Pro-poor development – how China eradicated poverty

This article by Li Xiaoyun, Chair Professor of Humanities at the China Agricultural University and a widely-respected expert in the field of poverty alleviation, makes a number of important and thought-provoking points about China’s successes in eradicating poverty.

Li makes the oft-overlooked point that China’s poverty alleviation efforts have been a long-term process starting not with the initiation of Reform and Opening Up in the late 1970s but with the land reform and social welfare measures of the 1950s. This is consistent with research showing that, around the world, “redistributive land reform, starting with breaking up land concentration and land monopolies, maximises economic efficiency and social justice and helps to alleviate rural poverty.”

By 1978, famine had been eradicated, feudal land ownership systems had been dismantled, and education and healthcare services were available throughout the country. This progress “provided an important basis for the high economic growth and massive poverty reduction that followed the reform and opening up.” Further, “the 1978 reform and opening-up policy effectively utilised the material and human resource base laid down in the area of agricultural development prior to 1978 and became the second interface of China’s poverty reduction mechanism.”

Rapid economic growth in the reform period, starting with the household responsibility system in the countryside, has been a crucial driver of poverty reduction in China. But Li also emphasises the importance of the government’s active role in this process, including through the provision of basic public services, the development of infrastructure, and the implementation of targeted poverty alleviation measures. He further notes that many countries of the Global South have experienced relatively high GDP growth but have not enjoyed similar levels of poverty reduction. This indicates that GDP growth alone does little to improve the lives of the poor, and that governments must devote substantial focus and resources to this project.

The author writes that although inequality has risen rapidly over the last four decades, the government has taken active and decisive measures to ensure that the benefits of economic growth are shared by all. “In order to address the issue of inequality, in 1986, the Chinese government formally established a leading agency for rural poverty alleviation at both the central level and at the local level. At the same time, special funds for poverty alleviation were set aside at the central financial level to designate poverty-stricken areas, thus beginning a targeted and planned rural poverty alleviation and development strategy.”

Tackling rural poverty has been a particular focus over the last two decades, starting with the complete abolition of agricultural taxes in 2006, the implementation of rural low income insurance in 2004 and the realisation of medical care coverage for all rural residents by 2010. With the start of the targeted poverty alleviation campaign in 2014, “resources are pooled through extraordinary administrative initiatives, concentrating human, material and financial resources on the poorest areas and neediest groups.”

Li observes that China’s urbanisation has also made an important contribution to poverty reduction – “the movement of the rural population into industry and cities means an increase in income and welfare, and thus industrialisation and urbanisation have a direct poverty-reducing effect.” Meanwhile “the significant decline in the rural population has also meant a relative increase in the labour productivity of those who remained in the countryside and continue to work in agriculture.” It’s worth noting that in several other countries, rapid urbanisation has taken place in a relatively disorganised manner, with peasants escaping a life of grinding poverty and debt in the countryside, only to end up in peri-urban slums without secure employment or access to services. China’s urbanisation, while not without challenges and problems, has been generally well-managed.

The article concludes with a hugely important point about the indispensable role of the Communist Party of China in the fight against poverty:

The main reason why China was able to finally eradicate absolute rural poverty was because the CPC relied on its political advantage of unifying society and strongly integrated its political commitment to poverty reduction across all sectors of government and society, breaking the constraints of interest groups and administrative bureaucracy and achieving a redistribution of wealth and opportunities.

Which is to say that a socialist system provides the best possible framework for improving people’s lives.

This article first appeared on Progressive International.

On 25 February 2021, Chinese President Xi Jinping officially declared in Beijing that China will finally eliminate absolute rural poverty. As the standard for absolute rural poverty in China is higher than the World Bank’s standard for extreme poverty,2 China lags behind the World Bank’s estimates for eliminating absolute rural poverty. According to the World Bank’s poverty line of US$1.9 per person per day, there were 878 million poor people in China in 1981, and the incidence of poverty was 88.3%. By 2015, that number had fallen to 9.7 million, with an incidence of 0.7%.3

Economic growth and income redistribution are generally accepted as two important drivers of poverty reduction. Based on the situation in the United States, in 1964 Anderson suggested that economic growth was an important contributor to poverty reduction in the country.4 However, the experience of developing countries has been different. States in sub-Saharan Africa, for example, have, to varying degrees, seen relatively high levels of economic growth over the past two decades, but they have not achieved significant poverty reduction. This shows that economic growth is only one factor in poverty reduction. For poverty reduction to succeed, economic growth must also be set to address poverty alleviation.5 Secondly, the rise in income inequality accompanying economic growth is a major problem for developing countries and many middle-income countries. The rise in inequality directly worsens relative poverty, a process that China began to experience at the turn of the century. In the context of poverty reduction, China’s primary challenge before the new century was to put economic growth in the service of the poor. Since then, inequality became increasingly pronounced. These two features have greatly influenced changes in China’s poverty reduction strategies and policies.

