China Foundation for Rural DevelopmentIn China, 56 million people in rural areas live in poverty and almost 150.8 million are malnourished, according to the World Food Programme. Malnutrition is the consequence of a poor diet and can lead to stunted growth and weakened immunity. Further to this, schools in rural China lack access to vital equipment for the preparation of healthy meals. A great number of communities also lack sufficient nutritional education. One of the greatest social issues in China today is the “opportunity gap between rural and urban children,” an issue that organizations like the China Foundation for Rural Development (CFRD) work to alleviate. Founded in 1989 and based in Beijing, the CFRD is a non-governmental organization focusing on those living in China’s most secluded communities. Targeting the main causes of poverty, the CFRD works to “improve health, promote educational equality and improve rural livelihoods.”

Malnutrition in Rural China

Although China has made significant progress in improving the standard of living across some regions, there are still remote communities, particularly in mountainous areas, where great income disparities remain. Responsible for managing 95% of the cultivated land, more than 200 million smallholder farmers work across this vast rural landscape, producing most of the food consumed across China.

In 2014, UNICEF reported that 20 million Chinese children lived in poverty, based on the official poverty standard of $1.80 per person per day. Furthermore, just 10 years ago, 13 million children in China went unregistered and were unable to access basic but vital social services.

Malnutrition poses a significant threat to children growing up in rural communities. For almost half of them, three meals a day is a “luxury” and most have no choice but to survive on starch-based diets with little to no meat or vegetables. This results in deficiencies in energy, protein, calcium and vitamin A. Due to the enormous population size of China, statistics on child nutrition are nationally substantial.

The Work of the China Foundation for Rural Development

Having adopted the slogan “Persistence Brings Change,” the CFRD has the mission of helping “resource-deficient poor communities enhance their capacity for self-sustainability.” The organization aims to do this by improving basic conditions and standards of primary social service.

The CFRD has implemented numerous programs that address the issue of childhood malnutrition in rural communities across China. One of these is the Nutritious Meals Program, which improves nutrition in three stages: the production of nutritious meals, the establishment of “Love Kitchens” within rural schools and education in underdeveloped areas around the importance of nutrition.

The initiative includes a daily nutritional supplement for children during school hours, including one egg and one carton of milk. The standard Love Kitchen equipment is installed in schools and includes electric stoves, rice steamers, disinfection cabinets and exhaust fans. In addition, the program provides nutrition training and education regarding malnutrition.

The Nutritious Meals Program operates in 17 provinces across China, including Sichuan, Yunnan and Hubei. The program has also had an international influence, with similar food programs running in Cambodia and Ghana to aid students.

Impact of the China Foundation for Rural Development

Since 2008, the CFRD has provided more than 1 million students with around 57 million nutritious meals. The organization has also established 2,172 Love Kitchens in many provinces across China. Moreover, it has provided 762,000 nutritious meal packages for 605,000 people in 20 provinces.

The Give2Asia website tells the story of Alimunisa, one of the children who have benefited from the work of the organization. The fourth grader from Aktau County comes from a low-income household (yearly income equating to about $775) that is registered as one of the “poor households in China.” Alimunisa says the household meals rarely contain meat or vegetables. She, therefore, “looks forward to school where she eats meals she wouldn’t normally get at home. Her favorites are the marinated chicken eggs and milk donated by the Nutritious Meals Program.” The nutritious meals have made “school more enjoyable” and also improved Alimunisa’s academic performance.

Looking Ahead

In 2004, the CFRD began expanding its work to include other countries. In these nations, its work includes responses to natural disasters or extreme weather events. With CFRD programs, children across China and other nations have a better chance of escaping poverty and living a higher quality of life.

– Bethan Marsden
Photo: Flickr

Foreign Aid to ChinaForeign aid to China has played a crucial role in combating poverty. China stands as a long-term receiver and donor of foreign aid due to its rapidly growing economy and desires to sustain its international power. However, China receives less foreign aid than before due to its current classification as an upper middle-income country, with various international relations implications.

General Aid to China

Since the revolution in 1949, foreign aid to China has increased bilaterally and multilaterally, supporting social reform and development initiatives. In terms of foreign relationships and support, international organizations, such as the World Bank, still support China by investing billions in various development projects in transportation, public administration, water and sanitation, agriculture and more.

The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) has also focused on poverty relief in China. For instance, in partnership with the Alibaba Group, the UNDP launched the Rural Taobao project in 2014, which established e-commerce platforms in rural areas to provide access to goods and services that were previously unavailable. This public-private sector collaboration has helped many people in rural areas sell their products online and has created job opportunities for local residents.

