How did China end homelessness?

At the end of 2020, in the midst of a pandemic context, China ad to the world the eradication of destitution. This was not just a product of impressive economic growth of that country in recent decades but also of the mobilization of more than ten million militants towards the most impoverished rural areas in the west of the Asian giant. Teams of civil servants, teachers, businessmen, students, doctors and social workers settled for between one and three years in rural populations to accompany the profound process of economic change.

The plan greatly exceeded the economic or welfare. It was only possible thanks to a society with a very different mentality from the western one, centered more on the community than on the individual, and also from the visible hand of the State. The extensive report “Serving the People: Eradicating Extreme Poverty in China“of the Tricontinental Institute for Social Research, with offices in Argentina, Brazil, India and South Africa, gathers official information, interviews and visits to the territory to give an account of the multiple strategies employed during the ambitious project.

Growth is not enough

The Chinese economy accounted for about a third of the global economy at the beginning of the 18th century and only 5 percent in 1949, when the People’s Republic was proclaimed China. By then the country had one of the lowest per capita income in the world. Toward 1978Despite very difficult years with famines included, there were some signs of improvement, as the life expectancy had risen 32 years compared to the period before the revolution.

By then it was becoming clear that to continue growing in a country of almost one billion inhabitants foreign investment and technology would be needed. Hand in hand with the then president, Deng Xiaoping, it was decided to open the doors to foreign investment. The result is known: between 1978 and 2017 the Chinese economy grew by 9.5 percent per year thanks to the installation of companies that took advantage of the cheap labor but they were forced to do technology transfer, with results that are becoming more and more evident. Thanks to the rapid growth of the economy, extreme poverty fell from 770 million in 1978 to 122 million in 2011, a number that still represented 9.1 percent of the population.

As the aforementioned report explains, the Gini coefficient that measures inequality had worsened from 29 percent in 1981 to 49 percent in 2007, only to go down in 2012. That is, the price of growth was a marked increase in inequality. In 2017 at a Communist Party congress, President Xi Jinping said that “the main problem is that our growth is unbalanced and inadequate. This has become the main constraining factor in meeting the growing needs of the population for a better life. “

Step by Step

China developed the China Targeted Poverty Reduction Program (RFP) which is summarized as “One income, two securities and three guarantees.” It was first established that the minimum income to consider someone above poverty was at $ 2.30 a day, above the 1.90 proposed by the World Bank.

The two securities to be achieved would be food and clothing. The three guarantees: basic medical services, housing (with water and electricity) and free and compulsory education. Each of these objectives required certain standards of measurement. For example, access to drinking water should be located no more than twenty minutes round trip and should be safe.

Once poverty was defined and what was needed to abandon it, it was necessary to know how many poor there were and with what characteristics. In 2014, 800,000 party members went out to the countryside and identified people in extreme poverty in 128,000 villages. Then two million people verified the data and refined the listings thanks to a computerized data recording system. The final number of homeless people to be worked with was 98.99 million.

The long march

With the data and objectives clear, nearly three million party members organized in 255,000 teams left their homes to live for one to three years in the selected villages, where they would live and work alongside farmers, local officials and volunteers.

Thousands of companies partnered with one-off projects to assist some particular villages. Were created industrial and agricultural parks, as well as projects focused on local tourism. According to the report, between 2015 and 2019 workshops to form small-scale production centers on vacant land or in households helped triple per capita income.

Almost ten million people migrated to new urban communities that had nurseries, schools, hospitals, community centers, care for the elderly and cultural centers. The vast majority found work and decided to stay while some, especially the elderly, preferred to return to their place of origin.

Social workers visited people to help them with tasks such as learning to use the elevator or crossing the streets. Close to a thousand health centers were linked with first-line hospitals and thousands of workers from that sector traveled to receive training. Other projects focused on trying to recover the health of the environment with jobs in the ecological sector: 1.1 million people began working as forest rangers and almost five million hectares of agricultural land were converted to forests or pasture fields.

About a million teachers approached 17 million rural teachers for training. In some universities, between 2011 and 2018, 70 percent of students were the first in their families to access undergraduate studies. Forty-four universities were installed in different areas to carry out projects in the territory with researchers, teachers and students from different areas.

Cross checks

To verify the results recorded by the teams, evaluations of different kinds. For example, the provinces mutually monitored each other with workers who were going to find out what was done in another province and thus verify the information provided. The coordinating group of the plan also went to the territory to check the results first-hand and a social monitoring with random controls by the party.

The corruption It is a big problem for China and its eradication is part of one of the main promises of the current president. In the case of fight against poverty, in 2020 161,500 cases of corruption were detected. Eighteen high-level officials were singled out. Under the new anti-corruption policy, those responsible for controlling the work of their subordinates are singled out even if they have not participated directly.

An other state

It is difficult to imagine from the West that millions of people mobilize to work on poverty, a problem that is usually seen as a responsibility of the State and this something alien to the average citizen.

A professor at the China Agricultural University explained to the Tricontinental researchers: “Chinese society is very different from Western societies because it is based on the collective and not on the individual. This is reflected in the way society is organized. The government works with social organizations, the political and social networks merge into a whole, in a leading force, organized vertically and horizontally, which allows everyone to join this social campaign. “Another question, nothing less, is the symbiosis between the Chinese state and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) which has more than 95 million members.

Thanks to the strongly communal values ​​of Chinese culture, a committed militancy and a management capable of showing rapid results, the State is not seen by the majority as something alien and dangerous but as a tool that allows to solve enormous problems.

In 2020, the Harvard University published the study “Understanding the resilience of the CCP: Chinese public opinion polls over time.” The work was carried out between 2003 and 2016 and 31 thousand urban and rural residents were surveyed. Between those years, Chinese citizens’ satisfaction with their government increased from 86.1 percent to 93.1 percent. In rural areas where approval was only 43.6 percent, it went to 70.2 percent, especially among lower-income residents.


Tings Chak, Tricontinental Art Department Coordinator, member of the Dongsheng News Collective, told Cash that to carry out the report they looked at “the literature, we spoke with Chinese experts and experts from other countries.” This Hong Kong woman left Shanghai, where she lives, to “go down to the countryside and talk with cadres, peasants, women and young people who were open enough to tell their stories. experiences of participation in the poverty alleviation program “.

The impressive achievement of Chinese society shows that fighting certain levels of poverty is a multi-layered challenge. Income distribution, education, access to health are all important ingredients, but they do not guarantee anything if they operate in isolation. Such a political decision requires political, economic and social consensus of such magnitude that it may not be transferable to the West. Still, from a distance, it is worth looking at the phenomenon to see what lessons can be learned.

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