Views on poverty reduction in China tend to fall into two categories. One sees China’s development and poverty reduction as part of a universal trend of socio-economic transformation that followed as a result of China’s assimilation into globalisation. The other sees China’s achievement of development and poverty reduction as a particular case, with its own unique Chinese characteristics.6 This paper will mainly introduce and analyse the process of poverty reduction in China from three aspects – the historical role of development in poverty reduction before 1978, economic growth in service of poverty alleviation after 1978, and the goal of poverty eradication in the face of increasing inequality – at the same time considering its core elements and their global significance.

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Delegation report: On the path of China’s modernisation

We are pleased to republish below a detailed report by Rob Griffiths, general secretary of the Communist Party of Britain, of a recent delegation to China organised by the CPC’s International Department. Rob was the leader of the delegation, which included three delegates from Friends of Socialist China.

Originally published in four parts in the Morning Star, the report is republished here in full. It adds some valuable detail to our report, elaborating in particular on the themes of common prosperity and China’s path to socialist modernisation.

Rob mentions the delegation’s field trips to KingMed Diagnostics and Guangzhou Automobile Company (GAC) in Guangzhou, and reflects on what the delegates learned in relation to people-centred development and the relationship between the private and state sectors of the economy. He notes that KingMed, although a private company, works symbiotically with the state; this was evident in the struggle against Covid-19, with KingMed establishing 670 testing facilities in remote countryside areas. GAC is focusing increasingly on the design and production of electric cars, in line with the country’s overall orientation towards sustainable development. “Its operations in China illustrate how industry is pursuing the course of socialist modernisation set by President Xi Jinping and the CPC, based on consumer-driven, high-quality and eco-friendly development.”

Rob also recalls the delegation’s visit to the National Big Data Exchange and Experience Centre in Guiyang, Guizhou – “just one of several ultra-modern, hi-tech projects that demonstrate the CPC’s commitment to balanced development across China.” Guizhou has long been one of the poorest provinces of China, but it is experiencing rapid advances since being selected to take the lead on big data and artificial intelligence. Rob writes that the centre “indicates how cutting-edge technology can be used to improve traffic flows, protect the environment, enhance the distribution of medicines and even make tax collection more efficient.”

Writing about the delegation’s exchange with the All-China Federation of Trades Unions (ACFTU), Rob describes the role played by the ACFTU in organising 300 million workers across various sectors: “its roles include collective bargaining, workers’ rights protection, lobbying, and offering financial and skill-training support to members.” He mentions that the union has successfully lobbied for a number of important policy changes, including improving rights of migrant workers and supporting those workers negatively affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The author recalls that, at the CPC Central Committee Party School in Beijing, he asked Professor Guo Qiang a question about the absence of women in the top leadership of the CPC – “only 10 of 205 central committee members elected at the 20th party congress last October are women, although they comprise almost one-third of the CPC membership.” Professor Guo responded that this deficit is a topic of discussion inside the party. “Many in the CPC leadership are over 60 and attended university 40 years ago when there were very few female students — itself the result of bad and reactionary elements in traditional Chinese culture, he explained. Huge changes are under way in education, with women filling more than half of all university and college places.”

The delegation was hugely valuable and memorable, and served to significantly deepen delegates’ understanding of the progress of Chinese socialism in the 21st century.

On the path of China’s modernisation

Morning Star, 5 August 2023

FROM June 24 until July 4, the international department of the Communist Party of China (CPC) hosted a delegation representing 11 communist parties and a friendship society from Britain, Ireland, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Norway, the US, Canada and Australia.

I had the honour of leading the delegation at the invitation of the CPC as we visited the provinces of Guangdong and Guizhou as well as the capital city, Beijing.

Our hosts’ intention was to explain China’s path of “socialist modernisation” and demonstrate the achievements of their country’s system of “socialism with Chinese characteristics.”

Guangdong borders Hong Kong and is China’s most populous province with more than 127 million inhabitants.

Situated at the delta of the Pearl River, the provincial capital Guangzhou was the starting point of the famous maritime “Silk Road.”

Its working class and intelligentsia played a major part in the national democratic revolution of 1911, led by Sun Yat Sen, who remains a revered figure for the Chinese people and the CPC.

Today, this city of 16 million people is a major international port and trading centre, having pioneered China’s “reform and opening up” strategy initiated by former CPC leader Deng Xiaoping in 1978.

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Report back from a delegation to China

The following is a report by Carlos Martinez on a delegation to China, organised by the CPC’s International Department, that Friends of Socialist China was invited to join. Carlos’s report describes the intensive program of activities that the delegation participated in, as well as detailing some of the discussions and observations on China’s path to modernisation, common prosperity, whole process people’s democracy, rights of migrant workers, and the nature and trajectory of Chinese socialism.

The Third Communist Party Leaders Delegation of North American, Oceanian and Nordic Countries visited China from 24 June to 4 July, at the invitation of the International Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (IDCPC).

Friends of Socialist China were invited to join this delegation, along with the Communist Party of Australia, the Communist Party of Britain, the Communist Party of Ireland, the Communist Party of Finland, the Communist Party (Sweden), the Communist Party of Norway, the Communist Party USA, the Communist Party of Canada (including Le Parti communiste du Québec), the Communist Party of Denmark, the New Communist Party of Britain, and the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist). We were represented by co-editors Keith Bennett and Carlos Martinez and advisory group member Francisco Domínguez.

