|Clockwise from top left: Du Liangshu (second right), the first Party secretary of Zhaizeping village, Linxian county, Shanxi province, watches a shadow play rehearsal by the villagers; Du designs an insole with a traditional pattern; Villagers demonstrate their handmade artworks. [Xinhua]|
Thousands join drive to improve lives in rural areas
Du Liangshu, 33, used to teach drawing and calligraphy, and sometimes worked as an exhibition curator at a gallery in Xiaoyi, north China's Shanxi Province.
When Communist Party of China members were encouraged to join the poverty reduction campaign two years ago, Du was more than willing.
She volunteered to be the first Party secretary of Zhaizeping, a village in the town of Qikou, administered by Linxian county, and be responsible for poverty reduction. The village lies at the foot of Lyuliang Mountain in Shanxi, in one of the most impoverished regions of the country.
Wednesday marks China's Fifth Poverty Alleviation Day. By the end of last year, the country had 30.46 million people in rural areas categorized as living below the poverty line. Since 2020 was set as the target to eradicate poverty, Party members have been mobilized to go to economically disadvantaged villages and serve as first Party secretaries to help villagers shake off poverty.
By promoting the attractions of Qikou as a tourist destination, Du helped poor villagers develop tourism-related businesses, as Zhaizeping is only about 1 kilometer from the town.
Thanks to her efforts over the past 20 months, cash has flowed into the village and living standards have risen.
Compared with two years ago, the per capita income of poor villagers has risen by about 40 percent to an estimated 3,500 yuan ($514) this year, above the national poverty threshold of 3,200 yuan.
"The key to poverty reduction is precisely identifying its causes, and taking targeted measures in turn," Du said in an exclusive interview with China Daily.
President Xi Jinping, also general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, placed poverty reduction at the top of the list of major tasks as the Party vowed to build a moderately well-off society in 2020.
This means that by that year, the rural poor population should be guaranteed food, clothing and safe housing, compulsory education and basic medical care.
In Xi's view, if rural China, particularly people in impoverished areas, is left behind, a moderately prosperous society will not emerge.
Xi proposed the idea of targeted poverty alleviation for the first time in November 2013, when he made an inspection tour of Shibalidong village, Huayuan county, Central China's Hunan province.
During talks with people in the mountainous village, he told local officials that targeted measures must be taken to lift the poor out of poverty.
"Precision" is a key word in Xi's battle against poverty, which requires implementing the targeted measures at the right time, in the right way, and according to the situation.
Du said Xi's theory on targeted poverty alleviation is a guideline for relief officials, particularly for first Party secretaries such as herself, adding that the policy has been effective.
Months of research
When Du began her work in Zhaizeping, she had no idea how to carry it out. As a painter, she had no experience of village work, but she learned from the poverty-relief training programs to talk with the villagers through door-to-door visits, asking for their opinions.
"I know I need to identify who is poor and for what reason, and then I figure out what I should do to help them," she said.
Following three months of research, Du identified 80 out of 311 households as being below the poverty line. As the village is in a mountainous area and just over 200 mu (13 hectares) of farmland is provided to more 700 people there, she said that developing agriculture might not be the best solution.
She set her sights on the nearby tourist site of Qikou, which is on the Yellow River and is an ancient trading town and home to many Shanxi merchants. Zhaizeping is only 10 minutes' walk from the town.
Du then came up with the idea of linking her targeted measures with the tourism business. "Now that we have tourists, we must do something to make money," she said.
The first things she thought of were handicrafts. Du designed a tiger's-head hat and encouraged villagers to make them as souvenirs. They also crafted donkeys, camels, pillows and other items and sold them to tourists.
Next, Du launched shadow puppet shows and taught more than 20 women how to perform. Each woman makes 1,500 yuan a month at the shadow puppet theater in Qikou.
She also helped villagers to improve irrigation facilities and to develop date-picking and vegetable-picking gardens as farm-stay tourist attractions.
Linking agricultural products and traditional handicrafts with the tourism business has proved to be a good approach suitable to Zhaizeping, Du said, adding that with tourists arriving, poor villagers' incomes have risen.
Like Du, more than 770,000 officials from the government, universities, State-owned enterprises and civil associations work in rural areas nationwide, including 195,000 first Party secretaries.
In recent decades, China has lifted more than 700 million people out of penury, accounting for an estimated 70 percent reduction in worldwide poverty. It was the first developing country to meet the UN Millennium Development Goals ahead of its target.
However, the previous "one-size-fits-all" poverty relief policy no longer works when it comes to the most-impoverished families. That is why Xi said targeted relief and customized policies are needed to help each poverty-stricken household.
His theory on targeted poverty alleviation evolved when he worked in Shaanxi, Hebei and Fujian provinces when he was younger and was developed further after the 18th CPC National Congress in November 2012 when he became general secretary of the CPC Central Committee.
When he was sent to Liangjiahe village in Northwest China's Shaanxi province as a zhiqing, or a young intellectual, between 1969 and 1975, Xi lived and worked with farmers. At that time, he was considering how to help villagers live better lives.
Later, when Xi worked as Party secretary of Ningde Prefecture in Fujian, East China, between 1990 and 1998, he became involved in the battle against poverty, as Ningde is one of the country's most impoverished areas.
In his book Up and Out of Poverty, published in 1992 and containing a series of articles and speeches Xi wrote when he was Party chief of Ningde, he argued that it is important to adhere to four principles in poverty-relief work. They are: shaking off any poverty mentality; adopting measures suitable to local conditions; showing strong leadership and coordination; and not investing in grandiose projects just because they are popular.
