With the approach of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, 30 glorious years has elapsed since the adoption of the policy of reform and opening up. At such a moment, to show Sichuan’s glorious achievements in its poverty alleviation means more than the show of achievements itself: it also demonstrates the strong determination of the CPC Sichuan Provincial Committee and the Sichuan Provincial Government in improving people’s living standard and eradicating poverty. Since the founding of the PRC, previous provincial CPC committees and provincial governments of Sichuan have all attached great importance to poverty alleviation. The development of poverty alleviation in Sichuan experienced the following five phases.
Phase One: 1949-1978. Before the founding of the PRC, the rural areas in Sichuan were as poor as those in other parts of China, and people in Liangshan Prefecture were still living a primitive life. Fettered for a long time by the feudal land system, peasants of a vast number, hungry and cold, was afflicted with extreme poverty. After liberation, the Communist Party of China led people to carry out a nation-wide land reform on a magnificent scale, which completely ended the feudal land ownership. By practicing the policy of “land-to-the-tiller”, rural productivity was unchained. The peasants got basic means of production and life security, thus production was resumed shortly and great improvements happened to their life. At the end of 1978, the absolutely impoverished population that had insufficient food and clothing in all the rural areas of Sichuan decreased from 43.89 million in 1949 to 26 million, while the rate of absolute poverty decreased from 80% to 39.9%. Socialism proved to be the underlying systematic guarantee for ruling out poverty in rural areas.
Phase Two: 1979-1985. The Third Plenary Session of the Eleventh CPC Central Committee marked the Party’s shift of work focus. Sichuan was among the first provinces to promote the all-round responsibility system, which broke the shackles of the outdated rigid system, unfettered the peasants’ initiatives, once again freed the productivity in rural areas and greatly aroused the peasants’ enthusiasm in production. The policy of reform and opening up brought about epoch-making changes to the economy and society of rural areas. The peasants’ living standard was greatly improved, the absolutely impoverished population decreased to a significant degree, and the situation of “universal poverty” totally changed. At the end of 1985, the absolutely impoverished population without sufficient food and clothing in all rural areas of Sichuan fell to 15.09 million, and the rate of absolute poverty was reduced to 22.8%. The whole series of rural policies that were put into effect since the adoption of the reform and opening up policy and consequently the rapid development of national economy created favorable conditions and material basis for solving the problems of food and clothing for the poor in rural areas.
Phase Three: 1986-1993. Due to historical factors and environmental constraints, the mountainous areas around the basin were underdeveloped and some of the people were living in tough conditions of production and living. Considering this situation, in the middle of the 1980s, the CPC Sichuan Provincial Committee and the provincial government decided to alleviate poverty in those areas and launched planned, organized and large-scale poverty alleviation campaigns throughout the province since 1986. On this account, special agencies were established, special funds were set aside, and special polices were formulated so as to completely change the conventional poverty relief policy and help the poor by development-oriented aid. Through the hard work of the cadres and the general public, poverty alleviation saw considerable effects. At the end of 1993, the absolutely impoverished population without sufficient food and clothing in all rural areas of Sichuan dropped to 8.77 million, and the rate of absolute poverty fell to 12.7%. The centralized planning and dedicated efforts of the CPC Sichuan Provincial Committee and the provincial government to solve the problem of food and clothing for people in poor areas marked a new stage of poverty alleviation in Sichuan’s rural areas.
Phase Four: 1994-2000. With further development of poverty relief, the poverty-stricken population was getting smaller and smaller. The absolutely impoverished population without sufficient food and clothing mainly lived in those regions with unfavorable natural environment, poor conditions for production and living and thus posing greater difficulties for poverty relief. To deal with this situation and further accelerate the cause of poverty alleviation, the CPC Sichuan Provincial Committee and the provincial government worked out and started to implement “the program of priority poverty alleviation” in 1994, clearly specifying that human resources, materials and funds be dedicated to poverty alleviation in 7 years. That meant basically solving the problem of food and clothing for the absolutely impoverished population in rural areas before the end of 2000. During the 7 years, the CPC Sichuan Provincial Committee and the provincial government convened conferences on poverty alleviation every year to discuss the specific issues arising in poverty alleviation and development and then released the Decision on Solving the Problem of Food and Clothing for the Rural Poor as Soon as Possible in 1996 and a series of more powerful policies and measures. Typical experience like Qianjiang idea, Bazhong experience and labor export was acknowledged by the Central Committee of the CPC and the State Council and was also afterwards promoted throughout the whole country, arousing intense responses. At the end of 2000, the absolutely impoverished population still without sufficient food and clothing in all rural areas of Sichuan fell to 3.082 million, and the rate of absolute poverty diminished to 4.4%. Till then, poverty alleviation opened a new page where all Party members and the general public took actions and made combined efforts.
