COVID-19’s Impact on ChinaAfter its first reporting in Wuhan, China, at the end of 2019, COVID-19 spread quickly across the world. COVID-19’s impact on China was initially pronounced as the government struggled to contain the outbreak, suppressing whistleblowers and drawing criticism from the international community. But, Beijing’s ability to reverse its early failures has impressed analysts, showcasing the strength of China’s response system.

Strict Lockdowns

On January 23, 2020, Beijing imposed strict lockdown measures in Wuhan. For 76 days, the city remained in quarantine, and the lockdown eventually expanded to include large swaths of the country. Although some experts greeted these efforts with skepticism, the world eventually enacted similar lockdowns.

However, few lockdowns were able to match the aggressiveness of China. In the United States, lockdowns were met with skepticism and protest, allowing the virus to rage through the country unhindered. But, on the other side of the Pacific, COVID-19’s impact on China was effectively curtailed. Despite the virus originating from Wuhan, China recorded no official daily deaths for multiple months in 2020.

Yet, experts remained doubtful of China’s COVID-19 performance. The CIA questioned the validity of Chinese COVID-19 statistics, seeing the data as a vast undercount of the actual total. But, the issue of undercounting was widespread outside of China as well, presenting itself in countries all over the world. Despite discrepancies in the official counts, a general narrative had taken shape by the end of 2020 that China successfully contained COVID-19.

COVID-19’s Economic Impact

The COVID-19 lockdown slowed the virus around the world but created new issues. Businesses shuttered, and the economy contracted without consumer spending. As a result, the world found itself in the most severe economic crisis since the Great Depression. China was hardly immune to these economic impacts. Output took a historic blow during the first few months of 2020, adding to Beijing’s larger concerns about its economic health. Despite its position as the world’s second-largest economy, China faces major obstacles to growth, from an aging population to ballooning levels of debt. COVID-19 lockdowns exacerbated these pressures, with the potential to curtail China’s decades of growth.

Positive Economic Growth in China

The speedy enactment of lockdowns allowed Beijing to repudiate its critics once again. While other great powers, including the United States, saw their economies contract, China was the “only major economy” in 2020 to register positive GDP growth. Far from leading to broader economic collapse, COVID-19’s impact on China appears to be a net positive geopolitically, accelerating the shift in power from the West to the East. China’s economy is now slated to be the world’s largest economy by the end of 2028, five years ahead of schedule.

China’s continued efforts to combat extreme poverty are notable. Before COVID-19, the government had laid out an ambitious pledge to completely eliminate extreme poverty, defined as $600 or less in yearly per capita income, by 2020. In 2019, decades of sustained economic growth led to less than 1% of Chinese people living in extreme poverty.

COVID-19 threatened to derail poverty reduction plans. But, instead of adversely impacting China’s stated objective, the rapid lockdowns engineered by Beijing allowed for a fast economic recovery and the completion of the original objective. By the end of 2020, Chinese President Xi Jinping proudly reported that the country had officially eliminated extreme poverty.

COVID-19 Vaccination Efforts

China initially lagged in the area of COVID-19 vaccinations. Pharmaceutical companies in the United States pushed out highly effective COVID-19 vaccines in record-breaking time, quickly inoculating sizable swaths of the population. With this aggressive drive, a return to normal reopening seemed to be within reach.

China initially encountered struggles in vaccinating the population. Its early vaccination program was slow and vaccine hesitancy presented a barrier to inoculation. However, this changed recently as China’s state apparatus manufactured hundreds of millions of COVID-19 vaccinations for rapid distribution. Now, China is taking the lead in vaccinations as the U.S. lags behind. To date, China has administered more than one billion COVID-19 vaccine doses.

This does not mean that China is out of the woods though. The efficacy of Beijing’s vaccines compare poorly to other vaccines, and many nations that received Chinese vaccines have still seen COVID-19 cases skyrocket. Nonetheless, China’s vaccine efforts are certainly commendable.

As the only economy with positive economic growth in 2020, China’s efforts to curb COVID-19 have proven effective. Aside from its COVID-19 response, China’s efforts to combat poverty have also positively contributed to increased prosperity and stability within the nation.

