I.The Course and Achievements of
the Aid-the-Poor Program

Since the founding of New China, the Chinese Government has spared no effort to develop production and eliminate poverty. However, in the strict sense, the help-the-poor program was put forward and implemented on a large scale only after the initiation of the reform and opening-up. From 1978 to 2000, this program largely underwent the following three stages:

The First Stage: Structural Reform Promotes Poverty Relief (1978-1985)

In 1978, the poverty-stricken population numbered 250 million, making up 30.7 percent of the total rural population, according to the poverty standard designated by the Chinese Government. There were many causes giving rise to such a large number of poverty-stricken people, of which the main one was that the operation system in agriculture did not suit the needs of the development of the productive forces, so that peasants lacked the enthusiasm for production. In this way, reform of the system became the main way to alleviate poverty.

The reform that China started in 1978 was, first and foremost, a reform of the land management system, i.e., replacing the collective management system of the people's commune with the household contract responsibility system. This change of the land system kindled the peasants' real enthusiasm for labor, thus greatly liberating the productive forces and improving the land output. Meanwhile, many other reforms, such as gradually relaxing control over the prices of agricultural products and devoting major efforts to developing township enterprises, opened new ways for solving the problem of poverty in the rural areas. These reforms accelerated the development of the national economy, and conveyed benefits on the poverty-stricken people in three ways-raising the prices of agricultural products, transforming the agricultural production structure and orienting it toward higher added value, and employing rural laborers in non-agricultural sectors, thus enabling impoverished people to shake off poverty and become well-off and greatly alleviating poverty in the rural areas.

According to statistics, from 1978 to 1985 grain output per capita increased by 14 percent in the countryside, cotton by 73.9 percent, oil-bearing crops by 176.4 percent, and meat by 87.8 percent; the net income per peasant grew by 3.6 times; the number of poverty-stricken people with problems feeding and clothing themselves decreased from 250 million to 125 million, to shrink to 14.8 percent of the total population in the rural areas; and the number of poverty-stricken people went down by 17.86 million annually on average.

The Second Stage: Large-scale Development-oriented Poverty Relief Drive (1986-1993)

In the mid-1980s, the economy of the overwhelming majority of the rural areas in China, stimulated by the policy of reform and opening-up and relying on their own advantages, grew by leaps and bounds, but a small number of areas still lagged behind somewhat because of economic, social, historical, natural and geographical conditions. The disparity-economic, social and cultural-between the poverty-stricken areas and other areas, especially that between the poverty-stricken areas and the coastal advanced areas in the east, gradually widened. The uneven development in the Chinese countryside became marked. Quite a number of low-income people could not meet their basic needs for subsistence.

To further strengthen poverty relief, the Chinese Government has adopted a series of important measures since 1986, such as setting up special help-the-poor work units, allocating special funds, formulating special favorable policies, thoroughly reforming the traditional relief-type approach, and putting forward the development-oriented poverty reduction policy. Since then, the Chinese Government has set in motion a nationwide development-oriented poverty reduction drive in a big and planned way, and China's help-the-poor work has entered a new historical period. Thanks to the efforts made over the past eight years, the net income per peasant in the poverty-stricken counties to which the Chinese Government had attached special importance increased from 206 yuan in 1986 to 483.7 yuan in 1993; the number of the rural poor dropped from 125 million to 80 million, with an annual decrease of 6.4 million on average, and an average annual decrease rate of 6.2 percent; and the proportion of poverty-stricken people in the total rural population went down from 14.8 percent to 8.7 percent.

The Third Stage: Tackling Key Problems of Poverty Relief (1994-2000)

Along with the deepening of the rural reform and the constant strengthening of development-oriented poverty relief, the number of the poverty-stricken people has shrunk year by year; great changes have taken place in the features of poverty; and the distribution of the poverty-stricken population shows obvious geographical characteristics, i.e. most poverty-stricken people live in central and western China, in the barren rocky mountain area of southwest China, the arid Loess Plateau in northwest China and the impoverished Qinling and Daba mountain areas (which suffer from rugged terrain, a shortage of arable land, poor transportation conditions and serious soil erosion), and the frigid Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. The main factors behind poverty are adverse natural conditions, weak infrastructure and backward social development.

