutionary areas to ethnic areas ... poverty-stricken places and people have been accurately classified based on the causes of their poverty, and policies have been drawn up for specific villages, households, and individuals, as part of the final push to defeat poverty, since the 18th CPC National Congress held in 2012.
Where it is difficult to increase traditional production, industries are developed according to local conditions to increase people's income.
At the beginning of the year, a Chinese TV drama about poverty alleviation called Minning Town transported its audience back to the once barren land of Xihaigu in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region in north-central China.
At Xiping Village in Xihaigu, villager Bai Xueqin shook her head when a government official told her to plant wormwood for the first time. The official patiently explained to Bai that companies would buy the wormwood, creating jobs for people in poverty alleviation workshops and that she and other villagers could buy shares from the industry using their land as investment. Eventually, Bai decided to give a try. Today, her annual income from 1 mu (0.06 hectare) of wormwood is more than 1,500 yuan, and there is more than 10,000 mu of planted wormwood across the county.
The Talatan solar farm in Gonghe County, Hainan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Qinghai Province. Located along the Yellow River, Talatan was originally an empty and arid land. In recent years, however, the local area has vigorously developed the "sunshine sector" by building solar farms. Village solar power stations have been built and started generating power on the grid, with profits used to pay the salaries of registered poor people working in public welfare jobs. This has helped boost the incomes of disadvantaged locals and transformed this once desolate area into a place where business is thriving. PHOTO BY XINHUA REPORTER XING GUANGLI
Mushrooms, wolfberries, grapes, and livestock have all thrived, like wormwood, in the once-barren land of Xihaigu.
Across China, more than 90% of poor households have received industry and employment assistance, with more than 70% getting help from leading enterprises and cooperatives.
When the land cannot support the people living on it, resettlement may be a better answer.
On May 13, 2020, in a village that became to be referred to as "Xuanya (Cliffside) Village," Zhaojue County in Sichuan Province, for being situated on top of a tall mountain cliff, it was just getting light as 51-year-old Mousedati opened the door to his courtyard wearing a backpack and descended the 2,556-step steel stairs on his way to his new house in one of the county's designated poverty alleviation resettlement areas.
On China's poverty alleviation map, inhospitable villages have been replaced with bright, spacious settlements. As a result of China's poverty-alleviation resettlement initiative, tens of millions of poor people – the equivalent of the population of a medium-sized country – have been resettled from poverty-stricken areas.
Where ecological fragility and poverty intersect, develop the environment to reduce poverty.
Under the warm winter sun, the 600-square-kilometer solar power station at Talatan in Gonghe County, Qinghai Province shines like blue armor. This part of the Gobi Desert has been transformed into a sea of solar panels, and the local poor are benefitting from the income it provides. A fortunate side effect is that grass has begun to grow again on the desert's surface under the shelter of the solar panels. Villager Ma Shengjian points out that now he not only receives dividends from solar power generation, but he can also raise sheep on the grassland, earning him about 3,000 yuan a month.
Some aspects of poverty are cognitive, so we must strengthen education and people's confidence.
Zhang Yangfan, a graduate from the Central Academy of Fine Arts, was sent to Dafeng Village in Dingnan County, Jiangxi Province as a member of a poverty alleviation team. During his placement, he found that villagers' intellectual poverty was more worrying than their material poverty.
Zhang decided to pick up his paintbrush again and opened Tongxin Studio in the village in November 2018. As well as teaching painting to children, he has a very special student from an impoverished family, Lu Baohua. Lu, who is 43 years old, contracted an illness as a child that left him wheelchair-bound. His misfortune left him feeling depressed and inferior. Zhang introduced Lu to sketching, color-pencil drawing, painting with watercolors, and oil painting, and Lu's talent was immediately apparent.
In June 2019, Tongxin Studio held an exhibition for charity, and all nine of Lu's paintings were snapped up.
Some people are completely unable to work, so they need us to meet their basic needs.
Mu Baoji, 53 years old, is from Nanjia Village in Wuzhi County, Henan Province. His wife and daughter have mental disabilities and need constant care. In March 2019, they were identified as eligible for care and admitted to a mental health facility, where they receive medical treatment, rehabilitation, nursing, entertainment, and life care. In addition to his wife and daughter, Mu looks after two other people in the facility, which gives him a monthly income of 2,000 yuan.
Across China, a total of 20.04 million people registered as living below the poverty line are given assistance in the form of subsistence allowances or extreme-poverty support, which ensures they have adequate food and clothing.
Regardless of the complexity of someone's poverty, targeted assistance is available.
Using the five pathways (production development, relocation, environmental compensation, education development, and social security) of poverty alleviation, as well as initiatives to reduce poverty in the areas of health, consumption, and resource income, China has been able to crack strongholds of poverty and help millions of poor people start new lives.