"We must eradicate the poverty that exists in our minds before we can eradicate it in the regions we govern, before we can help the people and nation out of poverty and embark on the road to prosperity," Xi wrote in the book.
When he arrived in Ningde in 1988, farmers' annual per capita income in the prefecture was 330 yuan. Last year, this had risen to 14,722 yuan.
Since Xi became general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, he has made poverty alleviation a leading task, put forward new ideas and drawn up new plans to reduce it.
During his 20-plus inspection tours nationwide since then, he has spent some time during each one to visit impoverished regions, talking and listening to poor people and taking action to reduce poverty.
Poverty alleviation efforts must be carried out with precision, with measures rolled out targeting different types of people and households, Xi said during his tour of Jiangxi province in February 2016. "Not a single family living in poverty is to be left behind," he said.
Targeted measures designed to help poor people in rural areas shake off poverty have been pushed forward. They include: developing industries; improving education and medical services; building adequate infrastructure and facilities; helping migrant workers find jobs; and relocating people living in "hostile" conditions and "fragile" environments to more prosperous areas.
The central authorities coordinate the entire program, provinces take responsibility, while cities and counties ensure the policies are implemented. Overall responsibility for the work lies with the Party and government chiefs.
In the past five years, the nation's poverty-stricken population has been reduced by 13 million on average every year, from 98.99 million at the end of 2012 to 30.46 million at the end of last year.
Xi has said on various occasions that the battle has entered the toughest stage, as about 30 million remain to be lifted out of poverty in the next three years, including those who are ill or handicapped.
Du, the first Party secretary, said Xi's theory on targeted poverty alleviation has been well received in the villages as well as among first Party secretaries.
"To win the battle against poverty, superficial work must be rejected. We poverty relief officials must root ourselves in the village, have firm resolve and work hard in a down-to-earth manner," she said.
In addition to developing the tourism business, Du has introduced measures such as an e-commerce training program, microloans and a solar photovoltaic project to help poor villagers.
Liu Fenbao, a villager in Zhaizeping, could only afford to raise 30 sheep because of his limited capital. Last year, Du helped him secure a loan of 50,000 yuan, enabling him to buy more lambs. He can now raise 160 sheep and expects his income to rise by the end of this year.
Du has kept a picture she painted last year depicting her ideal "beautiful village" in the countryside.
She said poverty alleviation should be linked with the nation's Village Revitalization Plan and efforts to build beautiful villages.
With her two-year term as first Party secretary ending next month, she said she hopes the poor villagers can sustain better lifestyles after she leaves Zhaizeping.
Ian Goldin, a professor of globalization and development at the University of Oxford, wrote in an article headed "Chinese miracle: lessons in poverty eradication", which was published on the China Watch website in August that Chinese poverty reduction is a success story of historic significance.
The article stated, "The Chinese experience offers vital lessons, which demonstrate that with the necessary will the global targets of the Sustainable Development Goals can be achieved."
While working to eradicate poverty nationwide, the country is also developing international partnerships.
According to the State Council Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development, China has held 133 poverty-reduction seminars and shared its experience with 3,587 poverty-reduction practitioners from 133 countries and regions, including 2,122 representatives from 52 African countries.
Speaking at the China-Africa Poverty Reduction and Development Conference in Beijing in August, Josefa Sacko, the commissioner for rural economy and agriculture of the African Union, commended the Chinese government for helping to reduce poverty on the continent.
Through the AU and China's cooperation on rural economy and agricultural development, technology transfers from the nation to Africa have taken place in various sectors, Sacko said at the conference.
She said these include visits by experts and assistance in crop planting, pest disease prevention and control, product processing, livestock breeding, fish farming and private investments in medium-to large-scale farms.
Thandanani Wah Ziqubu, a researcher and political activist from South Africa, completed his Master's in public administration at the Institute of South-South Cooperation and Development at Peking University in June.
During the one-year program, Ziqubu saw China as a model for development both theoretically and practically as the syllabus focused on political, economic and social aspects of development and how such factors can be accommodated in sustainable governance.
"During field trips, I have seen the government's action in reducing poverty, especially in rural areas," Ziqubu said, adding that although there are challenges, President Xi's step-by-step approach has been very effective.
He hailed the central government for its unwavering belief in poverty reduction, adding that China is emerging as a real role model for Africa on this front and this is critically important for the continent.
Ziqubu said he is highly impressed by the targeted poverty alleviation efforts. "They recognize that no two cases (of poverty-stricken households) are the same, thus requiring officials to be dispatched to tailor-make solutions," he said.
He was also impressed by these comments from Xi: "Our experiences have proven that abject poverty is not formidable. As long as we pay great attention, think correctly, take effective measures and work in a down-to-earth way, abject poverty is absolutely conquerable."
Ziqubu said: "Though the situation is different politically and economically in Africa ... we have been able to see how China has gone about drastically reducing poverty..... The best part is that they are offering to help Africa do the same. I plan to apply my knowledge where my people view it as appropriate."
|Farmers in Zaoqiang county, Hebei province, harvest melons. There are 200 hectares of melon fields in the county with an annual output of 10,000 metric tons, benefiting 2,000 rural households. [Xinhua]|
|Technicians tend vegetable shoots at a center in Dafang county, Guizhou province, which helps local farmers escape poverty. [Xinhua]|
(Source: China Daily)