A rise in the number of people living below the poverty line last year was actually no news for this country.
The country's 2003 statistical communique issued early this year clearly put that number at 29 million. In 2002, it was 28.2 million.
A top poverty reduction official restated the sombre reality that the number of Chinese in abject poverty (with an annual income of less than US$77) rose by 800,000 in 2003 last Friday.
However, such a repeat is of great significance not only because this is the first time the number of these needy people increased since China started to launch opening-up policy in the late 1970s.
At the moment when the country is becoming aware of the effectiveness of measures the government has adopted to cool down its sizzling economic growth, a call for attention to such underlying problems like poverty reduction is even more necessary.
The excellent performance of the Chinese Government in lifting more than 200 million people out of poverty in the past 25 years, to a large extent, should be attributed to the long-term robust growth of the national economy.
By enabling its people to share the prosperity to some degree, the country has realized one of the largest and fastest reductions of poverty in human history.
Yet, the slowdown in the reduction of poverty in the past few years highlighted a need for change in the country's poverty reduction efforts.
It is true that bringing the remaining poor who reside in more distant or infertile areas out of poverty will be increasingly difficult. But there are more pressing problems than poor living and work conditions for the government to overcome.
The Chinese economy soared by 9.1 per cent last year while the number of people in absolute poverty rebounded by 800,000.
The fact indicates that the country's ongoing economic growth momentum, unfortunately, has not been able to benefit those at the bottom of our society.
The country's economy is still marching at an amazing pace of 9.7 per cent in the first half of this year.
So far the authorities have focused their efforts on bringing down the growth rate to a sustainable level. As we are trying hard to avoid a hard-landing of the economy, do we also need to take into account the concerns for the poor?
Last year's setback in poverty reduction is a resounding warning that policy-makers should keep on their minds.
(China Daily July 20, 2004)