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Who Qualifies as Poor in China?

Nation, page 10
Issue 502, January 10, 2011
Translated by Guo Wei
Original article:


On the morning of January 5, 2011, in a small village called Shizuizi (石嘴子) in the county of Chongli, on the outskirts of the city of Zhangjiakou in Hebei, 79-year-old Hao Gao (郝高) was busy talking with his son about what they could spend their welfare payments on after they got their hands on the money.

Shizuizi village is the first village in Chongli county to conduct a survey of its poor inhabitants this year, already receiving an official endorsement of its results from the county government.

The standard used to determine who in the village officially qualified as poor was a new one that had only recently been announced.

At the start of this year, China raised its official national poverty line to a net per capita income of 1,500 yuan per year (approx 230 US dollars at the current market exchange rate).

The new standard still lags the World Bank's international poverty line of 1.25 US dollars a day, but according to Cao Wendao, an official with the World Bank's China office, the new poverty line could expand the size of China's poor population "back to more than 90 million people or even more than 100 million" - which is close to the estimate of the number of officially poor at the start of last decade when the previous standard of net income of 1,196 yuan a year was used.

According to the original 1,196 yuan poverty line, the poor population in China fell from 94.23 million in 2000 to 35.97 million in 2009.

As for China's grass-roots poverty alleviation organizations, the lifting of the official poverty line doesn't only mean that the number of officially poor will rise - it also means that there will be changes to how the country approaches the challenge of poverty reduction.

Who Qualifies as Poor in China?

In order to expand poverty reduction programs, the first step is always to identity who is poor.

The village of Shizuizi has 1,336 residents and a total of 929 individuals have been officially identified as poor according to the new standard.

Such a high proportion of poor people is not rare in the county of Zhongli, which has been identified as a center for poverty alleviation by the central government.

Of the 35 villages that have been designated as key villages in the first round of the county-wide poverty reduction program, poor people account for about 70 percent of the villages' population on average.

According to Jiang Zhongjun (姜仲军), a village official in Shizuizi, villagers need to pass through 5 stages before they can be officially recognised as poor and thus qualify to receive assistance.

The first step is to apply to be recognised as officially poor.

After government representatives have informed the villagers about the new standards of who qualifies as poor and the policies that are being introduced to assist them, the villagers are free to complete an application form and apply based on their own economic conditions.

The second step involves officials going door-to-door to complete a survey of the income of those who have applied. Any family that is discovered to have an average per capita income of more than 1,500 yuan a month, is ruled out.

The third step is referred to as democratic appraisal or (民主评议 mínzhǔ píngyì) which consists of village officials and representatives discussing and appraising the applications of those who have made it through to this third round.

The fourth step is to announce the results of the evaluation process in public.
The fifth step involves audit and final approval.

If the village-level results are not contested, they are officially collated and reported to the county-level government, who are responsible for auditing the results one more time and providing final approval.

Shizuizi party committee secretary Huo Manming (霍满明) thinks that the third and the fourth steps are critical.

"The most simple solution of ordinary people is to compare themselves with others, if there are two families who are living in similar circumstances, but one is accepted and not the other, then of course there are going to be disagreements."

One of the households that made it through to the final round of the village survey was Hao Gao's family of four, who were earning less than 5,000 yuan a year between them.

Because of problems with his eyesight, one of the family's sons can not work independently on the farm, let alone head to the city to work as a migrant laborer.

So Hao Gao has to manage the family's seven mu of land together with his disabled son.
The deputy director of Chongli county's Poverty Relief Office Xue Mei (薛美) said, the process of confirming which impoverished villages will recieve speical support had also been changed, so that now a complete survey of the number of poor in all villages in the county must be conducted and verified before poverty relief teams are assigned to particular villages.

Central Government Funds

According to the old measure, there were 45,300 poor people living in Chongli County. Now the bar has been raised to the new standard of 1,500 yuan a year, the number will rise to 59,000 - an increase of 14,200 or 30 percent.

It's not only the national poverty line that has been raised, Hebei Province also lifted their official provincial poverty line to 1,500 yuan per annum, a year before the national standard was raised.

However, even though the provincial poverty line exceeded the national level, funds to support poverty alleviation coming from the provincial level are not as reliable as those coming from the central government.

Provincial level funds depend on the financial situation in each year's provincial budget, if the fiscal revenue is looking good, then the money will be provided, if revenues are down, then perhaps no payments will be made.

However, poverty relief funds provided by the central government are more reliable.

If Hao Gao is able to have his identity as a member of his village's poor population confirmed by the local county authorities, he and his family would be eligible to receive a 2,000 yuan cash payment and a futher 6,000 yuan in low-interest loans.

If Hao could scrape together an additional 2,000 yuan, he would be able to afford a green house in which to grow vegetables, that are increasingly popular in the county.

Over the coming years, Shizuizi village is eligible to receive a minimum of 600,000 yuan in funds for poverty alleviation. While Chongli County will receive about 26 million yuan in funds.

Aside from cash payments, Chongli county will also receive preferential treatment in relation to the construction of essential infrastructure and also receive 18 million yuan in funds from other sources including donations from charities and private companies.

At present, the county has assigned 44 county-level departments to help at least one of the 35 poor villages, according to the principle of economic departments helping our "poor villages," political departments helping our "disorderly villages" and Communist Party departments helping out "spread-out villages" that have more than one village committee.

Shizuizi village actively sought to be teamed up with the Chongli County procuratorate, but Jiang Zhongjun is quick to explain, that the reason they were partnered with a political department is not because they are a "disorderly village," but because they know the procuratorate has influence and they believes that the procuratorate can help them to attract new projects to the village.

The next step is to set up similar partner relationships with parts of Zhangjiakou city, Hebei Province and even central government departments.

The deputy director of Chongli county's Poverty Relief Office Xue Mei hopes that Chongli can be partnered up with a central government department.

According to Xue Mei, the first batch of villages to be officially recognised as poor, which includes Shizuizi, will focus on developing greenhouses to grow vegetables - a goal which will be supported by the provision of water and electricity services and low-rate loans so that over the coming three years the new greenhouses will be installed over 10,000 mu of land.

Zhangjiakou City Poverty Relief Office deputy director Zhao Guangyu (赵光宇) believes that there is no doubt that the funds promised by the central government will be provided, but the question of how to spend it effectively, is a challenge faced by all levels of government.

The funds that are provided from the provincial level will normally be used to supplement the income of families.

He hopes that after many years of hard work, every poor family will be able to take part in one of these programs, "for instance planting or breeding, after a few years, they'll have developed to a stage where they have an income, and they will have reached the goal of the poverty alleviation program."


This article was edited by Ruoji Tang and Paul Pennay

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