The most populous country on the planet with its 1.4 billion inhabitants, China has numbers that seem to rival astronomy for gigantism. 850 million Chinese – the greatest process of social ascension in human history – left the poverty line and 653 million – triple the population of Brazil – emigrated to the cities.
But the West knows little about China and its numbers. Who knows most about them is historian Isis Paris Maia, who works on her master’s research on poverty eradication in Xi Jinping’s country.
:: Article | Eliminating extreme poverty in China is the greatest achievement in human history ::
Governed since 1949 by the Communist Party, China has adopted what it calls “socialism with Chinese characteristics” and is a very strong candidate for the greatest power in the world. With her answers, Isis tells of the victories, contradictions and setbacks of the revolution initiated by Mao Tse-Tung seven decades ago and which, today, continues in transformation.
Check out the full interview:
Brasil de Fato RS – Eight hundred and fifty million people – four times the entire population of Brazil – have left the poverty line in China. Is it possible to say that, given the fact that it took just over 30 years, it is the fastest and greatest process of social ascension in human history?
Isis Maya – Certainly. I say more: not only eradication, but social mobility as a whole that has taken place in China has been unprecedented in history. For example, the HDI, the main human development indicator, went from 0.410 in 1978 to 0.761 points in 2020.
It is also noteworthy that China is the only country in the world to change from the low to high HDI category since the creation of the indicator, in 1990. It should be noted that the HDI includes variables of income, education and health. This is due to a combination of economic growth and public policies to fight poverty. Thus, the country contributed to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations, representing more than 70% of the reduction of world poverty.
All advances from clean water, health and transportation to internet and cable TV
In objective terms, what did these 850 million lack and have come to possess as a result of the process in question?
The World Bank defined for China the value of US$2.3 dollars per day as a ruler for the poverty line. Out of curiosity, the figure for the global poverty line is $1.90. Obviously, the government has been targeting broader welfare actions, such as public goods and services. For example, the proportion of the rural poor with clean water increased from 81% in 2013 to 89.2% in 2017.
In terms of infrastructure, the proportion of poor families in villages with cable TV increased from 79.6% to 96.9% between 2013 and 2017. In addition, the proportion of poor people in rural areas with Internet access increased from 41 .5% to 87.4% between 2013 and 2017.
In relation to public services, the proportion of the poor population in the villages with access to transport services such as buses, increased from 56.1% to 67.5% between 2013 and 2017; the proportion of rural people with access to primary school increased from 79.8% in 2013 to 88% in 2017; and the proportion of the rural poor with access to health clinics increased from 84.4% in 2013 to 92.2% in 2017.
Demonization via “Chinese virus” and “communist threat” hinders Western perception of Chinese reality
Despite these impressive numbers, few Brazilians, even those who are better informed, know this. What is the role of the Western media in concealing this process and why does it act this way?
The combination of the speed of the news cycle, poor scientific training and ethnocentric approaches form a fertile field for all kinds of conspiracy theory and denial. Thus, anti-Chinese narratives such as “communist threat”, “slave labor”, “dictatorship”, “human rights violations”, “Uighur re-education camps”, “Chinese virus”, “environmental destruction”, among others.
Such narratives are sustained by making invisible some of China’s achievements, such as the eradication of poverty, the seminal growth of the HDI, the conversion into the world’s largest exporter of vaccines and PPE’s during a pandemic period and the condition of leader in the new frontier of technologies in the field of sustainability. The mix of silencing and distortion is ultimately part of systemic disputes arising from the difficulty of the hegemon (USA) and its allies in dealing with the emerging power (China).
653 million people left the countryside for the city in 40 years
At the same time, over the past 40 years, the Chinese have left the countryside and moved to the cities in a massive way. But, according to his research, there was not a slum process as occurred in Brazil and other capitalist countries. What happened?
China has been experiencing one of the biggest urbanization processes in the news. The country had 189.9 million urban citizens in 1978, reaching 842.9 million in 2019, increasing its urbanization rate from 19.3% to 60.3%. In quantitative terms, it means saying that China has urbanized 653 million inhabitants in four decades – or three times the Brazilian population.
This entire process was managed by migration policies such as the Hukou, introduced shortly after the revolution in 1949, as well as urban planning with strong investment by city halls in infrastructure and housing. Another factor to be highlighted is that land is not subject to the logic of real estate speculation as in capitalist countries.
China is a developmental country with a socialist orientation
But no such process, which moves huge masses of people, happens without also leaving sequelae. What went wrong and need to be fixed?
