"In total, more than 850 million Chinese people have been lifted out of extreme poverty in the past 40 years."
By the end of next year, China is expected to declare that it has already eliminated absolute poverty. This is in keeping with the centennial goal of the Communist Party of China, which was founded in 1921.
Eradicating poverty had been a longstanding goal of Chinese Communist Party leaders since they took power in 1949. But they made slow progress. During the Mao Zedong era from 1949 to 1976, some government programs, particularly the Great Leap Forward, led to hunger and famine in the countryside. Under Deng Xiaoping, who jumpstarted China’s economic liberalization in the late 1970s and 1980s, and later his successor, Jiang Zemin, who assumed office from 1993 to 2003, the gap between urban and rural incomes widened as the government focused its attention on developing urban zones in eastern coast.
Government policy directions began to change under Hu Jintao, who ruled between 2003 to 2013. China abolished agriculture taxes, waived fees for the first nine years of public education in rural areas, and set up a basic social welfare network in the countryside. But poverty remained widespread with Chinese official data showing that 99 million people still lived in absolute poverty at the end of 2012 when Hu left office.
When Xi Jinping became president, he made the eradication of poverty a key target of his administration. He exhorted the party and the government to "win the tough battle of ending poverty,” and urged provincial and municipal officials to look after those most in need in their region. He pledged to wipe out poverty by 2020 and to build a “moderately prosperous society.”
China’s achievements in poverty alleviation are said to be unequalled in modern history and have been recognized worldwide.
Government figures suggest that the number of poor Chinese in rural areas has fallen from 98.9 million in 2013 to 43.35 million in 2016. This translates to a decline in the poverty rate among the rural population from 10.2 percent to 4.5 percent, according to 2017 statistics compiled by of the State Council Poverty Alleviation Office.
In total, more than 850 million Chinese people have been lifted out of extreme poverty in the past 40 years, according to the World Bank. The country’s poverty rate—defined as the percentage of people living on the equivalent of US$1.90 or less per day—fell from 88 percent in 1981 to 0.7 percent in 2015.
The central government said in 2015 that rural residents with an annual income of less than 2,800 RMB (USD427 or P22,000) were living in absolute poverty. The previous criteria set in 2011 was 2,300 RMB. Fourteen areas located in mainly mountainous regions were considered as suffering from particularly acute poverty.
China has already lifted 82.39 million rural poor out of poverty from 2012 to 2018, and its poverty rate—the proportion of people living below the poverty line—dropped from 10.2 to 1.7 percent in the same period, recent data from the National Bureau of Statistics showed.
According to the agency, the population living below the current poverty line in the rural areas was 16.6 million by the end of 2018, down 13.86 million from 2017, and the poverty rate in 2018 was also down 1.4 percentage points from the previous year.
By the end of 2018, the number of Chinese living in absolute poverty had fallen to 16.6 million, according to Chinese government statistics, out of a population of 1.4 billion.
China's poverty reduction campaign is comprehensive and is aimed at ensuring that no one in the countryside has to worry about food, clothing, housing, basic education and health care.
Beijing’s strategy to achieve its poverty alleviation targets includes several measures. Among them are developing industries such as tourism and e-commerce to help people in the rural areas find a job after occupational training; relocating people living in geologically hazardous areas prone to earthquakes or landslides, or are based in remote areas; ensuring children get a basic education or occupational training to prevent poverty passing down the generations; developing public health services in poor areas as medical bills are a frequent cause of families falling into poverty, and ensuring the elderly and infirm will be eligible for social security payments.
While the government’s massive poverty eradication campaign is deemed a success, at the same time there is concern whether the gains made are sustainable or simply a temporary improvement due to the high level of government funding. The government must be able to consolidate the gains made in poverty alleviation and let the rural economy continue to grow in the years ahead.
If China achieves its goal of ending absolute poverty by 2021, what's next? Experts are saying that poverty alleviation efforts will not come to a halt after the goal is reached. Even as basic poverty is eradicated, there will be relative poverty in different sections of society, which will have to be addressed by the central leadership with decisive measures. China's successful effort in licking poverty holds important lessons for other developing countries, including the Philippines, and we ought to study these lessons that we can apply to our specific circumstances.