Chinese gov’t exaggerating its role in poverty elimination?

The issue of poverty remains an obstacle in China’s development despite rapid economic growth in the past two decades. (Photo courtesy: Reuters)

(, Mar01’21) – China’s claim that it has lifted 100 million people out of poverty and eliminated absolute poverty needs to be taken with a pinch of salt, according to a report Feb 28. 

Some have also pointed out that the reason rural poverty was so widespread in China was because of Communist Party policies in the first place, the report noted.

The success in bringing people out of abject poverty is not simply down to the government, the report cited David Rennie of the Economist as saying. “Chinese people, by working extremely hard, lifted themselves out of poverty – in part because some of the stupidest economic policies ever created, by Chairman Mao, were abandoned in favour of versions of capitalism,” he has said.

So, “while there is no doubt something absolutely extraordinary has happened over the last 40 years,” the communist government can hardly take all the credit for it.

Mao Zedong’s disastrous Great Leap Forward movement, which began in 1958, had forced farmers into communes, leading to mass starvation in the countryside.

Besides, the government has relocated millions of people from remote villages into apartment complexes. Sometimes these were built in towns and cities, but sometimes new villages were built near the old ones. But there has been criticism that people had little choice over whether to move homes, or jobs, the report noted.

The report also asks whether China should be holding itself to a higher standard of definition of poverty. It noted, by way of an example, that the World Bank draws a higher poverty line for upper-middle-income countries, which tries to reflect economic conditions. It sets this at $5.50 a day as against China’s about $2.30 a day for rural area individuals. But China is now an upper-middle-income country, the bank was cited as saying.

And according to this metric, about a quarter of China’s population is still in poverty, which is slightly higher than Brazil’s, the report noted.

Also, there is widespread income equality. The report noted that last year, Premier Li Keqiang had said China still had 600 million people whose monthly income was barely 1,000 yuan ($154), which he had noted was not enough to rent a room in a city.


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