– Zachary Lee
Photo: Unsplash

Poverty and DisabilityMany factors can contribute to poverty in China, including disability. Due to socioeconomic barriers and discrimination, people with disabilities are more likely to live in poverty. With a high population rate, China has one of the largest numbers of disabled people living in poverty. Unemployment, lack of education and discrimination are just some of the many challenges this population faces in China.

9 Facts About Disability and Poverty in China

  1. High Disability Population: The total population of people living with disabilities in China reached 85 million in 2018, which is 6.5% of the total Chinese population. In 2006, men accounted for 51% of the disabled population while 49% were women. Many of these individuals often do not receive adequate support due to discrimination or “ableism,” meaning social prejudice against people with disabilities. In an article titled “Gender and Disability in Chinese Higher Education,” China is categorized as an ableist society with a number of injustices facing the disability community. As such, people with disabilities are “often seen as persons presenting inconvenience and burdens to society.” Ableism in China has also led to many children with disabilities being abandoned. Some statistics estimate around 98% of abandoned children in China may have disabilities. Thus, societal prejudices contribute significantly to the lack of support that individuals with disabilities in China receive.
  2. Lack of Education: The lack of quality education offered to people with disabilities in China has disadvantaged these individuals academically and economically. In China, the gap in education quality for disabled individuals is growing. Poverty remains a crucial obstacle in the empowerment of those living with disabilities. Due to this lower quality education, individuals aged 15 and above with disabilities have an illiteracy rate greater than 40%. This difference is staggering compared to the 3.3% illiteracy rate for the same age group without disabilities. Similarly, the lack of education provided to people with disabilities in China causes these individuals to experience challenges during the employment process. Jobs often require proficiency in language skills, leaving disabled individuals at a disadvantage.
  3. Lack of Monetary Support: Often, Chinese employers do not provide sufficient support to individuals with disabilities. Employment services for disabled people in China are at the initial stages, and they have proven to be inadequate to help unemployed, disabled persons obtain jobs. The quality of employment, including wage levels and conditions of work, have room for improvement. Because of the lack of proper services to economically empower people with disabilities, these individuals often live in poverty.
  4. High Disability Rate in Rural Areas: The disabled population in urban areas accounted for 20.71 million, or 20.96%, of the population. Meanwhile, the disabled population in rural areas is 62.25 million, or 75.04%. There are significantly more disabled people living in rural areas compared to urban areas. The employment difference is mainly due to this gap in the urban and rural populations. Initially, China had a very agricultural-based economy. However, with recent economic reforms, the country has industrialized, and most of the population now lives in urban areas. Many rural residents face obstacles in moving to urban areas, mainly because most only receive short-term contracts that do not entitle them to urban residency status. The lack of residency status prevents them from accessing proper healthcare services and other benefits. This gap is an even more significant barrier for people with disabilities, as a lack of appropriate care can be detrimental to their health.
  5. Discrimination Against Disabled Employees: China’s anti-discriminatory laws, especially in employment, are often not followed. China has laws that ensure protection and equal rights for disabled people. However, employers frequently ignore these laws. While the Chinese government installed a quote system in 2008 with penalties for failing to abide, many employers preferred to pay the fine than hire a worker with a disability. These discriminatory actions put workers with disabilities at a greater disadvantage for finding employment and gaining support from their government.
  6. High Mortality Rate: According to the U.N., in countries where “under-five mortality,” meaning the probability (per 1,000) that a newborn will die before reaching the age of 5, has decreased below 20%, the mortality rate for children with disabilities may be as high as 80%. In China, the 2019 mortality rate for children under five is 7.9%, which is less than 20%. This means that there is a high death rate for children with disabilities. Additionally, there is a lack of medical services available for families without health insurance to support a disabled child.
  7. Adult Opposition: Parental opposition and the lack of trained teachers represent further obstacles to quality education. Students with disabilities do not receive adequate learning because there is a lack of trained teachers who know how to create an inclusive environment at school. Research has shown that although 77% of teachers have experience teaching students with special needs, 60% of teachers have not received the proper training nor know how to teach them in an inclusive environment. This ineffective education system for students with disabilities sets the foundation for future disempowerment in China’s economic and social spheres.
  8. Disability Cycle: Disability and poverty are creating a cycle in which one reinforces the other. Low-income individuals often lack access to quality healthcare, and this healthcare disparity further aggravates the burdens of these groups. These healthcare programs expose individuals to diseases that can lead to long-term disabilities. Disability can then lead to decreased productivity, preventing these individuals from working, and thus resulting in unemployment. Ultimately, higher unemployment rates lead to higher poverty rates, creating a cycle of poverty and disability.
  9. Lack of Employment: Discrimination and bias hold back disabled individuals from employment and lead to higher poverty rates. People with disabilities in China face prejudice and discrimination and are often marginalized and “largely invisible” to others. Research studies exploring the discrimination that individuals with disabilities face reveal that birthing or raising a person with a disability was believed to bring shame and guilt to the family. Because of this widespread stigma, there is a belief that people with disabilities are incapable of working, which causes many barriers for them in accessing employment opportunities. As a result of less employment, there is an increase in poverty.