Special Projects

Like other countries, China has also received foreign aid from various countries and international organizations, particularly in the aftermath of natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods. For instance, in May 2008, the Singapore Red Cross provided support worth S$150,000 to victims of the Sichuan earthquake, including assistance to meet the shelter, food, water and health care needs of 120,000 people in Lushan county.

In addition to responses to natural disasters, USAID has supported a range of poverty reduction projects in China, such as improving access to clean water and sanitation, supporting the development of small and medium enterprises and strengthening civil society organizations. However, the United States has reduced its foreign aid to China over the years.

This is due to the increasingly tense bilateral relationship between the world’s two superpowers and related geopolitical implications. Instead of having a much larger investment realm, the U.S. has focused aid on Tibetan communities, rule of law initiatives and climate change policy, particularly in areas where international attention and humanitarian assistance are crucial and localized, as these programs align with the values and interests of the United States.

The decision to provide foreign aid to China depends on various factors, including the specific development needs of China and the donor country’s priorities and resources.

Aid From China

In recent years, China has become a large donor of foreign aid itself, particularly to developing countries in Africa and Asia. Since 2000, China has spent $843 billion on bilateral aid, financing 13,427 bilateral aid projects in 165 countries, making it the biggest new player in this domain. The 2021 version of China’s approach to foreign aid and development priorities document “offers high-level principles that China claims to ascribe to.”

Although some concepts are carried over from previous papers, the 2021 version expands on the vision “articulated by its predecessors,” with “many of its new terms seeming to be in direct response to recent critiques of China’s flagship push to fund physical and digital infrastructure overseas through the Belt and Road Initiative.”

The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a global infrastructure development strategy the Chinese government proposed in 2013. The initiative aims to connect Asia, Europe and Africa through a network of roads, railways, ports and other infrastructure projects, with the goal of promoting economic development and trade. According to the World Bank, the initiative involves more than 70 countries and represents more than “one-third of the global trade and GDP and approximately 60% of the world’s population.”

The BRI is controversial, with some countries accusing China of using it to expand its global influence and engage in “debt-trap diplomacy.”

A Significant Role in China’s Development History

Foreign aid has played a significant role in China’s development history, with foreign aid to China increasing bilaterally and multilaterally since 1949. However, there has been a significant downward trend in foreign aid to China as China has become a key donor of foreign aid itself.

– Scarlett Ren
Photo: Flickr

renewable energy in China Many consider China to be a leader in renewable energy, with the country now boasting the biggest market for jobs in this sector. According to Energy Monitor, China will build more than 870 GW of solar and wind power infrastructure by 2025. For context, the U.K.’s entire solar energy installations by June 2021 stood at around 13 GW. In 2021, the renewable energy sector employed almost 5.4 million people in China, equating to 0.7% of the entire labor force. The recent global energy crisis has only served to accelerate this job boom. Last year, concerns over the price of fossil fuels pushed China to more than quadruple its onshore wind capacity and 2022 saw the biggest-ever contribution of the clean energy sector to China’s workforce.

A Clean Way to Tackle Poverty

Based on the poverty headcount of $6.85 a day, 25% of China’s population lived in poverty in 2019 and economic inequality is still rife. Therefore, poverty reduction through job creation is still very much a priority for the national government. Deciding to invest heavily in clean energy, China is ensuring it provides future-proof jobs that have little chance of becoming redundant, considering the world’s net-zero ambitions.

Plus, having prioritized renewable energy in China, other countries now rely on support from China to help meet their energy ambitions. China, for instance, has a near-monopoly on the production of wafers and ingots, commanding 96% of global solar production in 2021, according to an International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) report.

In its report, IRENA has also explained where these renewable energy jobs come from, highlighting that China needs both high and low-skilled workers in its green energy push. A total of 1.6 million Chinese people are employed for their manufacturing efforts, “1 million for construction and installation” and “0.8 million for operation and maintenance,” the report says.

3 Takeaways for the Global Fight Against Poverty

China has led the way in terms of renewable energy in three main ways:

  • Early investment. By 2014, China had already pumped $100 billion into the renewable energy sector, surpassing the investments made by both the EU and the U.S. However, most other poverty-stricken countries do not have this sort of funding readily available. So, foreign aid donors, like the U.S. and the U.K., could consider using more of their budgets to support such initiatives. The potential payback on that investment would consist not only of poverty relief but also of more comprehensive, global climate action.
  • Targeted policies. China did not only rely on investment to give renewable energy a boost — targeted regulation also played an important role. The 2005 Renewable Energy Law, for instance, forced power companies to compensate renewable energy providers if they did not “buy the total amount” of the clean energy provided. This guaranteed clean energy suppliers’ economic stability from the get-go.
  • Economies of scale. “As the scale of Chinese manufacturing has grown, the costs of renewable-energy devices have plummeted,” says a 2014 Nature article. In short, China has been able to take advantage of a virtuous circle: the more renewable energy it manufactures, the cheaper the selling price, thereby generating more demand and jobs.

