|The year 1996 was the first year of implementation of the Ninth Five-Year Plan for National Economic and Social Development, and also a year that witnessed continued advances in China's human rights cause. Last year, China's national economy maintained steady, rapid and sound growth, the efforts to build up democracy and a legal system were notably strengthened, and the human rights conditions maintained a good momentum of continuous improvement and promised further progress.|
I. People's Rights to Subsistence and Development
In 1996, China's national economy continued its rapid growth. The gross domestic product (GDP) reached over 6,779.5 billion yuan, representing an increase of 9.7 percent over the previous year, calculated in terms of comparable prices. Based on this, the people's rights to earn a living and develop recorded a marked improvement.
The standards of living for urban and rural people improved nationwide with the steady increase of people's income. In 1996, the average per capita income for living expenses reached 4,377 yuan for city and township dwellers, an increase of 3.3 percent over 1995 in real terms. The average per capita net income of rural residents came to 1,926 yuan, a rise of nine percent over 1995 in real terms -- the biggest increase of the past few years. Savings deposits of urban and rural residents topped 3,850 billion yuan at the end of 1996, over 880 billion yuan more than the year before. New housing for urban and rural residents totaling 1.1 billion square meters of floor space was completed, and people's housing conditions were significantly improved. The market was brisk, with the supply of a wide variety of consumer goods at fairly stable prices. The volume of total retail sales of consumer goods reached 2,461.4 billion yuan, increasing by 12.5 percent in real terms. According to a sample survey of the State Statistics Bureau, the per capita consumption expenses of urban dwellers reached 3,919 yuan in 1996. Of that amount, 1,905 yuan was spent on food. The ``Engel's coefficient,'' which indicates the ratio between the expenses of food and other items of consumption, came to 48.6, or 1.3 percentage points lower than the previous year and a step closer to the goal of 45 percent set for the year of 2000. The drop of the ``Engel's coefficient'' signified a new improvement in people's quality of life.
While seeking universal improvement of the people's overall living standard, China has been paying great attention to meeting people's basic need for food and clothing. Since the initiation of reform and opening-up, the Chinese government launched vigorously a nationwide operation to seek development and provide assistance for the people in poverty-stricken areas, which helped reduce the poverty-stricken population in great numbers for many successive years. In 1996, an additional seven million rural poverty-stricken people met their basic need for food and clothing. The country's total poverty-stricken population had dropped from 250 million in 1978 to 58 million. In the past 18 years, nearly 200 million rural people had shaken off poverty. By the end of the 1970s, the number of China's poverty-stricken people accounted for one-fourth of the world's total, while the ratio is now less than one-twentieth. After more than 10 years' efforts in development-oriented poverty-relief programs in the underdeveloped areas, the drinking water problems for 39.61 million people and 46.29 million head of cattle have been solved in the poverty-stricken areas. In addition, 258,000 kilometers of highways have been built, 274,000 kilometers of power transmission lines installed, and more than 50,000 rural enterprises established. In the meantime, the poverty-stricken areas also made substantial progress in cultural, educational and public health undertakings. In 1995 alone, 2,504 primary schools and 587 clinics were built in these areas. A number of poverty-relief campaigns were launched by people in all walks of life and have played big roles in proverty relief. They include the ``Happiness Project,'' designed to help poverty-stricken mothers; the ``Hope Project,'' aimed at helping dropouts in poverty-stricken areas; the ``Spring Bud Program,'' specially to aid girl dropouts; and the ``Love of Humanity Project,'' meant to improve health care for children in the poverty-stricken areas.
Statistics show that China is the country which has witnessed the quickest decrease in its poverty-stricken population. In the past 20 years, however, the number of seriously underdeveloped countries in the world has increased from 27 to 48. In the past five years, the total number of the world's poorest population has risen from 1 billion to 1.3 billion, and the figure is climbing by 25 million each year. In the developing countries, more than 10 million people die from hunger or malnutrition every year. In contrast, China's poverty-stricken population decreases by 10 million every year. China is also working to enable all of its poverty-stricken people to shake off poverty by the end of this century. Although China is still facing great difficulties, the Chinese government and people are determined and confident of their ability to achieve the goal of lifting all of the nation's poor people out of poverty on schedule. China's development-oriented aid-the-poor work and achievements in poverty-stricken areas have been universally praised by international organizations and noted figures concerned. The World Bank believes that ``the Chinese government has made painstaking efforts toward poverty alleviation in the most backward rural areas. These efforts proved to be much more successful than those made by many other developing countries.''