Poverty in Northwest ChinaNorthwest China is comprised of three provinces (Qinghai, Gansu and Shaanxi) and two autonomous regions (Xinjiang and Ningxia). The overall population of this region is about 100 million. The rates of poverty of all five of these administrative divisions rank among the top ten in mainland China. It was roughly estimated that by the end of 2016, 12 million people in this region were still living below the national poverty line of $348 in annual net income.

Major reasons for the high rate of poverty in northwest China include the harsh deserts, plateaus and mountains, dry climates and natural disasters. Many areas in this region lack resources and basic infrastructure. Many cities and counties are enduring insufficient power supply and inconvenient transportation. In addition, incomes remain low, and basic facilities for education, health and other public services are poor.

Recently, quite a few different measures have been implemented for alleviating poverty in northwest China. Officials in Xinjiang relocated about 26,100 persons living in poverty in 2016 and raised $627 million of relocation funds for poverty reduction in 2017. The government of Qinghai aims to further exploit the advantages of tourism on reducing poverty by pairing 10,000 villages with private companies within five years.

The All-China Women’s Federation offers direct assistance for poverty alleviation by training women to improve their working capabilities and handcraft skills. Projects in the Shaanxi and Ningxia regions were also proposed in China’s thirteenth five-year plan.

The poverty rate among most ethnic minorities is relatively high, which stems from factors such as attitudes toward girls’ education and dependence on government assistance. Hence, it is necessary to reinforce the importance of education and gender equality and to encourage local people to go out seeking better jobs.

An important issue is reforming the strategy of poverty alleviation, by gradually replacing the conventional aid model with the participatory anti-poverty model. Tim Harvey’s work in Ningxia emphasizes the rights of the poor to participate, respects their enthusiasm and motivations to get rid of poverty. This strategy aims to enhance their viability to survive and expand their legal rights to gain wealth.

Besides the measures mentioned above, the Chinese central government attaches great importance to the development of medical care and nutrition support in northwest regions with ethnic minorities. Meanwhile, protecting the local natural environment, reinforcing the guiding role of religious groups and implementing the strategy of sustainable development are all keynote strategies on reducing poverty in northwest China.

One typical example is the Yinchuan Minning Agriculture Project in Ningxia, from which 35,000 local villagers were benefited by relocation and opportunities for income growth.

Alleviating poverty in northwest China represents another long march at present. As a region with the highest rate of returning poverty, it requires intensive concerns on protecting the rights and opportunities for the poor. By gradually changing the methods of poverty reduction and allowing the vast majority of the poor to participate, greater achievements can be made in the long-term project.

– Xin Gao



Reading about the conditions people around the world live in and hearing about their hardships simply cannot compare to a full immersion in the culture of another country.

Corbin Dickson, who was born and raised in Colorado, is currently teaching in Myanmar at the Myanmar International School in Yangon, Myanmar. He offered some insight into his experiences abroad in Myanmar (known previously as Burma.)

When asked about the impact he thinks education has on poverty levels, he says that it’s hard to say. Often, the only families who can afford an education are already wealthy, he says.

But he does mention the correlation between rapid economic development and the introduction of new schools. He is confident that new institutions, such as the one he teaches at, will ultimately have a positive effect on individuals, “especially since they are far more equipped to prepare and inspire students towards higher education abroad.”

Although the school he teaches at is attended primarily by upper-middle class or wealthy students, conditions are different than in the United States.

He says only one-third of Myanmar residents have access to electricity, and that even though Yangon is an urban area, the power frequently goes out. (To him, the inconvenience of constantly interrupted lessons is something he’s grown used to, though the lack of air conditioning and fans, while it’s usually above 80° F with high humidity is admittedly not.)

And the poorer areas are never far away, he says. “You don’t have to travel far out of Yangon to get to a rural area. Once out in the rural areas, it feels as though you have gone back in time 100 years; farmers still plowing their fields with buffalo, people still living in homes made of woven palm leaves and bamboo.”

Perhaps these people prefer the simplicity of a life lived off the land, rather than the complications of bustling urban life. Dickson says the lack of basic framework can be frustrating, as can the Internet speed (“as slow as dial-up in the early 2000s”), and traffic.

Dickson noted that “Yangon simply doesn’t have the road capacity to handle the influx of cars” that people purchased when the country began opening up in 2011-2012.

One of the biggest cultural differences that Dickson discussed was an obsession with not standing out or making anyone else look bad, what he calls, “saving face.”

“For example,” he says, “if you ask a taxi to take you somewhere and the driver doesn’t know how to get there, they will try to take you anyway, driving around, guessing until they make it. When [me] or my friends try to direct them, they pretend not to hear or act as though their way is better (or worse, say we originally told them something else).”

Dickson says it can be difficult to teach when students are so reluctant to ask questions, and it’s strange to get used to adults who refuse to ask for clarification on something they don’t understand.

With modern life comes all of these little cultural quirks and frustrations, like the sound of honking cars, and worrying about looking bad in front of other people. But one of the things that stands out about Myanmar the most is simply the way that its residents view poverty.

Dickson says that because there is no financial or social support offered by the state, the highly empathetic population takes personal responsibility to help those who need it.

“Despite living close to poverty themselves, Myanmar people dedicate a lot of time and money to helping those in need when they can,” he says.

One of the teacher’s assistants at his school spends her weekends teaching for free at a poor rural school. When there was flooding occurring, students took part in huge fundraising efforts, and many went to offer firsthand aid in the crisis areas.

“The major difference here in Myanmar to the U.S. is that people in Myanmar don’t look down on the poor,” Dickson says. “People simply make no judgments towards the life conditions of others – no accusations of fault or blame for one’s situation.”

And what an inspiring outlook that is. These are people who live in the midst of poverty themselves. People who, by U.S. standards, are suffering from a lack of electricity and basic infrastructure. Yet they are willing to offer a helping hand to anyone who needs it.

Emily Dieckman

Sources: BBC, Myanmar International School, Weather Spark
Photo: Pixabay