Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Monday, November 06, 2017

Fighting poverty in China

The peasants' revolt that Mao Zedong led in the 1930s and '40s has not ended the way Mao or Marx would have guessed. Maybe it has not ended.

Xi Jinping Vows No Poverty in China by 2020. That Could Be Hard.
From his home in the mountains of northeast China, Li Zhi has watched from a distance as prosperity has transformed China into a land of high-speed trains, billionaires and skyscrapers.

But the economic boom that made China rich never came to Chashan, a desolate village of 40 people about a six-hour drive from Beijing. Mr. Li, 72, spends his days limping along dusty roads to collect trash in exchange for tips. Stiff and gaunt, he subsists on a diet of rice, steamed bread and hard liquor.
Farmyard in Chashan
Nearly seven decades after the Chinese Communist Party rose to power on a promise of prosperity for all, President Xi Jinping has vowed to fulfill the Communists’ original intent, staking his legacy on an ambitious plan to complete the eradication of rural poverty by 2020.

The plan targets the more than 43 million people who still live on the equivalent of less than 95 cents a day, the poverty line set by the Chinese government…

But Mr. Xi’s lofty vision clashes with a harsh reality across much of rural China. In many villages, young people have gone, leaving older residents to fend for themselves…

“The whole idea of socialism was that all Chinese would have a reasonable living standard,” said Kerry Brown, a China scholar at King’s College London. “The nagging concern is that the Communist Party has created billionaires and a strong middle class, and yet there are still a lot of poor people. That seems to be a massive contradiction.”…

[D]uring a speech marking the beginning of his second five-year term as party leader, Mr. Xi described eradicating poverty by 2020 as one of his chief priorities, vowing to “leave no one behind in the march toward common prosperity.”…

While international organizations like the United Nations and the World Bank have praised the government’s work in helping hundreds of millions of Chinese rise out of poverty in recent decades, some experts worry that Mr. Xi’s plan is more about making headlines than bringing lasting change to poor communities.

Some say the government’s focus on 43 million people is too narrow, noting that millions more live just above the official poverty line in conditions that are not much better. Others say that by concentrating on rural areas, Mr. Xi is neglecting the plight of the urban poor, many of whom are rural migrants…

But the hardest work remains ahead. As many as half of the 43 million people who are officially classified as in poverty could be disabled…

Corruption has emerged as a problem, with more than 1,800 people having been investigated last year for embezzling antipoverty funds…

Then there is the fact that Mr. Xi’s campaign is not focused on urban areas. There are more than 200 million rural migrants in China’s cities, where many struggle to receive education, heath care and other benefits because the local government does not consider them residents. Some fall into unemployment or bad health and live in squalid conditions.

“This is a very big hole in the overall picture, which the government rarely addresses,” said Philip G. Alston, a scholar and adviser to the United Nations who issued a report this year on extreme poverty and human rights in China. “The reality is that many of them are living in extreme poverty.”

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