Finally, something that should prove encouraging is how China leveraged its “low labor, electricity and land costs” to grow its clean energy sector, IRENA reports. These low-cost advantages also exist in almost all other developing countries.

Hope for the Future

China has shown that it is possible to harness green energy for future-proof jobs and others can follow suit. India is on track to employ 1 million people in the same way, by 2030, according to the IRENA report. Other regions, like Africa, which employs less than 3% of the renewable energy labor market, could do the same.

Overall, the renewable energy job boom in China proves that foreign aid budgets could make their money go further. More investment in overseas clean energy may not only help tackle the climate crisis but also provide some of the world’s most vulnerable with invaluable employment for many years to come.

– Sam Rucker
Photo: Flickr

Rural Land EngineeringChina’s poverty reduction success is exemplary. According to the World Bank, in 2000, China had a poverty rate of 49.8%, which decreased to 0.6% in 2019. But rapid urbanization has led to both land degradation and higher rates of rural poverty. Because sustainable land use is an important part of economic growth, China is attempting to mitigate this rural poverty through the use of rural land engineering.

According to 2017 data from UNICEF, about 53.6% of China’s rural poor reside in the country’s western region, equaling 16.34 million people. Guizhou holds the highest number of impoverished people at 2.95 million. Xinjiang, an area with high numbers of ethnic minorities such as the marginalized Uyghur people, has the most significant poverty rate — 9.9%.

Since 2000, China has introduced several social development programs in rural communities, such as “universal compulsory education up to grade 9, rural medical cooperative system, social pension system for rural residents and a minimum living allowance scheme,” the World Bank reports.

What is Rural Land Engineering?

Since land degradation is the most significant problem that some rural communities in China face, people are turning to rural land engineering and other similar practices that revitalize the land. In this context, it is a method of agricultural engineering that is able to prevent land degradation. Some forms of land engineering are land consolidation, reclamation, restoration and reallocation. All of these different types of land engineering help curtail land degradation, and therefore, rural poverty.

The most well-known form of rural land engineering is land consolidation. According to the European Environment Agency, land consolidation involves “joining small plots of land together to form larger farms or large fields.” According to an article in Geographical Research, the main objective of land consolidation is to maximize the amount of arable land and advance the conditions of agricultural production. Land consolidation generally consists of practices that seek to maximize the earning potential of a given area.

Why Rural Land Engineering?

To put it simply, this method of curtailing poverty is useful and easy. It creates a balanced man-land system. Because people and land are the two most important parts of rural communities, it makes sense that a balanced man-land system would be optimal for reducing poverty.

Liu Yansui and Wang Yongsheng conducted a study that discusses rural land engineering and how it helps to alleviate poverty. In the study, the researchers find that hilly areas in parts of rural China can be repurposed into productive farmland. This productive farmland would then create income for rural families. By repurposing this hilly land, rural families in such areas can rise out of poverty.

Another key explanation in the study outlines the link between poverty and land engineering. The researchers found that “land engineering utilizes engineering measures to coordinate human-land relationships by transforming unused land into available land or efficiently using the existing land.”

Geographical Research explains that, through the use of land consolidation, impoverished peasants are able to obtain farmland that is supplied with “improved infrastructure and roads.”

A History of Land Engineering

China began land engineering practices as far back as the time of the Xia dynasty but has now moved onto more modern means of land engineering. China established the Key Laboratory of Degraded and Unused Land Consolidation Engineering in 2013.

In 2016, China developed a new commission of the International Geography Union on Agricultural Geography and Land Engineering (IGU-AGLE) in the Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences. IGU-AGLE focuses on “the improvement in agricultural conditions and consolidation of degraded land and defiled land using land engineering.” Also in 2016, universities in China formalized land engineering as a discipline to “cultivate professional talent for national land technology innovation and development.”

Overall, rural land engineering plays a role in poverty reduction in rural China. China stands as an example of national poverty reduction at a large scale and continues to demonstrate a commitment to dissolving poverty among rural populations.

– Timothy Ginter
Photo: Flickr

Charities Operating in China 
Despite China’s rapid economic development, in 2014, more than 70 million people lived in poverty within China’s rural communities. Here are five charities operating in China.

1. Give2Asia

Only 26% of China’s 622,000 rural health stations have a qualified medical practitioner. Furthermore, very few of these stations have the proper equipment, with the 2008 Sichuan earthquake damaging many of them. Poor health care has a devastating impact on the wealth of communities and is the leading cause of poverty in China’s rural communities, according to an International Journal for Equity in Health article.