Marked by the promulgation and implementation of the Seven-Year Priority Poverty Alleviation Program (a program designed to lift 80 million people out of absolute poverty in the period of seven years from 1994 to 2000) in March 1994, China's development-oriented poverty-relief work entered the stage of tackling the key problems. The Seven-Year Priority Poverty Alleviation Program clearly stipulated that China should concentrate human, material and financial resources, mobilize the forces of all walks of life in society and work hard to basically solve the problem of food and clothing of the rural needy by the end of 2000. It was the first action program for development-oriented poverty reduction with clear and definite objectives, targets, measures and a time limit.

For three years running (1997-1999), China solved the problem of food and clothing for eight million people a year-a record high in the 1990s. By the end of 2000, the basic objectives of the Seven-Year Priority Poverty Alleviation Program had been realized by and large.

Thanks to the arduous and unremitting efforts in the past more than two decades, China has made tremendous achievements in its drive to assist with the development of the poor areas.

-The problem of food and clothing for more than 200 million rural poor has been solved. The number of poverty-stricken people in rural areas with problems obtaining sufficient food and clothing decreased from 250 million in 1978 to 30 million in 2000; and the impoverishment rate there decreased from 30.7 percent to about three percent. Of this, the number of poverty-stricken people in the impoverished counties to which the Chinese Government gave priority in its poverty alleviation efforts decreased from 58.58 million in 1994 to 17.1 million in 2000, involving mainly the destitute people living in areas with adverse natural conditions, a small number of people receiving social security assistance and some handicapped people.

-Production and living conditions have remarkably improved. During the 15 years from 1986 to 2000, 99.15 million mu (one mu = 1/15 ha) of basic farmland was constructed in poverty-stricken rural areas, and the problem of drinking water for more than 77.25 million people and more than 83.98 million draught animals were solved. By the end of 2000, 95.5 percent of the administrative villages in the poverty-stricken areas had electricity, 89 percent were accessible by road, 69 percent had postal service, and 67.7 percent could be reached by telephone.

-Economic development has been speeded up remarkably. During the implementation of the Seven-Year Priority Poverty Alleviation Program, the agricultural added value of the poverty-stricken counties to which the Chinese Government gave priority in poverty alleviation went up by 54 percent, with an average annual growth rate of 7.5 percent; their industrial added value grew by 99.3 percent, with an average annual growth rate of 12.2 percent; their local financial revenue almost doubled, with an average annual growth rate of 12.9 percent; grain output rose by 12.3 percent, with an average annual growth rate of 1.9 percent; and the net income per peasant increased from 648 yuan to 1,337 yuan, with an average annual growth rate of 12.8 percent.

-Social undertakings have developed quickly. The hitherto-rapid population growth in the poverty-stricken areas has been on the whole put under control, and the population's natural growth rate has decreased. The conditions for running schools have improved, and remarkable progress has been made in the work for basically popularizing nine-year compulsory education and that for basically eliminating illiteracy among the young and middle-aged. Of the 592 poverty-stricken counties to which the state gives priority in poverty relief, 318 have attained the aforementioned two objectives. Both vocational and adult education has progressed at seven-league strides, thus effectively improving the quality of workers. The town and township hospitals in most of the poor areas have been revamped or rebuilt. As a result, the shortage of doctors and medicines has been alleviated. A large number of practical agrotechniques have been popularized, and the level of scientific farming has improved remarkably. Ninety-five percent of administrative villages in poor areas can receive radio and TV programs; the cultural life of the people in these areas has improved; and their mental outlook has changed tremendously.

-Some poverty-stricken areas which lie in vast, contiguous stretches have solved the problem of food and clothing as have the Yimeng, Jinggang and Dabie mountain areas, southwest Fujian and other old revolutionary base areas. Great changes have taken place in some remote mountain areas and areas inhabited by ethnic minority people. Dingxi Prefecture in Gansu Province and Xihaigu Prefecture in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, once known as the "poorest places on earth," have vastly improved their infrastructure facilities and basic production conditions after many years of effort, and their poverty-stricken state has been greatly alleviated.