About 60 percent of adults in China's west are confident they
will have a promising future despite current heath and education
woes, international researchers have revealed.
About 20 percent cannot afford hospital treatment and more than
one-third of families cannot afford tuition and college fees.
However, about two-thirds of people living in rural areas and more
than half of city residents, say they are better off than they were
five years ago.
The findings were released last week by a Chinese-Norwegian
team, which has been researching living conditions in western China
for the past five years.
The survey, conducted by Norwegian research foundation FAFO and
the National Research Centre for Science and Technology
Development, interviewed 44,000 families in China's western regions
except the Tibet Autonomous Region.
Jon Pedersen, head of research of FAFO, said despite major
socio-economic differences, there was a confidence among the people
"The differences in development within the western regions are
very large, from modern cities like Chengdu with an important
high-tech industry, to poor, traditional farming communities high
in the mountains of Qinghai," he told China Daily
"Compared with other developing areas in the world that I have
been to, the feeling of optimism about the future that people show
is the most striking."
Western China is home to about 28 percent, or more than 400
million people, of the mainland population.
According to the research, 65 percent of the rural residents and
54 percent urbanites in western China said their living standards
had improved over the past five years. For the coming five years,
66 percent farmers and 60 urban residents believed they would be
economically better off.
Wang Fenyu, a senior researcher of the Chinese research centre,
yesterday said the results testified that the central and local
government policies to narrow the wealth gap and promote social
development were paying dividends.
Pederson also said key policies, such as the development of
infrastructure and the recent lifting of the tax on farmers,
appeared to be working.
However, the study found that despite a strong education push in
rural areas, education costs were still unaffordable for poorer
Although 94 percent of children aged between 7 and 14 were at
school, the attendance rate declined in high school, partly because
one-third of families could not afford tuition and fees.
Many families fell into dire straits because of education costs:
it took 74 percent of a family's annual income to pay for one
child's college education for a year, according to the
The research also found about 28 percent of adults in western
China could not read correspondence, and there were more illiterate
women than men.
The report found Chinese living in western regions had access to
various health facilities, including hospitals and community
But at least 20 percent of the residents, both rural and urban,
could not see a doctor primarily because they were unable to pay
the medical fees.
Only 45 percent of rural women gave birth at hospital, and 7
percent of children aged 4 and above had never been given
The findings have been submitted to governments in western
China, and have become an important reference for policy-makers,
according to Wang Fenyu.
"The most important, and most difficult, is to find ways in
which people's achievements are not destroyed by ill luck: Disease,
accidents, or natural disasters may easily wipe out a household
assets," Pederson said.
(China Daily October 4, 2006)