Looking Ahead

While poverty in China affects a significant portion of its population, it has disproportionately affected individuals with disabilities due to the unique economic and social disadvantages they face. From lack of employment opportunities, lower-quality education and poor healthcare access to the persisting stigma associated with disabilities and rampant discrimination, challenges for people with disabilities are numerous in this country. China can continue to support its disabled community through education initiatives, economic opportunities and protective legislative actions.

– Philip Tang
Photo: Unsplash

China's Economic Status
China is part of Southeast Asia and the third-largest country in the world. In 2020, China’s economic status declined due to the COVID-19 pandemic as businesses shut down and a halt on exports resulted in a loss of $2.1 trillion. However, as of 2021, the country is gradually recovering from the impact of COVID-19.

Why China is Growing so Fast

The Central Economic Work Conference (CEWC) had initially estimated a 6% growth for China in 2021. However, in 2021 so far, China has jumped to an astonishing 9% GDP growth. This increase is due to COVID-19 vaccine distribution throughout the country, which has encouraged China’s president and government to reopen businesses. China’s leaders are also working to provide more goods and services, control carbon emissions and advertise the positives of reform. Retail sales have increased 34% due to the country lifting its restrictions.

Climate and Pollution Control

China took inspiration from California on how to reduce carbon emissions. California had a six-year plan to reduce carbon in the atmosphere. Ever since the U.S. withdrew from the Paris climate accord, China has taken the lead in guiding itself and the rest of the world in reducing climate change. In 2018, China’s Five Year Plan brought attention to the carbon market. Essentially, reducing carbon also reduces pollution and health conditions.

In China alone, pollution kills 1.6 million a year. Yet as of February 1, 2021, China’s carbon market policy officially emerged in an effort to reduce carbon in the country. Moving away from industrialization and providing a more significant focus on energy consumption could potentially provide future generations with a higher expectancy. Although it will take time to reduce carbon dioxide emissions due to China’s many coal-dependent companies, the country is already setting plans in motion to replace coal with solar power and windmills. The country hopes to achieve these goals by 2030.

Technology

Competition between the U.S. and China involving developing technologies has existed for decades. In highlighting potential on educational and technological advances, China has a chance of becoming one of the world’s most advanced countries. China has chosen to focus on basic research to lead to a higher percentage of research and development. Between 2021 and 2025, China hopes to create laboratories that focus on various categories such as biomedicine and energy efficiency.

Looking Ahead

By implementing these plans, China is on the road to recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic as vaccines make way for much-needed economic improvement. Moreover, funding for education, technology and businesses will keep China out of dept as it continues to rise as a world power. As trade opens back up, China will guide other countries in keeping their economies relatively successful, hopefully leading to a reduction in health issues and global poverty.

– Selena Soto
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19 Vaccinations in Africa
COVID-19 vaccinations in Africa account for only 2% of vaccinations the world administers. Meanwhile, other countries are close to vaccinating the majority of their populations. This is a glaring example of the dangerous vaccine inequity burdening developing countries. The United Nations Security Council recently called for accelerated availability of COVID-19 vaccinations in Africa. A statement that all 15 members endorsed emphasized the need for “equitable access” to quality, affordable COVID-19 tests, treatments and vaccines. With wealthy nations buying a disproportionately large amount of the world’s vaccine supply, it is imperative that developing African countries receive the proper aid and resources to implement proper vaccination programs across the continent. That is where China comes in.

