China formally declared that she had overcome extreme poverty in February 2021. This is a piece of good news for both China and the rest of the world. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres hailed it as a 'very strong achievement' for China while a scholar from Oxford University, Professor Peter Frankopan, acknowledged poverty alleviation in China 'is one of the most important developments in the recent decades.'
According to Professor Frankopan, large-scale changes are difficult to achieve. He added poverty reduction does not happen by itself; it takes careful preparation to improve living conditions, invest in infrastructure, and create employment.
It is worth mentioning that the United Nations (UN) 2030 Plan for Sustainable Development's first goal is to eliminate poverty in all of its forms everywhere. However, China has been working towards that goal with meticulous planning and unparalleled vigour from the beginning, and they have already accomplished their goal.
China effectively used one of their proverbs, "Don't give a man a fish, teach him how to fish," to combat poverty. China is, in essence, a village-dominated country. It has 832 counties and 1,28,000 villages, and the villages are home to 770 million people. In 1978, the rural poverty was 97.5%. Initially, China started a fight against poverty from the rural level.
The authorities realised that village people had a limited source of income. Policies were formulated considering the poor people of the villages. To eliminate rural poverty, China did not provide cash or other assistance to the poor people.
They wanted to know the particular reason for poverty. The Chinese government identified the source of poverty and implemented policies to address them. This approach had proven to be effective in the alleviation of poverty at the grassroots level.
However, China started working against poverty after Mao Zedong announced China's new birth in 1949. Thanks to CPC-led agrarian reforms, China's farming population has had political independence and control over their means of production – the land – since then.
In the late 1970s, China introduced significant rural reforms, including allocating contract rights for farmland parcels to deserving households. This effective institutional arrangement improved the match between production relations and productivity in rural areas.
Decades of rapid economic growth and material accumulation have served as the backbone of China's poverty eradication, which is a prerequisite for achieving the historic goal of building a reasonably prosperous society in all aspects.
China's development over the last 70 years, particularly the 40 years since the beginning of the reform, has been marked by a trend of simultaneous economic growth and significant poverty reduction.
In China's rural area, hundreds of millions of people have been brought out of poverty and into the manufacturing and supply chain. In its new type of development, China demonstrated its great potential to contribute to the new economic growth cycle by creating a sizable internal cost market with "dual-performance" characteristics.
In this continuum, before Chinese Xi Jinping came to power in 2012, he had the idea of eradicating poverty in villages, which can be traced back to his 1992 book 'Up and Out Poverty.'
Xi wrote there "poverty alleviation requires a change of attitude and mentally wearing away at the poverty mentality." Xi had been an eyewitness to rural poverty while he was the party chief of Ningde in east China's Fujian province from June 1988 to April 1990.
Following Xi's ascension to power, China implemented some effective policies to eradicate poverty, such as the national poverty registration system. The national poverty recording system, a dynamic archive that identified regional poverty distribution and poverty reasons, was introduced in 2014.
The registration helped the government identify poor residents and their specific causes of poverty, such as income, education, illness, or disaster. Besides, the government has made it more accessible for villagers to access the internet.
The initiative created hundreds of rural e-commerce centres to promote online sales of agricultural products and specialty products. Also, the government adopted the rural settlement strategy. It encouraged rural residents in remote or environmentally sensitive areas to relocate to cities. As a result, people's incomes began to rise, and their standard of living improved significantly. This initiative has resulted in the elimination of poverty in China.
Md Shahabul Haque is an Associate Professor of Political Studies at the Shahjalal University of Science and Technology in Sylhet, Bangladesh. He can be reached at [email protected].
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.