Authorities in China’s coastal province of Jiangsu declared on Tuesday that just 17 residents are living in extreme poverty, despite having a population of some 80 million people.
Zhu Guobing, head of the Jiangsu Provincial Government Office of Poverty Alleviation, told Jiangsu’s provincial legislature on Tuesday that over 99.99 percent of the region’s residents were living above the extreme poverty line as of the end of 2019, with just 17 people reported to have an annual average income of under 6,000 yuan (US$864).
The 17 people still living in poverty are capable of working, although four of them have diseases, an official from the Jiangsu provincial poverty relief office told the Beijing News on Wednesday, without commenting further.
“The data may change in one week. Some people will get rid of poverty, while others will fall back,” the official noted, but insisted that fluctuations would be minor.
Having initially censored discussion of the news online, the state propaganda outlet Global Times ended up trying to justify the data, reporting that netizens were debating its veracity on social media sites such as Weibo.
“I don’t believe it. Are there no unemployed people in the province? No beggars?” one Weibo user asked.
“Jiangsu has only 17 people in poverty,” wrote another. “What a coincidence, I am just one of those 17 people.”
The Times also noted that some people supportive of the Chinese Communist Party scorned their fellow citizens, accusing them of showing “little knowledge of and respect for the country’s decades of poverty relief work.”
“I’m a Jiangsu resident. I believe the news and feel bitterly disappointed seeing these comments,” one user wrote. “There were reports of the sudden deaths of poverty relief workers due to overwork. Their work is really tiresome and difficult. We should thank them.”
China’s launched its poverty campaign in 2014, with leader Xi Jinping declaring his intention to eradicate poverty by 2020. Last year alone, Beijing pushed around 126.1 billion yuan (US$18.1 billion) into its anti-poverty campaign, with a particular focus on rural areas where 564 million live, often without access to electricity and other living essentials.
Whether such statistics are true or not, Jiangsu remains China’s second-largest economy of all its provinces, surpassed only by Guangdong. A key pillar of China’s manufacturing and export industries, the region’s poverty rates have fallen as a result of rapid economic growth, the Communist Party insists. According to the provincial statistics bureau, Jiangsu’s GDP rose 6.4 percent in the first three quarters of 2019, significantly outpacing that of China as a whole.