China’s Efforts

China has thus far set the precedent in the global response towards increasing COVID-19 vaccinations in Africa, pledging to provide vaccines to over 40 African countries. China has described its actions as purely altruistic. To back this up, China has either been donating or selling the vaccines at favorable prices. Foreign Ministry official Wu Peng told reporters that “We believe that it is, of course, necessary to ensure that the Chinese people get vaccinated as soon as possible, but for other countries in need, we also try our best to provide vaccine help.” So far, the Chinese efforts to counter vaccine inequity have been quite successful. China has already committed half a billion doses of vaccines to African countries. By engaging in “vaccine diplomacy,” China has been able to expand its influence in Africa through tactful, yet charitable actions.

However, Wu makes the important distinction that “Aid alone cannot solve Africa’s vaccine issues. We must support local manufacturing of vaccines in Africa, even though this is difficult due to (low) levels of industrialization.” While difficult, initiating the local manufacturing of vaccines will have monumentally positive effects in curbing the disease. Starting in June 2021, Egypt will be able to start locally producing China’s Sinovac vaccine. Sinovac has not only provided Egypt with advanced technical guidance in producing the vaccine, but also the rights to manufacture and pack the vaccine domestically. China hopes to replicate this in other African countries.

US-China Rivalry

Boasting claims of being able to produce at least 2.6 billion doses by the end of 2021, China will likely continue to lead the way in vaccinating a large portion of the world’s population. In light of China’s generous distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, many have criticized the U.S. for hoarding vaccines. In response to this, President Joe Biden has now pledged to donate an additional 20 million vaccine doses. Certainly, the continued proliferation of aid from wealthy nations will help to increase the rate of COVID-19 vaccinations in Africa. Developed nations cannot hoard vaccines or vaccine technology and expect the pandemic to end. The pandemic will not end until the current state of vaccine inequity disappears.

– Conor Green
Photo: Flickr

6 members of The African Continental Free Trade Area have a panel discussionThe New Year has brought a host of new possibilities, and in particular, for Africa. The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement went into effect on January 1, 2021. The expectations are high for the continent.

AfCFTA is the largest free trade conglomerate in the world; 55 countries signed on to AfCFTA, consisting of 1.3 billion people and a gross domestic product of $3.4 trillion. Moreover, expectations have determined that 30 million Africans will be able to improve their income, leaving poverty behind. The move could remake Africa as a new power for trade, both internally and externally. However, the agreement is contingent on some key workings to reach the full potential of AfCFTA’s reach.

China and AfCFTA

The contingencies are large and focus on infrastructure, policy and eliminating tariff and non-tariff obstacles to improve and enhance continental trade. Some of these contingencies require funding beyond continental borders.

China, the burgeoning world power, is making its presence known in Africa, folding the continent into its monolithic project, The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The initiative would give incentives for Chinese investors to support infrastructure, trade and industrialization in Africa.

The BRI pivots on the ancient “Silk Road,” which were the trade routes that flowed in and out of China to the West and beyond. The Han Dynasty established the road in the year 220 B.C.E. It was over 4,000 miles long, connecting the Middle East to Central Asia and eventually, Europe.

The updated Silk Road Economic Belt and the Maritime Silk Road combine to make the BRI. The initiative invests in railways, highways, energy pipelines and benefits from streamlined border crossings. Folding in over a billion African workers and consumers is tantamount to its success. Through the initiative, China and AfCFTA have a great interest in working with each other.

Infrastructure

Africa is receiving funding for infrastructure already. In fact, China is the top investor in the African infrastructure of any foreign country. This is a much-needed economic boost for the continent.

The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa’s chief for energy and infrastructure, Dr. Robert Lising, placed a price estimate on what would allow AfCFTA work. He pointed to estimates the African Development Bank put forth amounting to $130-$170 billion per year.

He stated that “This is a huge amount of money so China’s involvement is definitely welcome… In addition, we all know that there is available capital and equipment linked to China’s involvement in Africa’s infrastructural development.” He also pointed out that China’s competitive involvement would lower prices, benefitting Africa. Additionally, he mentioned that while Western involvement is welcome as well, Western forces often come with conditions, whereas China does not.

He said that “If you want to reap the full benefits of the AfCFTA, you need regional infrastructure development… If you want to close the gap in infrastructure development in Africa, you need to bring in all the partners including China through the BRI.” He reminded others that Chinese involvement in African infrastructure is not a new thing, happening for the last five decades. Citing the completion of Nairobi to Mombasa rail lines and the Addis Ababa to Djibouti line to support his claim.

