The Chinese government has set itself the heady goal of "eradicating poverty" nationwide by the year 2020. Spurred on by Beijing's drive to raise up the country's poorest, over the past six years Yunnan has drastically reduced the number of people living with extremely low levels of income.
In 2012, 8.04 million people in the province were classified as poverty stricken. That number dropped to 1.79 million in 2018, according to a recent report by the Yunnan branch of the National Bureau of Statistics. Over that same time period, the average per capita disposable income among the lowest group of earners in the province doubled, from 4,749 yuan (US$674) to 9,595 (US$1,362)
Historically, Yunnan has struggled to keep up with much of the rest of country in terms of economic development. Insulating portions of its population — especially those in far-flung places — from indigence has been a prolonged challenge. But government initiatives to build roads to regions once bereft of them, offer basic medical services in tiny mountain hamlets where they were once lacking, and pay welfare payments for chronically ill elderly people, are helping to create situations where poorer families can prosper.
The drop in poverty numbers is based in part on government expenditures, but individual effort is providing a huge amount of the impetus as well. This progress is best exemplified by the use of technology by craftspeople who once had limited or no access to the internet and no markets outside of their hometowns.
By using a live-streaming feature on the online shopping mega-website Taobao, farmers, woodworkers, tinsmiths and even crossbow makers in Yunnan are able to showcase their wares to an enormous domestic audience increasingly concerned with buying handmade goods. Products sold in this way have become so popular, Beijing is now encouraging other regions of China to copy the model.
A bit more than a year ago, provincial Party Secretary Chen Hao (陈豪) told reporters 3.3 million people in Yunnan qualified as poverty stricken. Raising them out of abject penury, he said, would be an "extremely tough" proposition. Now in 2019, there are 1.79 million people left to go, difficult or not.
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