‘Fault Lines On The Face Of China: 50 Reasons Why China May Never Be Great’ - Excerpt 21
"China has the world’s fastest-growing economy, but many millions in China’s countryside have been left behind, forming the ranks of the 1st Army of Instability.
In 1978, before China reformed its economic policies, the country had 250 million people who lacked adequate food and clothing. By the end of 2005, that number had dropped to 23.6 million. By 2007 that figure had dropped a little further, to 21.48 million. In addition to these people, defined as living in ‘absolute poverty’ there were another 35.5 million in the ‘low-income’ category, said Zhang Baowen, vice-minister of agriculture.
It is easy to be impressed with the drop of poverty accomplished no matter which accounting method is used. However, even under the best circumstances, there are still 23 million living in absolute poverty. That’s equal to two-thirds of the population of Canada or one-third of the population of the UK. It’s more than the entire population of Australia – or the State of Florida. That’s twenty-three million citizens who cannot even afford an extra change of clothes or nutritious daily food. Or afford school fees for their children. Or a simple visit to a doctor."
I wonder what it’s like to be poor? I wonder if any reader of this blog knows what it’s like to be poor?
Sure, I’ve had to count the days to the next paycheck from time to time, after, say, too many dinners out in a month, too much temptation from the wine list of Le Garcon Chinoise, Shanghai’s finest restaurant.
But true poverty? No, never. Nor, I suspect, any of the readers of this blog. All you readers read English. In China, that’s the language of privilege. If you speak English, you’ve been lucky enough to have an education. You’ve got options. English is the language of empowerment, of success. English is caste.
The mere fact you are here, you are online -- that sets you above hundreds of millions of people. You're not poor.
Certainly not the kind of poor that sends so many of the elderly out into the streets to scavenge for rubbish to recycle. The kind of poor that makes every day a struggle, the kind of poor that saps the joy out of existence, that wraps itself around your soul and sleeps there.
And what must that poverty be like when you’re surrounded by flash cars and glittering buildings, when your great motherland has (though you likely don’t know it) the largest pile of foreign reserves in the world? When it has forty billion dollars to spend on the Olympics, seventy billion to spend on the army, and untold billions, wealth beyond counting, diverted into the pockets of its corrupt officials?
I’ve read the statistics. I’ve seen the pictures. Worse, I’ve seen the people – seen them every day in Shanghai, the people with nothing. I know what poverty is. But can I feel what poverty is? Hardly.
‘Fault Lines On The Face Of China: 50 Reasons Why China May Never Be Great’ - Excerpt 22
"Just how serious is China about poverty reduction? In 2005, the central government assigned about US$1.7 billion for poverty reduction. In the same year, it said it spent more than US$30 billion on its armed forces. The Rand Corporation, a US-based nonprofit think-tank, estimated the true figure was closer to US$70 billion per year.
In China’s western regions, home to about 400 million people, 20% of the population cannot afford hospital fees and more than a third cannot afford high school fees. Sending a child to college took 74% of an average family’s entire income. Again –74%! Illiteracy, another side-effect of poverty, was at 28%.
These millions of ‘low income’ individuals exist in something like a state of limbo. Hovering just above absolute poverty, they face a daily struggle to keep their sanity and their bodies functioning for the next day of work.
We have seen these members of the 1st Army clustered around the single television in their village, which is often perched on the shelf of a store owner’s establishment. They watch in disbelief at the flickering pictures from Shanghai or Beijing, and they see the glittering towers of modernity. Programs, commercials and reports show cars, restaurants and the happy and content life of the upwardly mobile new middle classes.
They do not see their own life. They see the good life.
One day, when they finally realize this good life is not on another planet, but is in their own country, and that the pictures on the screen represent now, not some promised future, they will begin to march, the first of the armies that spell a colossal threat to China."
Don't forget, even for a moment - every chance you get when in China -- 'T' for Tibet and 'X' for Xinjiang.