A Partnership of Need

A round table discussion that the Center for China & Globalization organized and held in December 2019 further supports Dr. Lising’s thoughts. Isabel Domingos, ambassador from Sao Tome and Principe at the conference lays out a plan for mutual benefit. She stated that “China has needs and Africa also has needs; China has potentialities and Africa also has potentialities. We have the African Continental Free Trade Area that can be one place to promote both sides, and find a place to deepen the cooperation between China and Africa.”

While there remain anxieties over the confluence of Chinese involvement in AfCFTA, the consensus is clear; the involvement of foreign capital in AfCFTA is crucial. China stands to gain from its involvement and has the capital available that the African continent needs.

China and AfCFTA are a strong match. As Africa continues on its current trends of globalization, China can heed the call. The entire world will watch the results as a blueprint for international involvement.

– Christopher Millard
Photo: Flickr

International Poverty Reduction Center in China
The Chinese government, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and other organizations founded the International Poverty Reduction Center in China (IPRCC) in 2004. Its goal is to allow for the sharing of knowledge and information to reduce poverty and encourage development throughout the world. It also engages in research on international poverty reduction theories and practices and provides reviews of China’s poverty reduction policies. While its work extends beyond Asia, it participates in poverty reduction in Southeast Asia and takes part in ASEAN forums and conferences.

What the International Poverty Reduction Center (IPRCC) Does

One of the major issues of programs seeking to help raise people out of poverty is that they rely too much on giving people what they need today, rather than ensuring they have the resources and knowledge to provide for tomorrow. The International Poverty Reduction Center is trying to prevent this by focusing on involvement at the village level. It pays attention to ensuring those on the ground have the knowledge, resources and ability to continue to grow sustainably even after the IPRCC leaves.

The Ban Xor Example

In December 2016, Ban Xor, Laos became the site for the pilot program of the IPRCC. There were 2,007 residents at the time and half lived on less than $700 a year. The goal of the involvement in Ban Xor is to share knowledge of farming techniques, assist in the construction of public infrastructure and give people market access to sell their products. The emphasis is on using China’s experiences to help others as well as sharing information between both the Chinese and Lao teams. The Chinese experts learned what people in Ban Xor required and what their living situation was like, and the Lao executives’ team learned management methods as well as how to tackle poverty issues based on China’s experiences.

As a result of this program, the people of Ban Xor have improved their corn and cattle farming techniques and have been able to increase their yields. Additionally, women have been able to sell their traditional weaving to Chinese buyers. Some of the infrastructural changes include the building of a bridge to allow easier travel throughout the village at all times of the year. Furthermore, they constructed a school, which caters to students from kindergarten through secondary school, with 60 teachers and 550 students as of 2019. This school includes a playground and places for people to live. As education is one of the best ways to lift people out of poverty and ensures that the next generation will be better off than the current, this is a vital part of this program.

The use of both “hard methods,” such as building roads, bridges and schools and “soft methods,” such as knowledge sharing, is vital. These methods provide the people with the groundwork and the knowledge needed for sustainable development.

The Importance of the Program

While this program is still ongoing and the results of such programs can take years or even decades to come to fruition, changes have already occurred in Ban Xor and other villages to improve the quality of life.

China is still a developing country but has made incredible strides in decreasing poverty within its own country. In 1990, two-thirds of the population was living below the international poverty line. By 2016, it was only 0.5% of the population. That is not to say that there is no inequality in China, but more to show how quickly China has been able to increase the standard of living. This rapid growth has given Chinese poverty reduction experts the knowledge and experience to help others in the region and globally.

Countries like Laos have been steadily decreasing the number of people living in poverty, due in part to programs such as this which facilitate knowledge sharing and encourage people on the ground to make sustainable change. Regional cooperation is vital to ensuring stability and sustainable growth and this program is just one example of how a country can go from a major aid recipient to a major aid donor and help bring change to a region.

– Harriet Sinclair
Photo: Flickr

Rural Chinese PovertyThe World Bank has approved a $200 million loan to support the Chinese province of Hunan in expanding access to public services for rural residents. About 30 million people in Hunan live in rural areas and the loan will deliver equitable and efficient public services to this demographic in an attempt to alleviate rural Chinese poverty.

