China’s Poverty Eradication: Through the Lens of Chinese Media

Ever since China in 2015 set its goal of eradicating absolute poverty by the end of 2020, the Chinese state-run media have been reporting on the progress. In late November this year, it announced that China’s remaining impoverished counties had “shaken off poverty”. The news was later followed by an official announcement of China having eradicated absolute poverty in the beginning of December. State media have continuously emphasized what China’s poverty eradication means, not only to China, but also to the world. Promoting the image of China as a great contributor to the world, in this case in terms of global poverty alleviation, may be viewed as a way of enhancing China’s global standing.

The Pledge of Eradicating Absolute Poverty by 2020

China’s battle against poverty has been going on for many years. According to the World Bank, China has lifted more than 850 million people out of poverty, since its reform and opening-up began under Deng Xiaoping in 1978. When President Xi Jinping came to power in 2012, China’s poverty eradication continued to be a highly prioritized policy goal of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). While the idea of a “targeted poverty relief strategy” to combat the country’s poverty issues was presented by the president in 2013, the poverty alleviation campaign was further ramped up in the following years. In 2015, Xi Jinping pledged that China, by the end of 2020, would eradicate poverty, in terms of lifting all people living below the national poverty line of 2,300 yuan (per person and per year, at the 2010 price level) out of poverty. This goal goes in line with the CCP’s plan of making China a “moderately prosperous society” by 2020.

Five years have now passed since the goal was set. On December 03 this year, with less than a month left before its deadline, Xi Jinping announced that China had achieved its goal of eradicating absolute poverty and regional poverty.

Aiming to Enhance China’s Global Standing?

Chinese state media have described poverty eradication in China as a “significant victory that impresses the world”. Furthermore, state media have repeatedly reported on how overseas experts and scholars have praised and admired China’s accomplishment in tackling absolute poverty, placing this national achievement in a global context.

On November 23, state media reported that absolute poverty had been eliminated in the remaining nine impoverished counties in China. These counties were therefore removed from China’s poverty list, which originally consisted of 832 counties that were identified as extremely poor. In an article published by Xinhua on November 25, overseas experts and scholars were quoted, expressing their admiration of China for having delisted its last impoverished counties. For instance, while some of them said that China’s poverty eradication was giving hope to developing countries, and that it could work as a model for other countries to follow, others said that the accomplishment showed “the effectiveness of the Chinese path to development or socialism with Chinese characteristics”.

In addition, on December 03, the former prime minister of Thailand, Anand Panyarachun, said in an interview with Xinhua that other countries could learn from China’s experience.

Against this backdrop, it seems like the state media is promoting China’s poverty eradication progress as a model that the world should learn from, not only from China’s own perspective but also by addressing opinions of overseas experts and leaders. This indicates that through its media, China wants to underline its role in the international arena, perhaps to increase its legitimacy globally. Furthermore, state-run news media promoting the image of China as playing a leading role in global poverty alleviation could also be viewed as a way of enhancing China’s global standing. This way of emphasizing China’s contribution to the world has been present in Chinese state media prior to the announcement. Poverty alleviation is, however, just one example of how state media is promoting China as a model for others to follow and learn from. This narrative has also been present when reporting on other issues, such as the Covid-19 pandemic, in terms of how China offers its approach in the global combat against the pandemic and assisting other nations in need. Poverty alleviation goals are important for the CCP’s legitimacy, both domestically and on the global stage. Achieving these goals is critical in showing how the CCP is able to keep its promises to its citizens, while at the same time enhancing its standing globally. The news about China having reached its 2020 goal will thereby most likely continue to be a hot topic in Chinese news media, not least with 2021 fast approaching, which marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of the CCP.

Challenges Remaining

When reporting that China had reached its 2020 goal, state media also addressed some tasks that remain, for instance that poverty alleviation efforts must be consolidated and expanded. It was also mentioned that follow-up support will be provided to people who have been relocated. However, less was written about what methods would be needed to accomplish this. One of China’s methods to defeat absolute poverty has been to relocate millions of people from their villages in rural areas to homes subsidized by the government located in urban areas or in less remote places in rural areas. Frustrated from being moved from their homes, villagers have also had difficulties in finding new jobs to be able to pay the price for their new, more expensive, homes. Consequently, some have returned to their home villages to find work.

While hoping that China will raise its poverty line, experts have expressed that hundreds of millions of people still risk falling back into absolute poverty and that more work is needed. Although China has now officially announced that its goal of eradicating absolute poverty has been accomplished, it remains to be seen how and to what extent the Chinese media landscape will address the efforts and challenges that remain.