Phase Five: 2001 till now. In the new century, China started a new stage of development to build a well-off society in an all-round way and to speed up the development of socialist modernization. Poverty alleviation was pushed into a new stage, too. In 2001, the state designated a number of key counties for poverty relief and for the first time put forth the new idea of “low-income distressed population”. Sichuan had 160 targeted counties for poverty relief, among which 36 were classified as national key counties for poverty alleviation. According to a census, apart from the 3.082 million absolutely impoverished population without sufficient food and clothing, there was still a 7.334 million low-income distressed population. In order to effectively change the backward situation of infrastructure construction in poor areas, meet the needs of food and clothing of the absolutely impoverished population, and improve the production and living conditions of the low-income distressed population, in 2001 the CPC Sichuan Provincial Committee and the provincial government worked out and started the Program for Rural Poverty Alleviation in Sichuan (2001-2010)”. Based on incomplete statistics, during the eight odd years, 100.3 billion yuan was invested to poor areas as poverty alleviation funds from public finance at all levels, all industries and all walks of life, organizations and associations of poverty aid, and other institutions and individuals, among which 14.54 billion yuan was special poverty alleviation funds from the central government, the province, cities and counties. Various poverty alleviation programs have been launched, such as poverty alleviation through building new countryside, developing industries, labor transfer, migration and social aid, poverty alleviation in pasturing areas, poverty alleviation in respect of education and public health, poverty alleviation by building village roads and taking advantage of biogas, and so on. In respect of particular types of regions, some creative models of poverty alleviation have been developed, such as the programs in Guang’an flooded area, Shengzhong reservoir flooded area, Tongjiang County and Guang’an regions, Aba Prefecture, and the pilot program of comprehensive treatment of Kaschin-Beck disease, as well as the poverty relief program for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of the poverty-stricken villages damaged in the Wenchuan earthquake. In these years, poverty alleviation underwent the effective integration of specially-planned programs, industry aid, farmer-favored policies and all social contributions as well as multiple measures, which altogether formed a “greater poverty alleviation drive”. Consequently, poverty relief in rural areas gained glorious achievements. Hopefully the goals set by the ten-year program can be realized as scheduled.
First, the number of impoverished population was getting smaller. In the eight odd years, the problem of food and clothing for 1.425 million absolutely impoverished population was solved, and the rate of absolute poverty fell to below 3.1%; the living standard of 5.295 million low-income distressed population has been improved. The overall implementation of the system of rural minimum subsistence allowances marked the complete solution of the problem of food and clothing for the absolutely impoverished population in rural areas that had remained unsolved for hundreds of years, and the poverty relief in rural areas has ushered in a new stage featured by relief to people living on minimum subsistence allowances as well as development-oriented poverty alleviation. Compared with figures in 2000, in 2008, the per capita GDP of the 36 national key counties for poverty alleviation reached 8,062 yuan, up 2.36 times, per capita intra-budget financial revenue reached 228 yuan, up 1.78 times, and the farmers’ per capita net income reached 3,215 yuan, up 1.18 times.
Second, the production conditions were eminently improved. In the eight odd years, 9,020 province-designated key poverty-stricken villages launched village-wide poverty relief by building new countryside. Infrastructures like water and electricity supply and roads were perfected and the living conditions of farmers were optimized. Farmers had new equipment, new life and new environment, new industries came into being and there appeared new social atmosphere. Specially-planned programs of poverty alleviation in the whole province covered 1.32 million families of 4.64 million people, added 950 thousand mu of improved fields and lands, built or expanded more than 100 thousand kilometers of roads, planted over 2.72 million mu of economic forests, added or improved more than 3.09 million mu of artificial grassland, had an extra of over 29.84 million cubic meters of water storage and 2.27 million mu of irrigated fields; in other programs of poverty relief, more than 120 thousand man-made mechanical pressure wells, over 60 thousand reservoirs and pools, over 54 thousand kilometers of inlet channels, and 6,218 kilometers of electricity transmission lines were built. All of these measures have contributed a lot to the great improvement of the production conditions of the impoverished population.
