On Tuesday the central government announced that they would raise the rural poverty line from the 2009 per-capita threshold of 1,274 yuan (about $200) to 2,300 yuan (about $360, or just below $1 a day). This means that many more rural residents will be able to take advantage of state poverty subsidies. From AFP:
Last year, there were officially 27 million rural poor in China. Wu Guobao, a senior researcher in rural poverty at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a government think tank, said the new standard would raise that number to 100 million.
“The previous line was set too low to meet people’s basic needs for subsistence and development,” Wu told AFP.
As China battles high inflation, with all-important food prices recording double-digit growth, more and more low-income people are struggling to make ends meet.
This puts the poverty line closer to, but still shy of, the international standard set by the UN of $1.25 a day. The Wall Street Journal describes the controversy surrounding the definition of poverty in China:
China’s definition of poverty has long been controversial, in particular because the government has often used its record of poverty reduction as a defense against critics of its human-rights record. China argues that access to basic human necessities like food, water and shelter are the most fundamental human rights and should therefore take precedence over others.
By setting the poverty threshold low, some analysts have said, China’s leaders deliberately inflate their success in securing those rights for the nation’s poor.
[…]”Our country already has the world’s second-largest GDP, so I think we should be using the international standard for the poverty line,” commented one user of the popular Sina Weibo microblogging service writing under the handle Zizhu Choushui. “What is this 2,000-plus yuan figure based on?”
While an artificially low poverty line has indeed emphasized the CCP’s achievements in alleviating poverty, it has done little to address China’s enormous income gap. The Globe and Mail reports:
The ruling communist party has claimed part of its legitimacy on lifting people out of poverty, but while the country’s breathtaking development in last three decades has lifted millions out of extreme poverty, it has also created one of the world’s widest income gaps.
[…]The 2,300 yuan that the government deems the minimum needed to cover a year’s living costs in the countryside, would barely pay for one night in some hotels in Beijing and Shanghai.
The BBC quotes Hu Jintao forecasting to the future of China’s income gap:
Chinese President Hu Jintao has made tackling rural poverty a cornerstone of his leadership.
He has rolled out large-scale development projects across China’s poverty-stricken western provinces, in a bid to create what he calls a “harmonious society”.
On Tuesday, state media quoted him as saying that by 2020 no-one in China would need to worry about food and clothing.
“Their access to compulsory education, basic medical care and housing will also be ensured,” he said.
“The current trend of a widening rich-poor gap will be reversed.”
Many of Mr Hu’s plans have target dates set far in the future, which analysts say represent an attempt to build a legacy.
Visit NTD Television’s website for video coverage of this story. Also see previous CDT coverage of China’s Great Divide.