Poverty road in China drives some to riches

25 February, 2021 12:00 AM printer

BAOJING: At his village along a "poverty alleviation road" in Hunan province, farmer Liu Qingyou shares a booklet detailing how Xi Jinping's government has hoisted him and 100 million other Chinese from the breadline.

In it, the cause of his family's hardship is diagnosed as "illness" and "schooling", followed by a list of ways the state has helped, from grain subsidies to improving the yield of their orange groves.

Authorities designated his family as impoverished in 2014 as Xi ramped up a "targeted poverty relief" strategy that sent officials door-to-door to assess poorer households, reports AFP.

For Liu, the following years brought another boost: a new road cutting through Hunan's mountainous countryside, helping transport produce to market twice as quickly and giving valuable links to nearby towns.

But it has not been a smooth journey up China's economic ladder.

Liu says his harvests have not improved despite efforts by local authorities to help him diversify his crop.

Meanwhile, his wooden house does little to keep out temperatures that plunge close to zero in the winter.

From his vantage point, Liu and his family of five still live modestly, and he worries for their future -- despite being counted as lifted from poverty.

"We can get by," he said. "But our house is bad."

He wants what some others have received from the state: resettlement or enough funds to build a brick home.

The reasons he did not qualify are unclear to him.

"Why can't we have the same?" he asked.

China's decades-long war on want has yielded remarkable results.

"Over the past 40 years, China's economic growth has resulted in more than 800 million Chinese escaping extreme poverty... This is an extraordinary achievement," said Martin Raiser, the World Bank's country director for China.

In 2015, Xi vowed to eradicate extreme poverty by 2020, a pillar of the Communist Party's goal to build a "moderately prosperous society" by the 100th anniversary of its founding later this year. Xi declared that the target was reached last year, heralding a "major victory".

But reality on the ground is patchier, with experts warning that rising incomes have made China's poverty line outdated.

Complex criteria to determine who gets aid has also fuelled unhappiness.

Liu's family was officially lifted from poverty around four years after being designated -- the product of a policy shift by Beijing away from relying on the breakneck growth that pulled nearly a billion people out of penury.

Authorities set a poverty line based on income of around $2.30 a day and offered targeted help to those under the line.

But China is now an upper-middle income country, for which the World Bank suggests a benchmark that doubles the current threshold.

"The current low, unidimensional, rural poverty line no longer reflects what it means to be poor in China's rapidly evolving society," said Terry Sicular of the University of Western Ontario.

Contacting villagers remains sensitive, with six cars of officials showing up unexpectedly during AFP's Hunan visit.

Authorities asked about AFP's interview plans and insisted on accompanying reporters around after acquiring details like travel history for Covid-19 prevention.

A police officer showed up at another interview, staying to observe for "sensitive" issues.

The Communist Party has based its legitimacy on delivering continued growth.