I. The People's Rights to Subsistence and Development

In 2003 China's economy observed a rapid and healthy growth, and the people's rights to subsistence and development were further improved. Over the past year the country's gross domestic product (GDP) reached 11,669.4 billion yuan, an increase of 9.1 percent over the previous year. Calculated at the current rate of exchange, the GDP per capita surpassed US$1,000 for the first time, a major step up.

The general living standard of the people continued to rise. In 2003 the per-capita disposable income of urban residents was 8,472 yuan, an increase, in real terms, of 9 percent over the previous year after deduction for inflation. The net per-capita income for rural residents was 2,622 yuan, an increase of 4.3 percent in real terms.

The consumption pattern of the society showed that it was gradually changing from one of basic living to one of modern living. In 2003 China's retail sales of consumer goods totaled 4,584.2 billion yuan-worth, an increase of 9.1 percent over the previous year. The proportion of urban and rural residents' expenditure on clothing, food and other daily necessities kept declining, while the proportion of their expenditure on high-grade daily-use articles, cars, housing, medical care and entertainments was increasing.

In 2003 the Engel coefficient (i.e. the proportion of food expenditure in the total consumption spending) per urban and rural household decreased by 0.6 percentage point from the previous year. In urban areas, the figure dropped to 37.1 percent from 57.5 percent in 1978, and in rural areas it dropped to 45.6 percent from 67.7 percent in 1978.

In 2003 China produced 2.02 million cars, an increase of 85 percent over the previous year. By the end of 2003 private cars owned by individuals had reached 4.89 million, an increase of 1.46 million cars over the previous year.

In 2003 an additional 49.08 million households had telephones installed in their residences, bringing the total number of households with telephones to 263.3 million at the year's end. Also in 2003, new mobile phone users increased by 62.69 million, bringing the total number to 268.69 million at the year's end. The number of fixed and mobile phone users combined reached 532 million at the end of 2003. There are now 42 telephones for every 100 people, putting China among the top countries in terms of the pace and scale of development.

By the end of 2003 there were 30.89 million computers throughout the country connected to the Internet, and the number of households logging on came to 79.5 million, ranking China second in the world.

The housing conditions and living environment for urban and rural residents steadily improved over the past year. Housing construction has increased at an annual rate of 20 percent in the past few years. The per-capita housing area was 22.8 square meters by the end of 2002, and in rural areas it increased to 26.5 square meters. In urban areas privately owned housing makes up at least 72 percent. Ninety-four percent of the newly constructed houses in urban areas were purchased by individuals. The standards for house decoration, decoration quality, indoor air quality and housing environment are rising steadily.

In the meantime, China made continuous efforts to solve the food and clothing problem of the impoverished population. The state input for development-oriented poverty reduction programs in rural areas increased from 24.8 billion yuan in 2000 to 29.9 billion yuan in 2003. This input was used to improve the production conditions for agriculture and animal husbandry in impoverished areas, to build roads, to spread compulsory education and eliminate illiteracy, to train farmers in practical technology, to prevent and cure endemic diseases, to construct farm fields, to build water conservancy projects and to provide drinking water for both people and animals.

The per-capita income of farmers in the major poor counties that the government aims to help increased from 1,277 yuan at the end of 2001 to 1,305 yuan in 2003, and the size of the impoverished population without adequate food and clothing in rural China decreased from 250 million at the beginning of China's reform and opening-up program in 1978 to 29 million in 2003.

China attaches great importance to protecting the health and safety of its citizens. In 2003, faced with the sudden outbreak of the SARS epidemic, the Chinese government made the people's health and safety its top priority. It adopted a series of resolute and effective measures, including the promulgation of the Emergency Regulations on Public Health Contingencies and Measures for the Prevention and Treatment of the Infectious Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, timely release of information on SARS cases, and improvement of the SARS case reporting system and measures for prevention and control of the epidemic.

State leaders went to SARS-affected regions many times to investigate the epidemic conditions and console SARS patients as well as doctors and nurses, and mobilized the whole nation to join in the fight against SARS. The central and local governments earmarked more than 10 billion yuan to purchase medical equipment, medication and protective gear, and to reconstruct hospitals.

SARS patients, both farmers and townspeople who had financial difficulties, were treated free of charge, making sure that all SARS patients were given hospital treatment. These measures effectively reduced the death rate of confirmed SARS patients on the Chinese mainland to 6.5 percent, lower than the world's average of nine percent.

In tackling the outbreak of the highly infectious bird flu (avian flu) early this year, the Chinese government adopted many effective measures, such as the killing and compulsory vaccination of fowls. As a result, the disease was confined to the infected areas before it could spread to other areas and infect human beings. By March 16, 2004, the 49 cases of highly infectious bird flu incidents across China had been eliminated, and people's life and health had been effectively protected.

Meanwhile, the state adopted policies to give reasonable compensation to poultry farmers who had suffered financially during the epidemic. It also provided support to the poultry industry and poultry enterprises with respect to loans, bank interest discount and taxation, effectively protecting the interests of the farmers.

China has strengthened the prevention and treatment of AIDS. It has established the State Council coordination meeting system for the prevention and treatment of AIDS and venereal diseases. It has also worked out China's Medium- and Long-Term Plan for the Prevention and Control of AIDS (1998-2010) and China's Action Plan for the Control, Prevention and Treatment of AIDS (2001-2005).

In the four years starting 2003, the Chinese government will invest 1.75 billion yuan on the prevention and treatment of AIDS. The state provides free anti-AIDS medicine to patients among farmers and to other patients in straitened circumstances. In AIDS-prevalent areas people can receive anonymous examinations free of charge, and pregnant women with the AIDS virus can receive free medical screening to prevent them from spreading the virus to the baby. Orphans of AIDS patients are exempted from paying any fees required to attend school. Financial support is given to needy AIDS patients.

On World AIDS Day, i.e., December 1, 2003, China's Ministry of Health and a UN AIDS team jointly issued the Joint Evaluation Report on AIDS in China, describing the spread of AIDS and efforts for its control in China. On the same day, Premier Wen Jiabao visited AIDS patients in hospitals, shook hands with them and talked to them. This was designed to guide the public to correctly understand and control AIDS, and eliminate prejudice against AIDS patients.

At the same time, the state worked out and implemented the Plan for the Establishment of a National Public Health Monitoring and Information System and the Plan for the Establishment of a Medical Treatment System in Case of Public Health Contingencies. These plans helped establish a sound early warning and emergency mechanism concerning public health contingencies, a disease prevention and control system and a health care law enforcement supervision system, thus further improving the basic health care conditions for urban and rural residents.

According to statistics, by the end of 2003 China had 305,000 health care institutions, 2.902 million hospital and clinic beds, 4.24 million medical professionals, and 3,600 disease prevention and control centers (anti-epidemic stations) with 159,000 medical personnel. Moreover, there were 755 health care supervision and examination institutions with 15,000 medical personnel, and 45,000 township clinics with 668,000 beds and a 907,000-strong professional staff.

As health care conditions improved, people's health has also improved greatly. The average life expectancy of the Chinese people has increased from 35 years before the birth of New China in 1949 to the present 71.4 years. The maternal mortality rate dropped from 1,500 out of 100,000 in the early 1950s to 43.2 out of 100,000 in 2002, and the infant mortality rate from 200‰ before the birth of New China to 28.4‰. At the same time, the incidence and death rates of infectious, local and parasitic diseases have dropped drastically.