Give2Asia’s Rural Doctors Program aims to provide 1,000 medically trained professionals to China’s rural communities. The program also aims to rebuild and properly equip dilapidated health stations, emphasizing early Leukemia diagnoses. This program should significantly improve the health of China’s rural people, increasing their ability to work.

2. The China Environmental Protection Foundation

Whilst China has a huge quantity of renewable water, much of China still suffers from water scarcity. This is due to a combination of rapid pollution and population growth, as a result of industrialization.

Water security is essential for lifting a population out of poverty. The China Environmental Protection Foundation (CEPF) recognizes this and has taken an education-focused approach to provide rural China with water security. For instance, CEPF’s “Green Mountains and Clear Waters” initiative has provided more than 2,500 Chinese students with clean drinking water. CEPF has also created “Streams Action – Honeywell Safe Drinking Classroom,” which educates rural primary school children on water safety. CEPF hopes to educate and mobilize Chinese students to protect the Yangtze River from further pollution, as 459 million people depend on its water.

3. Rural China Education Foundation

Illiteracy is a leading cause of poverty within China’s rural communities. Pertinently, 95% of China’s farmers are illiterate or semi-illiterate, according to an International Journal for Equity in Health article.

One of the charities operating in China is the Rural China Education Foundation (RCEF). RECF provides education to primary-age children across rural China. Its initiatives range from book clubs to summer camps. In the spring of 2021, 370 rural Chinese children received social-emotional lessons from RCEF’s “rural education innovators.” These lessons centered around building positive relationships and developing emotional intelligence. Combining literacy with social skills and vocational-specific classes, RCEF aim to equip rural Chinese children with the means to escape poverty through employment.

4. Habitat for Humanity

Due to China’s enormous population of more than 1.4 billion, housing poverty is a prominent issue. This issue is more prevalent in China’s rural communities, where an earthquake struck in 2008. Homes in urban centers are prohibitively expensive, leaving rural Chinese people without well-maintained homes.

Habitat For Humanity (HfH) began operating in Sichuan in 2000. Since then, HfH has provided more than 1,400 cheap, sturdy and sanitary homes for low-income families. It has also improved rural infrastructure and mobilized Shanghai corporations to improve living conditions for elderly people. Affordable housing is key to lifting China’s rural communities from poverty.

5. Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture China Office

Despite China’s colossal land mass, there is not enough farmable land to feed its vast population. Furthermore, the amount of soil available to farmers is shrinking, due to soil degradation and water scarcity. Farms are often small and maintained by an aging population as rural Chinese children are choosing wealthier urban lifestyles. These factors pose a significant threat to Chinese food security.

The Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture China office has created several programs to combat the looming threat of food poverty in China. For instance, the “Sichuan kiwifruit value chain project” incentivizes and trains young people in the cultivation of the Kiwi, one of China’s most profitable cash crops. This program also educates rural Chinese youth on building profitable businesses and even provides supermarket affiliations to farmers. This program also educates rural Chinese communities on the importance of proper irrigation and crop rotation, in an effort to reduce soil degradation.

The Significance of Rural China’s Prosperity

China has successfully lifted 800 million people out of poverty over the last 40 years, however, China’s rural communities are in danger of being left behind. The well-being of China’s rural communities is vital, not only for China but also for the 21% of the world’s population they feed, according to Syngenta Foundation. The charities operating in China that maintain the well-being of its rural people are integral to global food security.

– David Smith
Photo: Pixabay

North Korean Defectors in China
Every year, thousands of North Korean nationals attempt to escape their home country, fleeing from poverty, famine, forced labor and political persecution. Many smuggle into China, as it represents the best chance of escape in comparison to the highly guarded South Korean border. Unfortunately, once in China, defectors are hardly safe. The questionable legal status and vulnerability of these North Koreans make them uniquely susceptible to human trafficking, sex slavery, forced marriages, prostitution and more. These rampant human rights violations in China happen across the country, leaving hundreds of thousands of victims suffering in silence.

Living Conditions in North Korea

For many, the living conditions in North Korea are so grievous that they would rather take their chances in China than stay. According to the 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report, North Korea has detained “an estimated 80,000 to 120,000 persons in political prison camps and an undetermined number of persons in other forms of detention facilities, including re-education through labor camps.” Regularly, authorities hold these citizens without any formal criminal charge, trial or conviction. Reports also indicated many cases of detention of accused persons’ family members.

