Poverty Alleviation in China: Propaganda or Reality?
Photographer: Roman Pilipey
Over the past four decades, China says it has lifted more than 800 million people out of poverty, a phenomenon that has been described as 'unmatched in human history' by politicians such as former World Bank President Jim Yong Kim. During that time, boosted by reforms and the economic opening launched by former leader Deng Xiaoping after the death of Mao Zedong in 1976, China's contribution to the world economy has increased from 1.5 percent to 15.4 percent, while its GDP per capita has multiplied by a factor of almost 65.
Over the past five years, 70 million people have been the beneficiaries of poverty alleviation schemes, according to official figures. This year, the superpower is looking to do the same for a further 30 million. China’s poor, rural population is largely located in the southwest, with Sichuan province being one of the country’s most poverty-stricken regions. Out of the approximately 200,000 people living below the poverty line in Sichuan, almost 90 percent live in Liangshan Prefecture, which is home to the largest ethnic Yi population in the country.
According to official figures, there were six million people living in poverty in Sichuan seven years ago. Under the poverty alleviation program, villagers in remote areas are relocated to towns that have been built by the state and are equipped with water and electricity, healthcare facilities and schools while providing the possibility of finding employment and leaving behind the hardship of rural life. But for many of the relocated families, the sudden transition to an urban lifestyle after generations of working and living off the land has been difficult. The open air of the fields has been replaced by small, often overcrowded urban dwellings, most of which have portraits of Chinese President Xi Jinping hanging on their walls. The relocated rural population told EPA-EFE that they did not hang the pictures up themselves. They are also concerned that their language and culture could be under threat, as the local schools only teach classes in Mandarin. Local officials say that none of these people were relocated by force, while educators insist that although classes are entirely in Mandarin, children are taught weekly classes on ethnic Yi traditions and culture. The state’s goal is to lift the population out of poverty, and education is a central aspect to the program.