Rural Inequity in China

China has experienced remarkable economic growth in the past four decades and with it an undeniable drop in extreme poverty. However, the distribution of this poverty alleviation has largely benefitted urban residents over the rural population. More than 500 million of China’s residents live in rural areas and their remote locations in such a massive country have made reducing poverty particularly difficult. Rural Chinese people do not have access to big-city poverty reduction resources like quality education, healthcare and high-paying jobs. It is also harder for the government’s poverty alleviation programs to track down farmers scattered across the vast rural Chinese landscape.

Furthermore, local governments often bear a disproportionate responsibility for trillions of dollars in loans to pay for poverty alleviation programs and this debt hinders rural provinces’ abilities to complete internal improvement projects. Unfinished road construction projects force rural farmers to carry their produce across miles of difficult terrain to reach the nearest major road. Besides obstructing rural commerce, broken roads prevent people from being able to reach quality schools and well-paying jobs. Healthcare and treatment for COVID-19 are also highly inaccessible due to the crumbling infrastructure that keeps China’s rural people in a cycle of poverty.

How New Funding Helps

Hunan’s $200 million loan from the World Bank will serve as a template for other provinces and will help alleviate rural Chinese poverty in a few key ways. First, it will provide funding for rural public schools which often suffer from a lack of resources and staff. It will also increase financing for rural road maintenance and enhance the climate resilience of roads so that storms and flooding do not decimate residents’ main avenues of travel. Road improvement projects have an enormous impact on Hunan farmers as a recently completed 63km road project provided for more convenient transport, opened farmers to broader markets, and in effect, increased Hunan residents’ incomes by about 30%.

Also included in the loan are measures designed to strengthen local debt management, which will allow more of Hunan’s budget to go toward improving living conditions rather than repaying debts. Lastly, the loan will make budget information more accessible to citizens, which should decrease the amount of fraud and fund mismanagement experienced. In the past five years, China has reported more than 60,000 cases of corruption and misconduct in its poverty alleviation programs. In 2018 alone, the government recouped about $112 million of misappropriated poverty spending. With information like this available to the public rather than buried in private documents, Hunan expects a reduction in poverty-related fraud and embezzlement.

Poverty in Numbers

The World Bank loan will certainly create positive changes in the Hunan province but impoverished rural citizens overall still need much more support. The impact of rural Chinese poverty often gets understated as basic statistics do not tell the whole story. While the number of Chinese citizens in extreme poverty living on less than $1.90 a day has decreased by almost 750 million, a quarter of China’s population still lives on less than $5.50 a day. The World Bank sets $5.50 per day as the poverty threshold for upper-middle-income countries like China, so by this measure, a large number of Chinese people still live in poverty, most of whom are likely rural people.

The Road Ahead

The rural residents in Hunan and elsewhere in China have not shared the triumphs of national poverty eradication. In order to effectively assist impoverished rural citizens, China and the international aid community can draw wisdom from the strategy for the allocation of the World Bank’s new loan.

Spending on higher-quality rural education will increase the standard of living and offer rural residents a better opportunity for socio-economic growth. Completing road construction projects and making roads climate resilient will provide rural citizens increased commerce and more convenient access to education, healthcare and job resources. Strengthening local debt management will ease the strain of provincial loan repayment and allow greater spending on internal improvements. Finally, making budget information transparent and accessible for citizens will decrease cases of fund mismanagement and ensure poverty reduction programs are properly using expenditure to alleviate rural Chinese poverty.

Calvin Nordhougen
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19 Sparks a New Conversation on Mental Healthcare in China
The People’s Republic of China has a long history of mental healthcare, with the first National Mental Health Meeting in 1958. Along with this history of psychiatric care facilities and mental health resources, there comes a long history of stigma around mental health in China. Even more so since the COVID-19 pandemic began, mental health in China is at the forefront of the country’s mind.

History of Mental Health in China: Services & Stigma

Between 2001 and 2005, the prevalence of mental illness among the Chinese population was 17.5%. While the prevalence alone is striking, the lack of individuals seeking treatment provides a more accurate picture of mental health stigma in China. Of individuals with a diagnosis of a mental disorder, 91.8% never seek professional help. Besides stigma, there is the issue of access. Mental health most heavily affects the most disadvantaged in regard to socioeconomic status. China has a highly regulated and centralized healthcare system, but mental health services make up only 2.35% of the total health budget.