Inside the prison camps, everyone from children to the elderly is “subject to forced labor, including logging, mining, manufacturing or farming for long hours under harsh conditions.” Children get little to no access to education and all prisoners face routine beatings, sexual assault, unhygienic living conditions and insufficient food or medical attention. Closing its borders, North Korea made it impossible to gauge exact numbers, but many do not survive this treatment.

Even outside detention facilities, living conditions are bleak. Since the Arduous March of the 1990s, millions of North Koreans have died from starvation. Largely attributed to a Stalinist economic system and Russia and China’s halted food and oil subsidies to North Korea after the Cold War, this period of sweeping destitution caused a massive spike in migration. Though the estimated rates of defection have slowed since then, starvation is still an issue across North Korea and a prominent reason for an escape to China.

Life in China

The pervasive human rights violations North Korean defectors face in China are appalling. Victims face sexual assault and kidnapping and are often part of perpetually abusive situations. A 2019 report by Korea Future Initiative alleges that tens of thousands of North Korean women and girls become a part of the sex trade and sale–an industry that generates roughly $105 million annually.

This report also revealed that “an estimated 60% of female North Korean refugees in China are trafficked into the sex trade. Of that number, close to 50% are forced into prostitution, over 30% sold into a forced marriage, and 15% pressed into cybersex,” according to Forbes.

Prostitution in China reportedly accounts for about 6% of China’s GDP. Cybersex trafficking is becoming a more prevalent issue, with girls as young as 9 years old becoming victims in front of cameras live-streaming to a global audience.

Forced marriage has long been a practice of abusers of this vulnerable population. China’s “long-standing one-child policy and penchant for sons have resulted in a massive gender imbalance, making it challenging for Chinese men to find wives.” The physical and psychological abuse of “bride trafficking” that victims face is often overwhelming.

What is more, victims of these atrocities are unable to speak up. A simple recognition as a North Korean national has dire consequences, primarily due to China’s ruthless repatriation policy. If Chinese authorities discover them, they forcibly return trafficking victims to North Korea, “where they are subject to harsh punishment, including forced labor in labor camps, torture, forced abortions” or even executions, according to the 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report. Many choose to endure the conditions in China rather than face retribution from their native country.

Legal Gray Area

The legal status of North Korean escapees is a major contributor to their unique vulnerability. They are typically classified between categories in international law that divide migrants into “deserving and undeserving groups–forced or voluntary, political refugee or economic migrant, trafficked or smuggled.”

North Koreans usually want to leave their country, making them arguably complicit with their smugglers. Therefore, many perceive them more like ‘economic migrants,’ defined as “smuggled” instead of “trafficked.”

The U.N. Protocol on Trafficking calls on governments to protect the victims of trafficking. However, as China classifies North Korean defectors as economic migrants, they do not make any protective efforts, instead opting for their notorious repatriation policy.

Refugee protections would almost certainly benefit these defectors. However, the U.N. defines a refugee as a person who has “fled war, violence, conflict or persecution and has crossed an international border to find safety in another country.” This definition does not include economic migrants, meaning that North Korean defectors do not apply the protections a refugee gets either.

However, according to UNHCR, the same people that China deems “economic migrants” could arguably be considered refugees “sur place” given the “well-founded fear of persecution” and grave consequences they would face upon their return.

All said, there is no perfect classification of North Korean defectors in China, leaving them to fall between the cracks of international law. With no protections, nowhere to turn for help and no resources, their abusers are free to act without consequence.


Some organizations have taken steps to help address these atrocities. The All-China Women’s Federation, an NGO headquartered in Beijing, has established ongoing projects to address and “alleviate the problem, including, in four provinces, the establishment of transfer, training and recovery centers” that have assisted more than a thousand victims to date. China has also hosted a number of Children’s Forums in Beijing to raise awareness for child trafficking, and in 2007, the government agreed to a Plan of Action Combating the Trafficking of Women and Children. 

Nonprofit organizations around the world, such as Crossing Borders and Liberty in North Korea, have done what they can to assist North Korean refugees. However, they are facing pushback due to China’s 2017 Foreign NGO law. The U.N. has called for this law to be repealed, stating it “can be wielded as tools to intimidate, and even suppress, dissenting views and opinions in the country,” E-International Relations reports.

While it is a relief to see governmental and non-governmental organizations taking steps to address this complex and distressing issue, advocates are calling for increased attention and an international response. Some North Korean escapees, such as activist Yeonmi Park, have amassed broad followings by sharing their harrowing stories. By uplifting the voices of these survivors and demanding action, the global community can make a vital difference in the lives of these individuals.

