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China: The Controversial Low Poverty Rate

Categories: East Asia, China, Development, Economics & Business, Environment, Governance

To display the remarkable progress and improvement that the authorities has made in poverty reduction, Liu Fuhe, the spokesman of China State Council Leading Group of Poverty Alleviation and Development [1], declared that China had already realized the goal [2] that the proportion of people living under the poverty line was reduced by half ahead of time. According to China Development Report 2007 [3] compiled by China Development Research Foundation [4], from 1981 to 2004 the poverty rate of China has been sharply declined from 64% to 10%. Besides, “by end-2006 the poverty rate in rural areas has been decreased from 30.7% in 1978 to 2.3%,” reported [5] by Xinhua News Agency [6], the biggest state-run media in China.

On the other hand, the Human Rights Record of the U.S. in 2006 [7] which is published by China State Council Information Office [8] on March 8 criticized that in U.S. there were “37 million people living in poverty in 2005, accounting for 12.6% of total U.S. population” and “one out of eight Americans was living in poverty”.

It seemed that Chinese government was trying to show its tremendous achievement in poverty alleviation especially compared to U.S. which is considered as the richest country in the world. However, did the incredible and dazzling accomplishments totally satisfy or hearten the Chinese people themselves?

An article written by Liu Yu [9] (刘瑜), a post Doctor in Fairbank [10] Center for East Asian Research, was popularly copied and spread in the Chinese blogsphere for in it Dr. Liu gave another side of the U.S. Poverty compared to the Chinese government's propaganda and exposed some misunderstanding with China's low poverty rate:

各国的贫困标准线不一,按照美国的标准,美国有12%的贫困人口,按照中国的标准,中国才8%左右的贫困人口。不过如果按照世界银行统一的日均购买力标准,05年中国有16.6%的人口日均购买力低于1美元, 46.7%低于2美元,相比之下,美国及其他发达国家的日均购买力低于2美元的人口比例少于2%。当然,中国人口多,起步晚,贫困现象难以避免,不应该以此否定中国改革开放的巨大成就和发展潜力。但是,理解是一码事,盲目得意则是另一码事。一个46%人口日均购买力不足2美元的国家,去嘲讽一个同类人口不到2%的国家的“贫困”问题,是不是有点“看到他人眼中的刺,却看不到自己眼中的梁木”呢?

Different countries set their different poverty lines. By the U.S. official poverty threshold, there is 12% of the Americans are living in poverty while by China's, only about 8% of Chinese are poor people. But if according to the World Bank's unified average daily purchasing power standard, there is 16.6% of Chinese living under 1 dollar a day and 46.7% under 2 dollars in 2005, compared to U.S. and other developed countries, in which less than 2% of their population are living beneath 2 dollars a day. Of course, with a large population and developing process that is late started, it's impossible for China to avoid the poverty phenomenon and it's improper for that reason to deny the great achievements of China's reform and opening and developing potential. However, to fully understand is much different from to be conceited blindly. A country in which 46% of the population can't reach a 2-dollar daily life, sneers at the “poverty” problem of another country in which less than 2% of its people are living in the same situation; is it a little “look at the speck in your brother's eye, but do not consider the plank in your own”?

A blogger named Chen Jiaqing [11] copied Liu's article and told his own views in the blog:


I'm deeply vibrated by seeing this article, so I put it in my blog. Here I also want to talk about some of my personal opinions: Someone says China's system is better than U.S. and China's system represents the most people's interests. Is that true? Putting other things aside, firstly look at China's social welfare system that the pension insurances of the public are not strongly guaranteed by the law and misappropriating the social security funds is frequently happening. Even today we are still stricken by “the case of Chen Liangyu (陈良宇)”. We may clearly see the conditions of the social welfare through a Chinese phenomenon that the parents would raise the sons to secure their sunset life. That tells us a stable retired life is more or less not relied on the government welfare but the family cares. …

More netizens [9] gave their comments on Liu Yu's article and the poverty conditions of China in bokee [9]:


Author: guest
In our country, there are some people that only want to keep and expand their own privileges. Have they ever thought about the public? No! They never did that! Sincerity and credibility are not available at all and that's the difference between the advanced and the backward.


Author: Northeast Wind
What our country really needs is: Our government does not bury its head in the sand and deceive themselves.

我觉得楼主发表这篇文章是别有用心的.你所说的事情根本就是断章取义!!中国之所以发表美国人权报告,是因为美国每年都会发表一个世界人权报告,在这份报告里,美国列举了世界其他国家的种种罪行,当中特别针对中国.我承认中国的人权确实有很多问题,但是我觉得还轮不到你美国来管我们的事!最主要的是,美国在报告里从来都不会说美国人权的问题. 众所周知的,美国一直从各个方面阻止中国的发展.为了回报美国,中国每年都会帮美国补上他们忘记在报告里说的”美国人权”.

Author: guest
I think the author wrote this article with ulterior motives. What you said is totally garble of the context!! Every year America would publish a World Human rights Record in which they list a variety of sins of other countries and especially against China. That's why China published the Human Rights Record of the U.S. I do admit that there are lots of problems of China human rights, but I think it's none of America's business! The point is the U.S. never mentioned its own problems of human rights. As everyone knows, the U.S. is trying to prevent China's developing. To requite the U.S., China would help America to cover the “U.S. Human Rights” which they forget to write in the report every year.
Having seen many people support the author (Liu Yu), I really feel that a lot of Chinese are uninformed. They always easily believe others’ reports and do not know the whole things at all.


Author: guest
According to America's standard, 90% (of Chinese) would be poor people.
To refuse other's criticism is our good tradition. So we are glorious, great and right. This is the most successful social system in the world. I suppose America is just jealous of us.


Author: guest
They (the government officials) said: The human rights of China is “the rights to exist” and China's human rights are better than America's, but they desperately send their sons and daughters to U.S. by the treasure which is gathered by their official power, because everyone knows there will be a day to completely liquidate what they've done.

作者: 游客

Is what Mr. Liu said true? It's unable for people to believe. The documents that our government published are based on the fact and truth all the time. I don't think our government would make such a ridiculous thing. We must strongly believe that our government will never make mistake.


不过有一点就是我们沿海地区发展是很好的,不比外国差,如果是沿海的朋友看到,觉的楼主说的断章取义的话,请多多关注内地一些贫困地区,他们还在为温饱问题和生存在努力着, 政府不因该把这些隐瞒起来.

I'm running a company by myself so I have more chances to meet the government officials. In my impressions, sometimes when I talk about the social conditions with them, they said even the Chinese government itself is worrying about the present social conditions like the rich and poverty problems which the Author (Liu Yu) mentioned. The U.S. society structure is like a olive that the country is formed by 10% rich people, 80% middle class and 10% poor people while China's society is like a triangle that 20% people hold the 80% treasure of the whole country and the left 80% people just have 20% of the nation's treasure.

But it's a point that we costal areas are developing as well as the foreign countries. If the friends from the costal areas think what the author (Liu Yu) wrote is garbled, please pay more attention to the poor areas in the inland where people are still struggling for basic living necessities. The government should not hide those facts.

Xiao Zhuoji, the professor of Peking University [12], advised that the Chinese government should raise the present poverty line which was 688 RMB (about 92.88 US dollars) a year for a person to 1000 RMB (about 135 US dollars). In that case, the government would input 30 billion RMB (about 4.05 billion dollars) more each year to poverty alleviation, but Xiao thought the government was not able to shoulder that now.