Although 80 million people had been released from the grip of poverty between 1994 and 2000, the target for this seven-year program had been just basic food and clothing supply. The World Bank's poverty line is set at 1 US dollar daily per capita. In most areas of China, the line is an annual income of 600 yuan (US$75) or under per capita. Even in a few areas where the line is set at 1000 yuan (US$125), it’s still too low by comparison, less saying the chances for those immediately above might go under once again due to unfavorable happenings. So, there is a long way to go for China's poverty relief cause. A new thread of thinking is needed to tackle the problem, says Professor Su Zhenxing, a CPPCC delegate.
In China, most people under the poverty line live in mid and western areas, especially in the western region. Along with the development of society, the rich-poor gap between the east and the west will enlarge unless the economic development speed of the western region will catch up. Immediate attention is needed when the western development is under way, said Professor Su.
The first thing is that poverty relief should include education. In some poverty-stricken areas, six-year compulsory education is not yet implemented, let alone the nine-year one. In comparison with other areas, big cities in particular, these areas have lagged far behind. For instance, Guangdong Province has offered several hundred thousand job opportunities to Guangxi residents each year. However, many people, particularly from Guangxi rural areas, fail to get them due to their insufficient education.
"Once I asked a farmer why he had refused to send his child to school. Apart from his economic difficulty, he expressed his doubt of the benefit out of education. You finish school, so what? He argued, still no job available. School education,” Su says, “has failed these children in labor market. Vocational training is a better way, say, one or two years of vocational training in nine-year compulsory education, or let students choose between vocational and academic orientation at the last stage of their school years. Thus, they will be better prepared.”
"Secondly, family planning is necessary in poverty relief. It’s often the case that in poverty areas, the poorer a family is, the more children it has, and vice versa. The lack of birth control means a slimmer chance for school for children and more financial straits and insufficient time to take care of each for their parents. Although family planning is not required for ethnic minorities, the government should make efforts to publicize the importance of healthy birth and better rearing. Prosperity of an ethnic group lies more in quality rather than quantity of population. There will be no development in real sense lack of modern ideas," Profesor Su maintained.
A big concern Professor Su has is population relocation. Generally speaking, China has a huge population, not enough arable lands and scanty resources. The productivity potential in some backward mountainous areas is minute. In such a case, it is more difficult for economy to develop when ecological protection requires arable land back to forests and grasslands. So, some areas have migrated a whole town or village of people to favorable areas. However, given China's whole picture, this relocated population will be a burden wherever it moves, not to say that we already have many relocation programs resulted from projects of the Three Gorges and the south-to- north water diversion. So the prospect for relocation will be limited.
According to Professor Su, a better way out is labor export. Cash crops and processing industries may be set up in cities or developed provinces to absorb the rural labor. Then labor in the backward districts can be directed into these industries after initial training. Thus, population in backward areas is reduced and average resource amount is increased in turn. In addition, exported labor may choose to settle in new places, their children able to embrace a brave new world, acquiring new ideas on market economy, technologies and management.
Some ethnic groups still lead nomadic life, relying on fishing or hunting. Their lifestyles should be moderated if in collision with environmental protection.
Professor Su argues that project support, investment increase and transportation improvement are not enough in poverty relief. Given the macro-development of the whole society, a superior and more scientific guideline should be worked out instead.
(CIIC by Zhang Yan 03/06/2001)