Third, the living conditions were greatly improved. The man-and-livestock drinking water project provided solutions to the difficulty in drinking water for 5.7 million people and 50.52 million domesticated animals in poor areas. Migration programs helped 120 thousand families, including more than 500 thousand poverty-stricken people move out of the high and cold mountainous areas, remote mountainous areas, rocky mountainous areas and flooded area, and be free from the fetters of poverty caused by geological factors. The integrated development program of “man, pasture, and livestock” enabled 25.2 thousand families of herdsmen to get rid of poverty. With the advance of “settlement of Tibetan herdsmen” and “reconstruction of three types of houses in the living areas of the Yi ethnic minority”, the per capita residential area for poor families amounted to 18 square meters. Actions like housing reconstruction, toilet reconstruction, sty reconstruction, kitchen reconstruction and the building of courtyards were taken in other poverty relief programs. By these means, impoverished families’ difficulties in housing, traveling, drinking water, electricity, schooling and medical care were alleviated to a significant extent. The living conditions of the poor were improving day by day.
Fourth, there was progress in all fields of social undertakings. Education subsidization was promoted in the whole province. Since 2007, all tuition and school sundry fees were exempted for rural students receiving compulsory education, and thus the difficulty of schooling for children from poor families was solved. What’s more, the Ten-Year Plan of Developing Education in Ethnic Minority Regions was put into effect. There were 81 base schools for training of distressed laborers, more than 340 thousand people received labor transfer training, 275 thousand poor farmer workers were exported and applicable skill training recorded 17.23 million person-times participation. As a result, poor people were more able to get rid of poverty and become rich. In 2008, the novel rural cooperative medical system was promoted in the whole province, and 3.34 million poor people joined in the system. Besides, 75.8% of the poverty-stricken villages in the province had village clinics established. Meanwhile, the popularization of entertainment, broadcasting, television and telephone in poverty-stricken villages was raised significantly. Poor people’s sense of market was getting stronger and their cultural life was enriched day by day.
Fifth, there were extraordinary results in the development-oriented poverty relief in special types of regions, especially the pilot program of poverty relief and comprehensive treatment of Kaschin-Beck disease in Aba Prefecture. The pilot program which would last 5 years covered 13 counties in the whole prefecture, with a total investment of 3.21 billion yuan. Till now, the financial fund for poverty relief reached 1.16 billion yuan in the past two years with considerable effects. Through the program, 26 thousand children in affected regions were relocated to study and live and 25 schools were expanded; 17.29 million kilograms of food were supplied to 116 thousand people in affected regions; 521 projects of safe drinking water were carried out which provided safe drinking water for 85 thousand people; 20 welfare centers and rural nursing homes for the aged were set up; 3,144 III-degree patients were listed in the five-guarantee system, and 38 thousand I-degree and II-degree patients were all granted the minimum subsistence allowances, among which 34 thousand people were covered in the novel rural cooperative medical system; development-oriented poverty alleviation was carried out village-wide in 255 villages, houses were built for 2,610 families with sick members as well as extremely-distressed families; 9,298 people from 1915 families in 24 villages were removed and resettled, 13 resettlement locations and 22 poverty-relief villages were established. Through all the above measures, great effects were achieved in the prevention and treatment of the disease.
In summary, during the past 60 years, the rate of absolute poverty in all the rural areas of Sichuan decreased from 80% at the early period of the PRC to less than 3.1%. Especially in the short 30 years since the policy of reform and opening up, the problem of food and clothing of 24.575 million absolutely impoverished population in rural areas of Sichuan was solved. This is a marvelous miracle and a great milestone both in the history of Sichuan and even in the whole China. The glorious accomplishments and valuable experience in poverty alleviation of Sichuan rural areas demonstrate the superiority of the socialist system, the Party’s new idea concerning the Scientific Outlook on Development and for-the-people governance, and also the high concern of the CPC committees and governments at all levels, the all-out support from various social circles and the industrious efforts made by the cadres and the public in poor areas. In a word, in the past 60 years, Sichuan has seen new historic strides in poverty alleviation of rural areas. The farmers have realized their dream of warm clothing and adequate food, which didn’t come true for hundreds of years. This has contributed significantly to the economic development, social progress, union of all nationalities as well as harmony and peace of Sichuan province.