– Carly Ryan Brister
Photo: Unsplash

China’s Agricultural Sci-techThe Chinese government has seen significant success in reducing poverty across China and is using this expertise to help reduce poverty in other areas of the world. Through China’s agricultural sci-tech poverty reduction strategy, developing countries may see lower rates of poverty in the following years. Since 2012, China has sent close to 300,000 sci-tech experts to rural areas across China in order to advance agricultural productivity through agriculture sci-tech, thereby reducing poverty.

Over the past four decades, the Chinese government’s poverty reduction efforts in China have reduced the number of Chinese citizens living in extreme poverty by 800 million. This equates to a contribution of “close to three-quarters of the global reduction in the number of people living in extreme poverty,” the World Bank says. The country reached this poverty reduction goal through a two-pillar system.

The first pillar included “broad-based economic transformation to open new economic opportunities and raise average incomes,” while the second pillar aimed to provide targeted support to the most disadvantaged households. China’s significant poverty reduction rates are also a result of the country’s efficient government.

Shrimp Farming in Inner Mongolia

Aquaculturist and farmer Wang Changgui told Global Times in November 2022 that Ordos City in North China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region had recorded a “successful yield” of shrimp this year.

One can attribute the increased shrimp yield to the knowledge and skills of one of the many experts sent by the Chinese government to rural areas to counteract poverty. The Ordos agriculture and animal husbandry bureau directed Wu Tao to research the soil in Inner Mongolia. Wu found that soil in the area had levels of “high salinity,” making it an ideal environment to farm shrimp.

Fellow researcher Zhu Changbo noted that the farmers in the area usually need to use water to manually remove the salt brought to the ground surface. However, the process of shrimp harvesting removes a lot of the salt from the water, which is beneficial for the soil and plants.

With the help of its researchers, China aims to “popularize agricultural science and technology, foster the spirit of sci-tech innovation and entrepreneurship, bolster poverty eradication efforts and promote rural vitalization.” The implementation of China’s agricultural sci-tech poverty reduction strategy is also seeing success in other countries.

Agricultural Assistance in Other Countries

Because the Chinese government has seen poverty reduction success within China, it is also working to decrease poverty rates in other countries through agricultural sci-tech. China’s agricultural success stories include:

  • Global Juncao technology. China is involved in more than 106 nations’ efforts to decrease poverty, namely by using Juncao technology. Juncao technology, which involves “breeding fungi with herbaceous plants,” has provided households with a sustainable way to grow mushrooms without the use of expensive fertilizers. Papua New Guinea (PNG) has already implemented the method and Juncao technology creator Lin Zhanxi was able to use the technology to help PNG produce rice for the first time in 1997.
  • Sudan’s cotton yield. The China Aid Agricultural Technology Demonstration Center’s creation of lab-developed cotton seeds (referred to as “China 1” and “China 2,” respectively) has led to agricultural success in Sudan. The specific planting area has made up 90% of the country’s cotton yield for multiple years. Furthermore, the seeds’ quality had improved the marketability of cotton in Sudan over the last 10 years.
  • Burundi’s hybrid rice villages. China is responsible for planting hybrid rice varieties across 22 villages in Burundi to boost poverty reduction. Chinese experts developed “the first demonstration village of rice cultivation for poverty alleviation in Ninga village” where hybrid rice varieties were farmed for five seasons in a row. Since the planting of the hybrid rice, “the village has increased its rice production by 1,661 metric tons, resulting in improved income for local households.”

Through China’s agricultural sci-tech poverty reduction strategy, China’s rural regions and other developing countries are seeing greater agricultural success, which reduces poverty by raising incomes and strengthening food security.

– Aspen Oblewski
Photo: Flickr

Poverty Reduction in China
In 1949, China was one of the world’s poorest countries with only 10 countries having a lower GDP. Now, however, it received the classification of being a high-income status country, with 800 million people having risen out of poverty since the 1980s. In 2021, the Chinese government announced that it had eradicated absolute poverty in the country. As a result of this strong and sustained development, the globe has recognized poverty reduction in China as a success.

A Brief History of China’s Success

The number of people living in China with incomes less than $1.90 per day, which is the international poverty line as defined by the World Bank to help track global extreme poverty, has fallen down significantly. An important achievement, this represents a 75% global reduction of those living in extreme poverty. This significant reduction has enabled China to become a “moderately prosperous society in all respects,” with poverty reduction in the country a result of continued economic growth and reforms starting from the 1980s. Key developments across the decades include:

  • 1980-1990: From 1980 to 1990, rapid income gains occurred in agriculture including an increase in production, industries’ subsuming of far labor and the increase in quality and quantity of food consumption.
  • 1990-2000: In 1990-2000, industry became the prime focus of Communist Party Chairman, Deng Xiaoping, who deepened and widened the reforms in both the rural and urban areas. This involved furthering market-oriented reform for future development and Chinese prosperity.
  • 2000-2010: The years 2000 to 2010 saw dynamism within the country’s export-oriented coastal areas spread farther inland. Herein, rural-to-urban migration increased, investment in infrastructure grew and growing proportions of China’s land became economically integrated into global value chains. There was also an expansion of Chinese social policies, including the creation of a basic safety net for the rural population.
  • 2010-2020: From 2010 to 2020, China widened the social policies it implemented during the 2000s, something which led to a targeted poverty eradication campaign. However, transfers became a more important factor in poverty reduction than labor incomes.

