Improving rural lives: Indian experts appreciate China’s success

This July 16, 2020 aerial photo shows farmers picking daylily flowers in Yanchi County, northwest China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. (FENG KAIHUA / XINHUA)

When Ritu Agarwal visited some isolated villages in China’s Henan province in 1997 as a research scholar on Chinese language and rural China from New Delhi, she found people living in “almost backward” conditions and mired in poverty. 

The rural communities were suffering due to constant flooding from the Yellow River. People lived in poorly structured houses. They had no electricity, no potable water. The soil was poor, farming was limited to grain cultivation and there were not many opportunities for non-agricultural occupations. Most of the children could not dream of higher education to improve their living standards. To Agarwal, there seemed slim prospects for improving the living conditions of people in the region. 

Fast forward to the next decade, the Indian research scholar witnessed something of a miracle and huge transformation as she again made trips to rural China in 2015 and 2017. 

Under a “targeted poverty alleviation” campaign launched in 2014, China has spent heavily to help its poorest citizens, an approach that few developing countries can afford, said Indian experts

Agarwal said she noticed prosperity in the villages as they were connected with roads and highways. Families were living in brick homes with electricity and had access to clean water. Also, nearly every child attended elementary school, said Agarwal, who is now an associate professor at the Centre for East Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, or JNU, in New Delhi. 

The villages of Henan province are just one of the many successes of China to eradicate abject rural poverty. Chinese President Xi Jinping announced in late 2020 that the nation had removed the last remaining counties from a list of poor regions and achieved the goal of eliminating extreme poverty. 

On Feb 25, 2021, Xi declared that China has scored a “complete victory” in its fight against poverty by lifting more than 770 million people out of penury in the last four decades. 

Over the previous eight years, the final 98.99 million impoverished rural residents living under the current poverty line have all been lifted out of poverty. All the 832 impoverished counties and 128,000 impoverished villages have been removed from the poverty list, Xi said. 

China’s success in lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty since the start of the nation’s economic reforms is a "great story in human history", the World Bank has acknowledged. 

The bank noted that China is responsible for over 70 percent of the global reduction in poverty over the last four decades. 

Under a “targeted poverty alleviation” campaign launched in 2014, China has spent heavily to help its poorest citizens, an approach that few developing countries can afford, said Indian experts who visited China many times. 

China has adopted a variety of poverty alleviation strategies in different periods, and the overall strategy was to promote broad-based economic development. Much of the focus has been on the poorest rural areas, which has been the most fundamental part of ending poverty, the experts said. 

"The government directed resources to human development, especially to education, healthcare and decent nutrition. Later, it focused attention to the lagging regions and rolled out special measures to address the issue, said economist R. Ramakumar from the Tata Institute of Social sciences, Mumbai.   

In 2002 and 2005, when Agarwal visited villages near Kunming, Yunnan province, she noticed rural development in terms of cash crop cultivation, and more earning avenues being generated for people living in the countryside. 

Even in 2012, Yunnan had 88 designated poverty-stricken counties, but within five years, after a series of alleviation measures, poverty was wiped out from those areas, Agarwal said. 

Beijing poured almost $700 billion in loans and grants into poverty alleviation between 2015 and 2020 — about 1 percent of each year’s economic output, excluding large donations by state-owned enterprises, according to government data. 

Recent World Bank figures show just 0.3 percent of China’s rural population living under $1.90 a day. Poverty is defined by China as anyone in rural areas earning less than about $2.30 a day. The World Bank’s poverty line is $1.90 a day. 

Despite the COVID-19 outbreak, the central government’s fund for poverty alleviation had not been cut, but instead added up to 146.1 billion yuan ($22.9 billion), according to a government budget report. 

The government provided free elementary education for all children and financed road construction to strengthen rural connectivity, and also spent a lot on projects to bring electricity and clean water to rural areas, Indian experts noted. 

There was determination on the part of local officials, district officials and township officials to bring new businesses, new jobs and new infrastructure in the lagging regions,  said B. R. Deepak, a professor at the JNU’s Centre for Chinese and Southeast Asian Studies.  

Since late 2012, China has sent over 3 million civil servants to impoverished counties to help reduce poverty, and more than 1,800 people sacrificed their lives while fighting on the frontlines in the anti-poverty fight, according to government records. 

Relocating millions of people from remote villages into apartment complexes is one of the important tasks carried out by government officials to wipe out poverty, said Avijit Banerjee, a professor of Chinese language and Culture at Visva-Bharati University in India’s West Bengal state.  

Sometimes these were built in towns and cities, but sometimes new villages were built near the old ones, said Banerjee. 

China had completed the construction of over 2.66 million houses to resettle 9.6 million impoverished people during the 13th Five-year Plan period (2016-20), according to the National Development and Reform Commission, China’s top economic planning agency. 

Speaking at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation CEO Summit in November 2017, President Xi, who is also general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, said: "I have spent more energy on poverty alleviation than on anything else."  

China's success in eradicating extreme poverty is founded on three powerful principles: CPC leadership, commitment, and CPC mobilization, said Nilotpal Basu, a former member of the Indian parliament and Politburo member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist).  

Despite varied circumstances in different countries, China's poverty alleviation efforts provide valuable lessons for developing countries across the globe, Basu said. 

The writer is a freelance journalist for China Daily.