III. Waging an all-out battle— "As long as the whole Party and the entire nation work together and fight tenaciously, the battle against poverty will undoubtedly be won."
During the past two years, Li Cunquan, a villager from Daqingshi Village in Pingjiang County, Hunan Province, has led a particularly happy life.
Just after graduating from junior high school, Li followed his two cousins from a neighboring village out of the mountains to work in Changsha and Guangdong. When a work injury led to him losing his left hand, he returned to his village to get married and have children. But the burden of having a child to feed and sick elderly parents to care made his life difficult.
He reached a turning point in 2014. First, Li's family was identified as a poor household and offered social security. Then, a raft of national policies led to Daqingshi Village being provided with running water and connected to the outside world via paved roads and cell phone coverage. Finally, the village's poverty alleviation team approached Li and suggested he raise cattle to remove his family from poverty.
Li now has 11 cows, and last year he made 50,000 yuan selling beef.
History is a faithful scribe that quietly keeps notes on our fight against poverty.
To win the battle against poverty, Party committee secretaries at the provincial, municipal, county, township, and village levels have worked together from top-level design to implementation, in order to reduce poverty, and the CPC has united people at all levels into a force capable of alleviating poverty. Many people have even paid the ultimate sacrifice, but the light from their shining examples will forever warm the hearts of the people.
Despite having moved to a resettlement area to start a new life and working long, busy days for an express delivery service, Li Jianping from Rong'an County in Guangxi still occasionally finds the time to look at the photos on her phone of Lan Biaohe, a former county Party committee member and deputy county mayor.
In 2015, Li's family was identified as a poor household. One rainy evening, Lan and other village officials arrived at Li's house on their motorcycles, soaked and covered in mud.
"That night, I learned about the poverty alleviation policies for the first time. County Mayor Lan encouraged us to work hard and change our circumstances," Li explained. From then on, Lan was like a relative. He showed concern for what the family lacked. He helped Li learn new skills, including how to grow kumquats. Under the repeated persuasion of Lan, Li's family decided to participate in the program to resettle impoverished people away from inhospitable areas.
In April 2018, Lan Biaohe passed away due to exhaustion from the exertions of his job.
"It would be great if he was still alive. It's almost the holiday season, so I'd give him some kumquats," Li said, tears welling up in her eyes.
Since the start of the fight against poverty, a total of 255,000 work teams have been dispatched to villages across the country, and more than 2.9 million officials from Party and government offices and state-owned enterprises and institutions at or above the county level have been appointed as village first secretaries or officials. They are on the frontline of the battle against poverty alleviation and bear the responsibility and pay the emotional toll as officials in charge of reducing poverty.
Jiashi in Xinjiang is located on the edge of the Taklimakan Desert, the largest desert in China. Kurexi Hawuli worked for the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Regional CPPCC but was sent to Ayake Langan Village to serve as the village's first secretary for several years.
Behind officials and the public in the fight against poverty, there is a strong network of support from all over the country. This has been a major feature of China's poverty alleviation, and it has proved an inexhaustible source of energy for driving development in impoverished areas.
Local residents weave handicrafts at a poverty-reduction workshop in the Wuhu resettlement area, Tuoping Village, Fugong County, Nujiang Lisu Autonomous Prefecture, Yunnan Province, April 2020. PHOTO BY XINHUA REPORTER JIANG WENYAO
During the 13th Five-Year Plan period, China has gradually formed a poverty alleviation approach consisting of combinations of government-sponsored projects, sector-specific programs, and societal assistance, which has improved over time. The platform economy, which relies on digital technologies such as cloud computing, AI, and blockchain, has also injected new momentum into the fight against poverty. Efforts to reduce poverty by boosting consumption have been extended to all poverty-stricken counties and effectively addressed the difficulties some impoverished areas faced in selling their agricultural products. By combining online and offline resources, a strong coalition made up of actors from all sectors of society has been brought together to reduce poverty.
IV. Creating a new outlook—"Lifting villagers out of poverty is only the first step toward achieving a happy life and the starting point of a new life and a new struggle."
History is like a constantly unfolding tapestry.
"Establish deep roots in the land, maintain a practical and realistic attitude, and work hard to paint a magnificent picture of rural vitalization and move steadily toward the goal of common prosperity."
This was the vision for moving from a decisive victory in the fight against poverty toward rural vitalization set out by President Xi Jinping in his 2021 New Year's speech.
It is a historic shift away from the Three Rural Issues policy.
In Mangjing Village in Lancang County, Yunnan Province, two generations of 77-year-old Su Guowen's family, who belong to the Blang ethnic group, have very different dreams.