COVID-19’s Impact on Mental Health in China

Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in Wuhan, China, and the subsequent lockdown that began on January 23, 2020, China’s population has experienced the highest levels of psychological distress in decades. A nationwide survey measured the current mental health strain on the people of China and found that 35% of people are experiencing psychological distress.

Women, the elderly, migrant workers and those living in the regions where the pandemic is most severe show the highest rates of physiological distress and mental disorders. While these statistics may seem grim, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a push toward destigmatization of mental health in China and a new conversation around seeking help.

Psychologists have observed that because people are hyperaware of health amid the pandemic, particularly their mental health, there will be a long-term shift in care beginning with the destigmatization of seeking treatment for mental illness and distress.

Positive Examples of New Mental Health Resources

All levels of government and non-governmental organizations have been taking steps to improve mental healthcare in China, given how much of the population reports experiencing mild to severe psychological distress. Local governments have set up mental health support and suicide hotlines. Currently, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline is available 24 hours a day to provide free and confidential information on mental health services and treatment. Mobile apps have emerged with a focus on mental wellbeing to help those experiencing negative mental health symptoms. Since the Ministry of Education has warned of “post-epidemic syndrome,” schools and universities have implemented screening and treatment for depression and anxiety among students.

A Path Forward

China has a population of 1.4 billion people, yet as of 2017, only nine mental health professionals existed for every 100,000 residents. This statistic is a direct result of the long-standing stigma surrounding mental health in China. Amid the negatives of the collective trauma and subsequent physiological distress resulting from the novel coronavirus, the country has successfully opened a dialogue around mental health reform in China, and evidence has determined that this is only the beginning of a hopeful path forward.

– Tatiana Nelson
Photo: Flickr

E-Commerce Can End Rural Poverty in China
E-commerce has the power to end rural poverty in China. In 2014, about 100 out of 640 households in Kengshang were on a list for having annual incomes of less than $400. The rural Chinese village in Anhui province had been in poverty for years. This is due to a shortage of farmland and geographical isolation. Most villagers made their living by growing tea but the working population decreased every year as people left to find jobs.

In 2015, the district’s commerce bureau invested $31,000 in Kengshang. This involved setting up a workshop to train the villagers and renovating a school building. The villagers sold dried bamboo shoots in small decorative bags, which the poverty-alleviation team then sold online. All of the profits went directly to the villagers. The annual revenue from the online shops in 2020 was about $123,870, up from $23,226 in 2016. By 2016, the Chinese government deemed the village of Kengshang poverty-free.

E-Commerce in China

Kengshang is one of many success stories in poverty alleviation thanks to e-commerce in China. E-commerce is the buying and selling of goods over the internet. It allows more people to access potential global markets for their products, which can help reduce poverty by opening up a new avenue of income for the impoverished. It has been especially effective for those facing rural poverty.

E-commerce in China is a robust industry for rural communities. All 832 state-level impoverished counties have e-commerce programs to alleviate poverty. In 2019, 13.84 million rural e-commerce shops existed. The shops registered total online sales of about $8.02 billion in the first quarter of 2020, up 5% from 2019.

The Alibaba Group, an e-commerce giant, launched the Rural Taobao Program in 2014 to help give rural citizens better access to the internet and help farmers increase their income by selling agricultural products directly to urban consumers online. It does this by setting up e-commerce service networks in counties and villages and improving logistical connections for villages. It also provides training in e-commerce and entrepreneurship and develops rural financial services through the AntFinancial subsidiary of Alibaba. The Rural Taobao Program has expanded rapidly, from 212 villages in 12 counties in 2014 to more than 30,000 villages in 1,000 counties in 2018.

The Chinese government has invested in improving the existing e-commerce system. In the future, the government plans to improve infrastructure in rural areas to smooth urban-rural trade channels, especially for agricultural products. Third-party delivery services, improved rural logistics systems and the cultivation of local brands will support agricultural products.

Eliminating Poverty in China

E-commerce in rural provinces has helped China eliminate rural poverty nationwide. In November 2020, President Xi Jinping announced that all rural citizens were living above the centrally-defined poverty line of about $400 a year. While this is still below the internationally recognized poverty line of $700 a year, it is an impressive feat thanks to strategies like e-commerce in rural areas. In the future, the growing industry of e-commerce has the potential to bring all rural Chinese people above the international poverty line.

