ZHENGZHOU — Lankao County in central China’s Henan province on March 27 announced its withdrawal from the country’s list of impoverished counties.
A county can be removed from the list if less than 2 percent of its population is classified as “impoverished,” according to a national mechanism, established in April 2016, to eliminate poverty in affected regions.
In 2014, 11.8 percent of Lankao’s population lived in poverty, but the proportion has dropped to 1.27 percent, according to an assessment by the Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
After evaluation results were examined and approved by the State Council Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development, Henan Provincial Government greenlit the county’s withdrawal on March 27. “Today is a commemorable day,” said Cai Songtao, secretary of the Lankao County Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) at a press conference. “Getting rid of poverty has been the ardent wish of Lankao residents for decades.”
In 2014, Xi Jinping, general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, visited Lankao twice as part of a campaign pairing top Party officials with the country’s poor areas.
That year, Lankao County authorities made a commitment to casting off poverty in three years and achieving moderate prosperity in seven years.
To achieve success, Cai said that the county government made poverty alleviation its first and primary task.
“Over the course of the process, we’ve realized that poverty alleviation is not the main goal, but that achieving moderate prosperity matters more,” he said.
Figures show that per capita disposable income in urban and rural areas in Lankao rose 7.5 percent and 9.6 percent year on year to 21,124 yuan ($3,072) and 9,943 yuan in 2016, doubling the amounts in 2013.
The county’s economy expanded by 9.4 percent to 25.76 billion yuan in 2016, boosted by upgrades to the agricultural and industrial sectors and ecological tourism in recent years.
Xuchang Village of Guyang Township is rich in paulownia trees, an ideal raw material for musical instrument manufacturing. The village has 54 musical instrument workshops with sales revenue reaching more than 60 million yuan.
Villager Xu Erpai, who could not even pay his own medical bills in the past, has secured an annual income of 300,000 yuan for the past two years.
Funded by the local government, Xu learned to make instrument strings in Yangzhou city in the eastern province of Jiangsu and established a plant in Lankao two years ago.
“We can’t blame god or the government for our poverty. Overcoming it is our own business,” said Xu, who now owns a two-story building and a vehicle.
After making his personal fortune through a gold accessory business in the provincial capital of Zhengzhou, Dai Yujian was elected Party chief of his home village of Daizhuang in 2014.
“My fellow villagers hoped my business brain would help bring prosperity to the entire village,” he said with a smile.
In half a year, he led the villagers in building vegetable greenhouses and concrete roads, and growing trees along the roadside. He also helped villagers sell their vegetables via his personal contacts.
Under Dai’s leadership, per capita annual income of poor people surged from 1,400 yuan in 2014 to 3,500 yuan in the village by growing greenhouse vegetables, raising cattle and working in cities.
DECADES OF WORK
Lankao has been poor throughout history, as wars as well as frequent sandstorms and floods left the area with nothing much but poor soil.
According to the county’s annals, floods hit Lankao more than 90 times between 1644 and 1949, and over 60 villages were buried by sandstorms from the 1850s to 1949, when the People’s Republic of China was founded.
Dai was reluctant to admit he was a Lankao native when he was out doing business several years ago.
“I often claimed to be from the neighboring Kaifeng, as people would have asked ‘Are locals still going out to beg?’ if they heard that I was from Lankao,” Dai recalled.
Efforts to cast off poverty have persisted since the founding of New China.
In the 1960s, Lankao suffered another natural calamity, resulting in years of crop failures. It was then when Jiao Yulu, who was later known as a national model cadre for his painstaking efforts in poverty-alleviation, came to work as Party secretary in Lankao in 1962.
Astonished by the miserable life of locals, Jiao worked tirelessly and devoted all his life to fighting the poor natural conditions in the county, even when diagnosed with liver cancer.
He led locals to plant trees and dig water channels to reduce the impact of disasters until his death in 1964 at the age of 42. His story was later made into a film that touched the whole country in 1990.
“CPC members have led Lankao’s people to fight against poverty generation after generation, and the pressure of anti-poverty efforts has become a driver of economic growth,” said current Lankao Party chief Cai.
Lankao is the second county to be removed from the list after Jinggangshan in eastern China’s Jiangxi province, which was eliminated from the list in late February.
The Chinese government has vowed to eradicate poverty by 2020. As of late February, there were 831 impoverished county-level regions across China, which are expected to eliminate poverty in the next four years.
According to official figures, China still had 55.75 million people living under the poverty line at the end of 2015. The government has said 10 million people were lifted out of poverty in 2016 and another 10 million will be this year.
Li Heng, from the school of economics at Henan University, said Lankao’s poverty reduction experience can inspire other economically backward areas to transition from outdated development modes to new, sustainable growth patterns.
Despite harsh natural conditions, locals have successfully boosted the economy by upgrading traditional farming and establishing higher value-added industries such as musical instrument manufacturing, which have reshaped local industry and fueled growth, said Li.
“A restructured regional economy with sustainable growth will help prevent local people from returning to poverty. The Lankao experience is a touchstone in China’s battle against poverty,” he said.