The intensive and incredibly well-organised program included meetings with academics, ‘red tourism’, visits to communities and enterprises, cultural activities, and discussions with the IDCPC, the Communist Youth League of China, the All-China Federation of Trade Unions and the Party School of the CPC Central Committee.

The first destination was Guangzhou (capital city of Guangdong Province in southern China), and the first activity was a presentation and Q&A session at the Guangdong Academy of Social Sciences, introduced by its President, Wang Tinghui, and led by Professor Deng Zhiping.

Deng Zhiping gave an overview of China’s approach to modernisation – characterised by common prosperity for all, harmony between humanity and nature, material and cultural-ethical advancement, and peaceful development – and described the leading role played by Guangdong in this process. Historically Guangdong has always been an area associated with trade; indeed it was the starting point of the Maritime Silk Road, connecting China, South and Southeast Asia, Arabia, East Africa and Europe. In the recent era, Reform and opening up started with the establishment of four Special Economic Zones (SEZs), three of which were in Guangdong Province. Today Guangdong’s GDP ranks alongside Italy and Türkiye, and surpassed South Korea in 2021. Its per capita GDP now exceeds 15,000 USD, indicating that it has been able to jump out of the ‘middle-income trap’.

Guangdong’s average life expectancy is now 79.3, and all the province’s social and economic indicators are steadily improving. Enrolment rate in higher education is 58 percent, up from 28 percent in 2010. More than 158 million residents are covered by social security, and inequality is trending downwards. With the focus on rural regeneration, the urban-rural income ratio has narrowed from 2.7 a decade ago to 2.4 today.

Guangzhou has long been a trailblazer in green development, and in recent years there has been a strong emphasis on building a “green and beautiful Guangdong” – pursuing high-quality development which is green and open, based on innovation and sharing. Professor Deng emphasised that “the colour of our further modernisation is green”. Economic activity in the province is increasingly oriented towards renewable energy and electric vehicles, and major efforts are underway to improve public transport and protect biodiversity.

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Why is China’s battle against corruption grave and complex?

In this original article, Keith Lamb explains that, whilst China has scored enormous achievements in the battle against corruption, it still faces an uphill task in preventing new cases and rooting out existing ones.

Because the CPC is a Marxist party, Keith explains, with the historic mission to usher in socialism, it has to hold itself to higher standards than those political parties which operate within the framework of capitalism. However, when working towards socialism, utopian action will fail. Therefore, China took the pragmatic road by adopting a socialist market economy, which has advanced the forces of production and technology necessary for socialist development. However, this also creates a series of class and material contradictions that need to be navigated.

Achieving China’s goal of becoming a prosperous and modern socialist country by 2049, the author notes, not only requires a constant battle against corruption, but also provides part of the remedy for corruption.

Recently at the second plenary session of the 20th CPC Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) it was noted that the corruption situation, in China remains grave and complex. The Communist Party of China (CPC) faces an uphill task in preventing new cases of corruption and rooting out existing ones.

In recent years, there have been enormous achievements in the battle against corruption at all levels of officialdom, which is encapsulated in the slogan “striking tigers and swatting flies.” In 2018, Lai Xiaomin the former state asset manager was executed for taking $277 million in bribes, and Sun Zhengcai, the former Chongqing Party Chief, was given life imprisonment for taking $27 million in bribes.

As of June 2022, a total of 4,516,000 corruption cases were handled by disciplinary authorities, and 4,439,000 people were punished for violating discipline. Just over a month after the closing of the 20th CPC National Congress, more than 10 officials who were suspected of severe violations of discipline and laws had turned themselves in.

Considering such successes, one may ask why the corruption situation still remains grave and complex. First, the massive anti-corruption campaign launched after the 18th National Congress was unprecedented in size, due to corruption becoming so deep-rooted. Consequently, considering the magnitude of the problem, no matter the achievements already accumulated, there is still much to do.

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Video: China’s socialist development model speaks for itself

In the video below, originally carried on CGTN, Li Jingjing interviews Carlos Martinez about the recently-concluded 20th National Congress of the CPC – in particular its focus on common prosperity – as well as the successes of China’s development model.

Carlos outlines the core principles of common prosperity – reducing poverty, reducing inequality, improving distribution, and increased regulation of capital. He highlights in particular the measures that have already been taken in support of workers in the ‘gig economy’, including recent legislation supporting and encouraging unionisation, and mandating that all workers have proper contracts and full insurance entitlement. These measures compare very favourably with the situation in the West, where casual workers face terrible working conditions, zero-hour contracts and anti-union policies.

Discussing China’s development model of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics, Carlos points out that the successes of this model speak for themselves. It is a model that has been able to eliminate extreme poverty in a huge country of 1.4 billion people – an unprecedented achievement. “Anyone saying it’s a bad model is saying that it’s bad for people who used to face famines to now live comfortable lives.”