E-Commerce During COVID-19

During the COVID-19 pandemic, e-commerce has become even more important. Online ordering and no-contact delivery give rural communities a source of income that does not risk their health. Despite disruptions due to shutdowns, Taobao, an e-commerce platform, saw merchants sell 160% more products in March 2020 than in 2019. PinDuoDuo, another e-commerce company, has boosted daily orders to 65 million, compared to 50 million before the pandemic.

Looking Forward

With sustained development and investment, e-commerce has the potential to end rural poverty in China. The Chinese government needs to invest in the workers by providing entrepreneurship training, helping them establish an online presence and creating the necessary infrastructure to help them sell their products online. That way, e-commerce can be a long-term solution.

Other countries can learn from China’s e-commerce model. While China’s success comes in part from the extensive government involvement in the lives of individual citizens, other nations can still take note of the booming e-commerce industry. Investments in e-commerce development programs have the power to help end rural poverty in China.

– Brooklyn Quallen
Photo: Flickr

Updates on SDG Goal #8 in China
The global economy is an ever-changing and ever-expanding system. Whether through the opening of new markets, job creation or GDP fluctuations, one can measure the success of an economy in numerous ways. However, attempts at sustainability goals receive more specific judgment. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) measure the success of an economy not only in regard to its growth but also that growth’s sustainability. Many countries with SDGs are those that have a pivotal impact on the world economy overall. This correlates with positive updates on SDG 8 in China, which commits the nation to the achievement of full employment for all citizens by 2030.

Laying the Economic Foundation

The Chinese economy has undergone many changes over the centuries. In the first 1,500 years, China followed the policy of Isolationism strictly. In the next few centuries, China gradually opened to the European countries. Many countries such as Germany, Russia and England vied for control over many of China’s crucial exports and markets. By the 20th century, China faced more pervasive and detrimental economic factors. It suffered from the toll of its countless Opium Wars as well as the resulting strain of having to compete with other countries vying for its resources. But by the mid-21st century, the post-WWII economic boom rejuvenated and then expanded China into the economic force that it is today.

Positive Correlations for SDG 8 in China

There are positives to China’s economic growth. World reliance on Chinese goods does not have a parallel, with China occupying a large percentage of the world’s imports. Furthermore, the particular rise in GDP in Beijing, which now accounts for 5% of China’s GDP, indicates the importance of Beijing as an ever-growing and pertinent city in China and the world’s economy.

Beijing itself has also sought to expand the visibility of industrialization in China. For example, Beijing devised a plan to push 15 million people into workplace training, as well as the expansion of 11 million more jobs by the end of 2021. China’s rise in GDP is so colossal that it actually managed to grow by 2.3% during the COVID-19 pandemic while many other prominent economies have dropped by 2.3%. This suggests positive updates on SDG 8 in China for development and job creation. Furthermore, estimates of China’s GDP, if its growth continues, could overtake the U.S. economy by 2028. If the value of Chinese currency continues to increase, it could accelerate this rise by 2026.

The Challenges

The results of these estimates are promising, but they are still only estimates. Moreover, there are prominent issues when it comes to the area of decent work. China’s advancing industrialization puts profound stress and lack of availability on its rural citizens. Those left behind in China account for about 30.46 million and are confined to the rural areas in China.

One of China’s main problems is the uncertainty of it all. Furthermore, a Communist government controls China. As a result, the political system suffers from high amounts of censorship and misinformation. Eric Hu accounted in the New York Times that “China is both the world’s newest superpower and its largest authoritarian state.”

Hu’s and similar statements acknowledge the economic power of China. However, the nature of China’s political system does question the validity of its informative claims, including those of an economic nature. China resists forfeiting government control or enlisting the aid of NGOs. In fact, many successful NGOs have to operate without government permission in order to assist people facing poverty. Yet, there is some improvement in this area, with available NGOs like Jiangxi bringing 500,000 yuan to struggling Chinese villages as well as financial plans for its disbursement.

Meeting Opportunities

China’s middle class may be on the rise, as well as its GDP and hopeful updates on SDG 8 in China. However, in order for true advancement to occur, there needs to be a greater emphasis upon financial aid and transparency towards its citizens who are in poverty and even extreme poverty. If this occurs, coupled with China’s impressive GDP growth, the country could attain many economic benefits.

– Jacob Hurwitz
Photo: Flickr