Isis Maya – By urbanizing 650 million and seeing its GDP grow 100 times, the country accumulated contradictions, such as the increase in social inequalities, resulting from the contrasts between the level of agricultural and industrial productivity and the sectoral heterogeneity of the urban labor market, related to the segmentation between the urban registered worker and the unregistered migrant. The Gini Index
it went from 0.30 in the 1980s to 0.491 in 2008, in addition to an environmental crisis. However, the deepening of Chinese development and the expansion of social policies have made inequality decline. The indicator was already at 0.465 in 2019.
It is worth remembering that the Chinese trajectory is no different from others experienced by the developed world. The periods of industrial upswing combined several contradictions, including growing inequalities, followed by policies of extension of rights, in parallel with institutional construction. Thus, the country revised its strategies and started to work on the concept of ecological civilization. Among the numerous public policies aimed at the environmental issue, we can highlight, for example, the National Plan for Sustainable Agricultural Development (2015-2030) and the Plan to Combat Poverty in the Forestry Sector (2013-2020) – in conjunction with the UN.
These changes are attributed to guidelines given by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). To what extent is the idea of economic control and planning, which the CCP does not dispense with, responsible for the success of the measures? Isis Maya –
Historically, there is no example of development without the centrality of the State, as well as industrial, commercial and technological policies. This includes the developed capitalist countries and not least the self-styled liberal ones such as Great Britain and the United States. In this sense, China is a developmental country with a socialist orientation.
In fact, many believed that the Reform and Openness policy led by Deng Xiaoping from the 1970s onwards was a simple process of liberalization. A mistake. The modernization and development of China is the result of planning and a national development project, with a broad arsenal of public policies aimed at the most diverse fields. No less important were the lessons learned from the collapse of real socialism.
75% of Chinese companies listed in the world’s top 500 are public or state-owned
What would “socialism with Chinese characteristics” be, the name given to the reinterpretation of socialism made by the Chinese government? Isis Maya –
The concept appeared in 1st. of September 1982, when Deng Xiaoping, the creator of the term, presented it at the opening of the 12th National Congress of the CCP, mentioning the purpose of “building a socialism with Chinese characteristics”. This being the practice of government in running the country, based on the scientific principles of Marxism and under the conditions imposed by the concrete reality of China. In other words, the political control of the country is under the aegis of the Communist Party (CCP).
The key sectors of the economy, from basic industry to technological sectors, are under government direction. About 75% of Chinese companies listed in the world’s top 500 (magazine) Fortune are public or state-owned. The financial sector is another crucial one under government guidance. The land does not exclusively obey the market logic either.
The country, in fact, differs from the fully nationalized Soviet-style economy. China has learned lessons, including from its dysfunctions. Thus, market socialism is a method to solve the primary contradiction characteristic of Chinese society: the backwardness of its productive forces. The country would therefore be facing its basic challenge, without which others are impossible. That’s not to say that there aren’t countless other challenges ahead.
What are the “targeted public policies”, those applied in the 13th. Five-Year Plan under Xi Jinping? In other words, what are China’s next steps towards fighting inequality? Isis Maya –
It was up to the last Five Year Plan (2016-2020) to eradicate hunger from the last 43 million people, about 4.5% of the population. To meet this ambitious challenge, the government undertook a task force carrying out the targeted public policy program. That is, personalized policies for families which, for some reason, did not fit into previous government actions nor were achieved by the economic growth of the last decades. In other words, the Chinese program sought to deal with the challenges of families and social groups according to their specific needs.
It was, therefore, this mobilization of public resources (financial and bureaucratic) that managed to deal with the most varied ethnic, social and regional particularities in order to achieve the eradication of poverty. To get an idea of its scope in numbers, it is possible to mention that the financial investment, in 2016, in the special funds for poverty reduction allocated by the central and local governments exceeded 100 billion RMB (NR- Renminbi, official currency of the People’s Republic China) for the first time, an annual increase of 56.1%. The Chinese government sent a total of 775,000 employees to live in these villages for a period of 1 to 3 years, one for each family. There was also work to motivate companies, individuals, NGOs and even the military to carry out this challenge of helping the most vulnerable populations.
The Gini Index is used to calculate inequality. Situated between zero and 1, in it zero corresponds to complete equality, while 1 corresponds to complete inequality.
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BdF Rio Grande do Sul
Edition: Marcelo Ferreira