Poverty Reduction Under Xi Jinping

Since becoming the leader of China in 2012, Xi Jinping implemented his own policies to attain further poverty reduction in China. The core action includes deploying funds to cover several areas such as financing for rural infrastructure, agricultural subsidies and discounted loans. Other strategies include:

  • Targeting households that are in need of support rather than whole villages and counties. These households include people who are ill, handicapped or destitute.
  • Moving away from conditional cash transfer programs and towards loans, wages and subsidies.
  • Targeting individuals and households for resettlement so that they have better opportunities at living a fulfilled life.

Human Capital Failure

Despite poverty reduction in China receiving worldwide recognition, there are still a significant number of people who remain vulnerable and live in poverty. Human capital, especially in rural areas, remains underdeveloped. This is due to deficient education, with 63% of students dropping out of school before they graduate high school. There is also the issue of malnutrition, health problems and lack of childhood development for children.

Not only does the lack of efficient human capital negatively impact the future of rural children and their families, but it also threatens the stable future of China, even derailing the country’s success in poverty reduction. Currently, around 70% of the Chinese labor force lacks a high school education. As the country moves towards an innovation-driven economy, something which began during the reform period, between 200 and 300 million working-age Chinese may become unemployable. As a result, this is something that China needs to address.

The Future

In August 2021, President Xi introduced the concept of common prosperity at the Central Committee for Financial and Economic Affairs with the aim of achieving it by 2050. He has referred to this term as being present when the incomes of low-income groups increase and there is societal fairness, balanced regional development and an emphasis on people-centered growth.

Common prosperity signals a new era for the country (ending the reform period), where socialist modernization receives recognition as pivotal for China’s continued poverty reduction. Along with focusing on the areas mentioned above, it seeks to address the perceived social ills which have stemmed and grown from capitalism and unchecked growth.

Common prosperity represents an optimistic future for poverty reduction in China. It shows the care and attention placed on social development, along with the continual attention directed to economic growth. President Xi hopes to make “solid progress” on this goal in 2035, and then to “achieve common prosperity by 2050.”

– Harkiran Bharij
Photo: Flickr

China's poverty reductionSince 1980, the number of people living in absolute poverty in China has been reduced by 800 million. This has coincided with China’s sustained GDP growth for the past two decades and 8% growth in 2021. However, for China’s poverty reduction to continue, the country needs to address issues of income inequality and lack of human capital development.

How Poverty is Measured

In 2020 President Xi Xing Ping announced the “complete victory” of his campaign to eliminate poverty. He claimed this because everyone had met the Chinese government’s extreme poverty line of $2.25 income per day. But, according to the World Bank, an “upper-middle income” country such as China should use a poverty line of $5.50 a day. At this level, China’s poverty reduction still appears to have performed well, reducing the percentage of people below the poverty line of $5.50 from 98% in 1990 to 17% in 2018.

However, China now has a similar income per capita that the United States had in the 1960s when the US set its poverty line at $21.70 (adjusting for inflation). At this poverty line, the US had less than one-quarter of its population in poverty. In comparison, applying a poverty line of $21.20 to China today over 80% of the population would be in poverty. This suggests that China is far from achieving “complete victory” in eliminating poverty.

Problems with Mass Mobilization

During the last decade, China relocated hundreds of millions of rural people to new city apartment complexes. Unfortunately, many cannot afford the city rents. In fact, the current Chinese Premier Li Keqiang recently noted that 600 million people cannot afford city rents. As the New York Times reported in 2013, “Top-down efforts to quickly transform entire societies have often come to grief, and urbanization has already proven one of the most wrenching changes in China’s 35 years of economic transition.”

Lack of Investment in Human Capital Development

Also, according to a 2021 article in The Diplomat, China has not invested in rural education and human capital development. That means 70% of the workforce, which engages in labor-intensive, low-skill jobs, hasn’t completed high school and therefore does not qualify for the retraining programs for better-paying jobs. In 2019, the manufacturing and construction sectors employed 46% of the migrant workforce. In addition to low wages, migrant workers encounter more safety hazards.  They also lack access to social welfare protections available to others.