Top: Gujiatai Village, Fuping County, previously trapped in poverty (Photo taken on February 23, 2013)
Bottom: The new and improved scenery of Gujiatai Village since it left poverty behind (Photo taken on October 5, 2019) PEOPLE'S DAILY / PHOTO BY LUO DAQING
In 1951, his father Su Liya had three dreams: one day a road would be built to the top of the mountain; he would use a tractor to plow the land; and the village would have electricity.
"His three dreams have been realized, and even been greatly surpassed," Su explained.
In recent years, the village has worked hard to develop a tea industry. Its tea sells for a good price because of its high quality.
Su also has three dreams: further improvement of education; proper development of the local tea industry; and protection of the local environment.
Now is the time to consolidate achievements in poverty alleviation and make progress in rural revitalization.
The CPC Central Committee has set out a five-year transition period for counties that have completed their poverty alleviation objectives and removed themselves from poverty. During the transition period, major assistance policies will remain largely in place. Policies will eventually be optimized and adjusted item-by-item, with the pace, intensity, and speed of change controlled to achieve a smooth transition from using central resources to support poverty alleviation to using them to promote rural revitalization.
The key to ensuring that resettled people can have stable lives and prosper is employment.
At a resettlement site in Tuoping Village in Fugong County, Yunnan Province, some women are sewing baseballs at a poverty alleviation workshop. They had only ever seen baseball on TV before, but now they are all skilled at making them.
To date, 996,000 people registered as living below the poverty line in Yunnan have been resettled. In total, 2,832 centralized resettlement areas have been built, including 19 sites that each can accommodate more than 10,000 people. The centralized resettlement areas have implemented 2,559 industrial poverty alleviation projects, and 211 poverty alleviation workshops have been built.
Resettled people have moved away from poorly paid extensive cultivation toward diversified income streams. They now have the basic resources and means to become affluent. Meanwhile, in ecologically fragile emigration areas, the mountains are more verdant and rivers flow clearer as the environment improves.
"After 2020, especially during the 14th Five-Year Plan period, most of Yunnan's poverty-stricken counties will still make consolidating the results of poverty alleviation the focus of their rural vitalization efforts. This convergence will mainly be reflected in planning, policies, mechanisms, and funding projects of various tasks. It will not pause or stop," explained Huang Yunbo, director of the Yunnan Provincial Poverty Alleviation Office.
This is the starting point of a new life and a new struggle.
How can farmers and herdsmen who have lived on the Tibetan Plateau for generations reap environmental dividends?
Tibetan herder Asong lives in Angsai Township of the Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Qinghai Province, at the source of the Lancang River which eventually turns into the Mekong River after it flows out of Chinese territory. A few years ago, he was hired by the government to be an ecological warden. As well as looking after his livestock, he is responsible for monitoring local wildlife, including checking infrared cameras for sightings of snow leopards in the Sanjiangyuan area. He and other herders provide important help to the government's ecological protection work.
"My home is in the Sanjiangyuan National Park. As well as protecting our homeland, we earn more than 20,000 yuan a year. We need to do what we can to protect the mountains and rivers of our hometown and leave the land pristine for future generations," Asong said.
Deng Erping, deputy director of the Qinghai Provincial Forestry and Grassland Bureau, pointed out that remote forests and pastoral areas are often areas of deep poverty and it is difficult to increase people's income in such places, but they are also areas with extensive forest and grassland resources and major beneficiaries of state compensation policies.
At present, there are nearly 100,000 ecological wardens in Qinghai Province who live above the national poverty line. They play an important role in helping farmers and herdsmen to shake off poverty and increase their incomes. This is affectionately referred to as the "heart-warming project" by farmers and herdsmen.
We are standing at a new starting line, ushering in new opportunities, and witnessing new changes.
At Luowu Village in the depths of the Xuefeng Mountains in Hunan Province, the village rules and regulations are updated once a year.
In 2017, the clause "It is strictly forbidden to drive without a license or after consuming alcohol," was added.
"In the past, there were no paved roads in the village. A road was laid in 2016, and there are more and more cars in the village," village Party secretary Chen Weimao explained with a smile.
The rule to promote new ways of celebrating marriages and simpler ways of conducting funerals and to do away with outdated rules and customs was added in 2018 and has become the consensus among everyone in the village.
"Fishing using poison, electricity, or explosives is strictly prohibited. It is forbidden to catch loaches and frogs." This article was also added to the village rules and regulations in June 2019, when the village decided to develop rural tourism. As of January 2021, the village had eight homestays and more than ten bed and breakfasts.
"We have shaken off poverty and ushered in rural vitalization. It's not just life that has changed; everyone's spirit has changed, too," said Chen Weimao. In the future, the rules and regulations of Luowu Village are certain to be continually revised to keep up with changes in village life.
Qi Zhongxi, Li Xingwen, Wang Changshan, Hou Xuejing, Hu Lu, Guo Qiang, Yang Jing and Sun Yingqi are reporters with Xinhua News Agency.
(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No. 4, 2021)