The Ala’er National Wetland Park on the Pamir Plateau in Taxkorgan Tajik Autonomous County, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.
OVER the past 40 years since the commencement of reform and opening-up, nearly 800 million Chinese have risen above absolute poverty, accounting for more than 70 percent of the total reduction in poverty worldwide. The targeted poverty alleviation measures launched particularly in recent years have brought about tremendous changes across the country, including regions with a large presence of minority ethnic groups. Chinese people are marching closer to the goal of common development and prosperity.
Taking Xinjiang as an example, the autonomous region has mobilized all sectors of society and all resources for targeted poverty alleviation, including aid from other regions of China, and increased policy and financial support for the program. Through employment in non-farming sectors for rural residents, industrial development, ecological compensation, relocation from inhospitable areas, and better social security, the region has made remarkable progress in reducing poverty among its people. From 2014 to 2019, 737,600 out of 793,100 registered poor households in Xinjiang, or 2.92 million out of 3.13 million people, shook off poverty; 3,107 out of 3,668 villages and 25 out of 35 poor counties were removed from the poverty list; and the poverty headcount ratio dropped to 1.24 percent. Xinjiang is expected to eradicate extreme poverty by the end of this year along with other parts of China.
As China moves forward in the last leg of its battle against poverty, extreme poverty will soon be rooted out for the first time in its history. This will be a significant achievement not only for China but also for all humanity. This article focuses on two individuals who live in Xinjiang to help readers outside China gain a better understanding of its anti-poverty efforts, and hence build global consensus to pursue the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
A farmer of Resikemu Village in Taxkorgan is watering his field.
A Brave Flower, a Dream Chaser
After 20-plus hours of riding on a train, Kasagul Ehmetniyaz arrived in Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang. It was her second trip to the city after a brief two-week stay four years ago. This time she came for work to start a new chapter in her life.
In March this year, the regional government opened 50,000 jobs in eastern and northern Xinjiang to low-income households in southern Xinjiang, where 165,800 people in 10 counties remained in poverty. Upon hearing this news, Kasagul Ehmetniyaz decided to take her chance. “In my hometown, per capita farmland is less than one mu (1/15 hectare). Finding non-agricultural employment is key to rising above poverty,” she explained.
The 22-year-old is from Hotan Prefecture, which is home to the largest number of people who are still mired in poverty in Xinjiang. Kasagul Ehmetniyaz has three younger brothers. With policy support, the family has doubled their income in recent years by operating a small farm of around six mu and raising five cattle. However due to the large size of the family and poor health of Kasagul’s mother, they still live below the poverty line.
Poverty deprived the girl of her dream of higher education four years ago. Kasagul passed the entrance exam for college in 2016, but her parents could not afford university tuition and accomodations even with state subsidies. Remorsefully, her father handed her RMB 400 for a trip to Urumqi where her uncle worked as a chef, and expected her to help support the family after this “vacation.” Fighting back her tears, the girl put on a cheerful face and accepted this arrangement. But as her name indicates in the Uygur language, Kasagul is a brave flower that refuses to yield to life’s hardships.
During the years that followed, she took care of her mother and brothers, and found time to earn extra cash by working at the construction site where her father worked. But she hoped for something bigger, becoming a project budget manager someday.
When news of job openings in Urumqi reached her community, Kasagul applied with the village leader after consulting her parents. “The village leader was very supportive, assuring me that the village committee would offer help when my family needed it, so I wouldn’t have to worry about them.” With the help of village officials she signed a labor contract with her employer in Urumqi, and attended an epidemic prevention course sponsored by the county government, which also gave her a suitcase and clothes for free.
Though her family has not yet risen above the poverty line, they are very close to it. With state subsidies, they have built a new home and renovated the courtyard. The eldest son is in college and receives a government subsidy of RMB 3,000 every year. The two younger boys are in compulsory education, which is totally free. The new job Kasagul has is at a construction company, her area of interest. The salary, RMB 2,000-4,000 per month, will surely lift her family out of poverty within the year.
In addition to clothes and items for daily use, Kasagul brought with her a stack of books and notebooks filled with excerpts from her reading. She has never given up chasing her dream. As spring approaches, the brave flower will soon enter full bloom.
Lines of newly built homes in Resikemu Village.
Toksu and the “Courtyard Economy”
In April this year, farmers were busy planting rice on the southern bank of the Ili River in Qapqal Xibe Autonomous County, Ili Kazak Autonomous Prefecture in western Xijiang. In the courtyard of Toksu, a 64-year-old native of the Xibe ethnic group, was making preparations for the spring season as well.
Ten apple trees, two apricot trees, one plum tree, 10 sheep, two cows, and 100-plus chickens — the courtyard resembles a small farm, and brings the family a big chunk of their income.
In his newly-built, well-furnished residence, Toksu has kept a notebook in which he has recorded his family’s journey out of poverty.
An illness that brought Toksu down in 2012 plunged the family of five into poverty. The next year they were added to the poverty registration database, and state aid began to stream in. “We received subsidies for farming and subsistence allowances, more subsidies for the construction of our house, a sheepfold, and cowshed, as well as cows, sheep, and chickens to start an animal husbandry business. We climbed out of poverty in 2017,” he recalled while flipping through his notebook.
Xinjiang began to promote the “courtyard economy” among local farmers and herders in 2015, and the benefits are obvious.
“With the per capita income above RMB 17,000, our life is much better.” Toksu went on to give the reporter a breakdown: RMB 21,000 from the land lease, RMB 10,000 from raising livestock, and RMB 40,000 from his son’s wages. “These are in addition to state subsidies for the critical illness insurance program, cooperative medical care system, industrial activities, and pension,” he added.
During the interview, Guo Huiqing, an official of the town government in charge of poverty alleviation, paid a visit. Toksu introduced him to the reporter as his brother, “He visits me from time to time, and has helped in building this house and the sheepfold and cowshed. Today he has come to help with sawing logs,” he said.
Guo’s name has appeared in Toksu’s notebook since 2014. He visits the family almost every week. “The elder couple cannot handle certain kinds of intensive labor alone while their children are working out of town. Our help can make their life easier,” Guo said.
“I plan to grow some vegetables this year for personal consumption and for sale as well,” Toksu said. The couple are full of hope and energy every day, getting up at 8 o’clock every morning to feed the cattle and sheep, prepare the soil, and fertilize the plots. “Having received so much assistance from the state, we must do our part to build a better life.”