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Preferential support should prioritize regions with entrenched poverty

Author  :  Li Xiaoyun and Zuo Ting     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2018-03-06

Since the 18th CPC National Congress, decisive progress has been made in China’s fight against poverty. In the past five years, more than 60 million people have been lifted from poverty and 13 million more escaped poverty each year on average. The number of people living under the poverty line is estimated to have fallen by 10 million in 2017.

Poverty alleviation has physically transformed many poor areas and the fight against poverty has entered a critical phase, according to the Central Committee of the Party. However, deep impoverished regions still face an array of challenges and continue to fall short of the national aspiration to achieve a moderately prosperous society in all respects.

Deep impoverishment takes three forms: regional poverty, poverty at the village level and persistent individual poverty. Extreme poverty is characterized by long-term entrenched poverty in multiple aspects. 

Currently, large-scale regional poverty is endemic in the “three regions” and “three prefectures.” The former includes the Tibet Autonomous Region, and Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan, the four major provinces home to large populations of the Tibetan ethnic groups as well as four administrative divisions of South Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. The latter includes Liangshan Yi Ethnic Group Antonomous Prefecture, Nujiang Li Ethnic Group Antonymous Prefecture and Linxia Hui Ethnic Group Antonomous Prefecture.

In addition to these areas, there are large numbers of extremely impoverished small villages scattered around the country. These are mainly distributed in the Central and West China or in marginal mountainous regions inhabited by minority ethnic groups. 

Poor natural conditions and backward infrastructure have seriously frustrated efforts to end poverty. Extremely impoverished areas are often located in mountainous regions with complex terrain, adverse clime and frequent geological disasters. For example, problems of backwardness and insufficiency exist in water, electricity, road and communication in these areas due to the constraints of geographical resources and other factors, such as residential dispersion.

Extremely impoverished areas lag far behind the national average level in terms of economic development. At the same time, while fighting poverty, they are facing the difficulties of regional development. Such double pressure presents considerable development challenges for local governments. Also, social organizations rarely carry out public welfare activities in these areas. In addition, these areas are usually where the minority ethnic groups inhabit. The gap between their social and cultural values and the mainstream modern value of the market economy implies that there is great difficulty in helping them effectively align with the market economy. 

The level of basic public services in extremely impoverished areas is seriously below the national average. The proportion of people who receive formal schooling is low and so is the percentage of villages with easy access to kindergartens, preschools and primary schools. There is a shortage of local hospitals and medical professionals coupled with a high rate of endemic disease morbidity. Most local residents tend to seek treatment outside their hometowns while the medical expenses have to be reimbursed where the person’s household is registered. This arrangement places a great burden on the local social medical insurance funds and the medical relief funds.

It is difficult to jumpstart industrial development in extremely impoverished regions, where poor natural conditions and geographical disadvantages undermine the industrial basis that is essential to raising local incomes. The bleak prospects of farming and animal husbandry and the fact that farmers’ incomes rely heavily on transfer payments are factors that hinder local industrial development. Factors such as the general slowdown in the growth of the migrant population nationwide as well as declining demand for labor in the building and manufacturing sectors have undermined the effectiveness of rural labor transfer as a strategy for ending poverty. The phenomenon of labor backflow has appeared in poverty-stricken areas, and large amounts of migrant workers are returning to their hometowns for employment. 

In addition to increased investment, unique poverty alleviation strategies should be adopted for these deeply impoverished areas to cope with the aforementioned challenges. By integrating the resources of the government and all social sectors, investment in local infrastructure can be strengthened and a special fund for infrastructure construction can be established. Furthermore, the social and cultural value systems of local minority ethnic groups should be considered, and they should not be coerced into adapting to the mainstream market economy.


Li Xiaoyun and Zuo Ting are professors from the College of Humanities and Development Studies at China Agricultural University.


(Edited and translated by BAI LE)

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