RCEF: Pushing Quality Rural Education

To continue to reduce poverty, China will need to address these issues. This will become increasingly important as China loses its comparative advantage in the labor-intensive markets, and increasingly relies on innovation to drive growth. Luckily, non-government organizations such as the Rural China Education Foundation (RCEF) are taking the lead to promote quality education in rural areas of China. The RCEF is focusing on helping the left-behind young and elderly.  It innovates with its community-based and student-centered curriculum rather than focusing strictly on test prep.

Access to Education for All through AI Investment: Squirrel AI

On top of this, China’s mass implementation and investment in artificial intelligence (AI) is helping to provide access to education for all. Derek Li’s Squirrel AI is a good example of this. Li found that conventional online training failed because it didn’t engage students for more than a 14-minute stretch. Squirrel AI uses adaptative AI technology to teach, evaluate, test and train students. The AI technology simulates the methods and responses of the highest-rated teachers.

As Li says, “AI technology is at a point where it can disrupt the education industry that has not changed for hundreds of years, by providing every single child with access to the best teacher for that individual child’s needs.”  Squirrel AI also teaches students methods and thought processes anchored in imagination and creativity. It is one of the top two adoptive AI companies globally. The company has also opened 1800 offline learning centers that provide educational access to students in rural areas. This was especially important in times of COVID-19.

Thinking Ahead

If China’s poverty reduction is to continue at a more sustainable rate, further development of quality education and other means of human capital development will be important. Hopefully, this development will also help increase the wages of the lowest wage workers who still live at a level of income that is not viable.

– Reuben Cochrane
Photo: Flickr

In July 2022, Jackson Yee, a well-known young Chinese actor and a member of the idol group TFBOYS, fell into the whirlpool of online public opinion because he obtained a permanent position in the National Theatre of China. Many netizens questioned the admission results and eligibility of Yee and two other actors. They felt celebrity privilege led to their acceptance. Despite Yee’s insistence on his innocence, he chose to give up the position he received. This incident underlines the social ramifications of income inequality in China.

Jackson Yee and The National Theatre of China

Yee, 22,  rose to fame as a TFBOYS singer, but since then has acted in a number of films including Better Days, nominated for an Oscar in 2019.  He has over 90 million followers on Sina Weibo, the Chinese social media platform.

There are two key doubts about Yee’s acceptance to the National Theatre. First, Chinese netizens questioned Yee’s eligibility to apply for the National Theatre of China. First, to be eligible one had to be unemployed, but Yee obviously wasn’t. In addition, when doubts escalated, the National Theatre of China refused to release interview videos and application details that the government required. Yee’s hire angered so many Chinese people not only because of celebrity privilege in the job market but also because of the overarching issue of huge income inequality in China that has long been a source of concern among netizens.

The Huge Income Gap Between Celebrities and Ordinaries in China

In China, the income of celebrities is unimaginable for ordinary people. For instance, Zhang Yixing, one of the most famous rap stars in China, paid $2.8 million in taxes in 2018.

And the income inequality in China goes beyond the most popular celebrities. Even tepid and unknown stars appearing in a single commercial performance earn tens of thousands of yuan. On the other hand, office workers in big cities may earn between 7,000 yuan and 10,000 yuan a month (equivalent to $1037 and $1482) while in remote counties, wages average no more than 3,000 yuan (equivalent to $44) a month.  In particular, this income inequality has caused outrage on social media.

Efforts To Cap Celebrity Salaries

In response to that netizen outrage, the Chinese government has embarked on a series of measures to correct disparities.  In 2018, China introduced a new mandatory policy that in television production, the salary of the leading actor cannot exceed 70% of the sum of the salary of all artists and 40% of the total production cost. This means that extremely high salaries for actors will be a thing of the past.

Moreover, China is enforcing this rule. For example, Zheng Shuang, a well-known Chinese actress, earned $25 million for appearing in just 77 days of a TV show. After public outcry, an investigation found that the production company did not follow the protocols and that Shuang had evaded taxes between 2019 and 2020. The government ordered the production to not hire Shuang again, and fined Shuang $45 million in back taxes.

Efforts to Raise Income Level of Rural Chinese

In addition to making the income of celebrities more reasonable, the Chinese government is also committed to improving the income level of the general public. This is the key to reducing income inequality in China. The Chinese government plans that by 2035, the rural population with lower incomes today will experience a 157% increase in income. Further, in order to achieve this goal, China will build digital infrastructures in rural areas to make the production and life of rural people more efficient, thereby creating greater economic benefits. If this plan can be carried out smoothly, by 2035 the income inequality in China between celebrities and ordinary people should be significantly reduced.

-Ella Li
Photo: Wikipedia Commons