China’s government newspaper Global Times revealed in an article published Sunday that local officials in Shaanxi province had lied about documenting zero individuals living in poverty, dealing a blow to dictator Xi Jinping’s claim that the nation had entirely eradicated poverty in February.
Xi promised the country in 2014 that the Communist Party would eliminate all poverty by 2020. Beijing failed to do so, resulting in a claim in November 2020 that China had instead documented no cases anywhere in the country of “extreme” poverty. By February, Xi personally declared “complete victory” against all forms of poverty in China. Skeptics noted at the time that China had used extremely lenient metrics to define who lives under the poverty line and that it would not be able to make such a claim if using the statistics typically measured by organizations like the World Bank.
Even by China’s dubious metrics, however, one county in Shaanxi reportedly did not make the cut, fooling the national government through the construction of unusable, “fake” infrastructure that allowed it to make claims like its population all had access to clean running water.
“Sanxing village in Shangluo, which was pulled out of the poverty-stricken list in 2019, was found to have installed water faucets in households with no water ever running out from them,” the Global Times revealed. “Villagers say they are merely an image project for local authorities and an ‘insignificant decoration.'”
The Shaanxi village has no access to water, which has resulted in villagers depending on “a moss-covered well” full of tadpoles to survive. Others have innovated makeshift rainwater collection bins on their roofs to supplement the clearly not up-to-standard tadpole water. In another village, residents gave up on local sources of water and drove over an hour to another province regularly to obtain drinking water.
The Global Times attributed the scandal exclusively to local Communist Party authorities, who reportedly declined to have any knowledge of the situation when interrogated by state media and that the problem “must not have existed” at the time in which Shaanxi removed the villages from the national poverty list. Such a situation would require the drinking water in multiple municipalities to have somehow disappeared between February and April 2021 and does not explain the existence of faucets that locals say never provided water.
Chinese state media declared in November that the end of poverty was “a Chinese miracle in human history” and that “extreme” poverty no longer existed in the country. By February, Xi Jinping declared all forms of poverty no longer existed in the country. Xi reportedly said that “complete victory” against poverty was the “first centenary goal” on the path to creating a “moderately prosperous society” under communism.
“Over the past eight years, the final 98.99 million impoverished rural residents living under the current poverty line have all been lifted out of poverty. All the 832 impoverished counties and 128,000 impoverished villages have been removed from the poverty list,” the state news agency Xinhua alleged in February. “770 million impoverished rural residents have shaken off poverty when calculated in accordance with China’s current poverty line [since the 1970s].”
China’s metric for who falls under the poverty line is far lower than the global standards that organizations like the World Bank use. As the Wall Street Journal explained last year, regarding China, “a report this year from former World Bank officials said that if a uniform standard of $5.50 a day in income, or around $2,000 a year, were applied, some 373 million or about 27% of the population would be considered in poverty.”
A Reuters report identified another instance where China differs with the World Bank standard: China defines “extreme poverty” as an income of $1.52 a day. The World Bank uses a threshold of $1.90 a day.
Another concern international observers have raised regarding China’s “poverty alleviation” initiative is that the Communist Party appears to be enslaving hundreds of thousands of people, then claiming them to be “employed” and thus out of poverty. The prime targets for state-sponsored slavery appear to be the ethnic Uyghur people of Xinjiang province, China’s westernmost region and traditionally one of the poorest. The Chinese government has openly touted “poverty alleviation” mobile applications to help allegedly underprivileged people find work, connecting them to factories, cotton farms, and other places of employment nationwide. Human rights researchers say the overwhelming evidence suggests that the workers recruited in this manner are not working voluntarily or receiving much of any payment. Chinese companies are openly buying slaves from Xinjiang on Baidu and other state-controlled websites.
In remarks on Sunday, Xi Jinping insisted that the secret to China’s success “lies in its ideals and convictions,” meaning communist values.
“The revolutionary ideals soar above the clouds,” Xi said at an event honoring communist soldiers. “We should have such beliefs in achieving the second centenary goal and realizing national rejuvenation.”
Chinese authorities have not walked back their claim of eliminating all poverty in light of the Shaanxi revelations at press time. Xi Jinping has not personally commented on the matter.