Chinese province of 80 million says only 17 are poor, sparks online debate
New government data claiming only 17 people in a province of 80 million remain poor has triggered an online debate in China with many ridiculing the claim and questioning the authenticity of official statistics.
The new data was cited by poverty alleviation officials of eastern China’s Jiangsu province, a manufacturing and export hub with a population of 80.5 million and a provincial GDP of more than 7.2 trillion yuan or more than $1 trillion; it’s the second most populated province in the country after south China’s Guangdong.
Announcing the new data at the provincial legislature earlier this week, an official said more than 99.9 per cent of the province’s 2.54 million poor people had been lifted out extreme poverty, and only six families comprising 17 people remained under the extreme poverty mark.
According to Beijing, at the end of 2018, China had 16.6 million rural poor (across the country) who were living on less than 2300 yuan (approximately Rs 23000) annually and the government had said another 10 million were expected to be lifted from poverty by the end of 2019.
The current standard of poverty relief in Jiangsu is a resident who earns 6,000 yuan ($576) a year, said a local official.
First published by the state-run Beijing Times, the numbers sparked an intense online discussion on whether the statistics were true.
Hashtags related to the topic have been viewed more than 90 million times on China’s Twitter-like micro-blogging website Sina Weibo.
“What a coincidence, I am just one of those 17 people,” one person was quoted by the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post (SCMP) as saying on Weibo, with a hashtag reading “Jiangsu has only 17 people in poverty”.
“There are only a dozen people left in one province who have not been lifted out poverty. (So) The poverty alleviation department should be abolished immediately,” said another user.
The story was partially censored online but not before a few state media outlets had also carried it along with shocked opinions from netizens.
“How could they be so accurate?” was a typical comment cited by the nationalistic tabloid, Global Times.
“I don’t believe it. Are there no unemployed people in the province? No beggars?” a Weibo user asked.
According to official estimates, since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the country has lifted over 800 million people out of poverty, representing over 70 percent of global poverty reduction.
As reported by HT earlier, China’s decades-long poverty reduction programmes have been praised but official estimates of the number of poor have also been questioned.
Last August, a top UN official said that more than 200 million people in China live on less than $5 a day (roughly 35 yuan or Rs 350), which indicated that the Chinese poverty line marker of $1.90 per day did not reveal the actual number of the poor in the country.
According to the SCMP, Li Xiaoyun, an adviser to the Chinese cabinet, State Council’s Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation recently said in Beijing that more than 30 million people were at risk of falling back into poverty if the poverty line was to be lifted to a daily per capita income of US$3.2 from US$1.90.
As part of President Xi Jinping’s ongoing drive to wipe out extreme poverty and make China a comprehensive well-off society by 2020, China’s central government allocated 113.6 billion yuan (about US$16.2 billion) to 28 provincial-level regions in November 2019.