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Escaping Poverty
China is making efforts to relocate impoverished people to more fertile land
By Wang Hairong | NO. 43 OCTOBER 27, 2016


A villager in Songxian County in Henan Province works in a field in April. Once-impoverished local villagers moved to the nearby buildings—their new homes—from areas unfavorable for living (XINHUA)  

Conspicuous red characters reading South Shaanxi Immigrant Relocation Project stand above two rows of white-walled and grey-tiled buildings in Shanyang County of Shangluo, Shaanxi Province.

In front of the buildings stood Wang Wumei, a woman in her 50s chatting away with other silver-haired residents more senior than her. She moved into the six-story building last year. Now the family lives in a 120-square-meter apartment and has access to amenities such as tap water.

"I used to live deep in the mountains, making a living on planting and picking traditional Chinese medicinal herbs," Wang told Beijing Review. Evenings in the depths of the Qinling Mountains were pitch-black with wild boars roaming nearby, Wang recalled. It was also difficult to see doctors, she added, which prompted her to move out.

Wang has three children. Her two sons, having graduated from university, work in Shanghai, while the daughter is still studying. Paying for her children's higher education was a struggle, however, the sons are able to provide financial support. She was eventually able to purchase the apartment with 100,000 yuan ($14,838) of family savings, plus 50,000 yuan ($7,435) of government subsidy.

The South Shaanxi Immigrant Relocation Project was launched in 2011 by the provincial government. It was designed to relocate 2.4 million poverty-stricken people living in high, cold and remote mountain regions in the south of the province to river valley areas with better living conditions, said Li Chaokun, Deputy Secretary of the Communist Party of China Shanyang County Committee.

Under the project, 726,000 people in Shangluo are to be relocated. The city governs six counties which are all listed nationally as poverty-stricken. In the past five years, 340,000 people in Shangluo have already been relocated under the project, said Liu Xianjun, Vice Mayor of Shangluo.

The project will also protect residents from natural disasters and conserve headwaters for China's South-North Water Diversion Project. Shangluo is situated in the heart of the Qinling Mountains, where geological disasters such as mountain torrents and mudslides often occur, thus burdening local residents with heavy economic costs.

Relocating the poor 

Now, the South Shaanxi Immigrant Relocation Project is also part of the nationally targeted poverty alleviation initiative. In October 2015, President Xi Jinping announced that the country will lift from poverty all 70 million plus people living below China's current poverty line through this initiative.

On September 22, the National Development and Reform Commission released the 13th Five-Year Plan(2016-20) on poverty alleviation through resettlement. The plan states that as of the end of 2015, there were still 55.75 million rural Chinese residents in poverty, including nearly 10 million residing in large, high or stony mountains.

Approximately 9.81 million impoverished people will move out when the environment can no longer support them. This translates to resettling 7.75 times the number of people displaced by the Three Gorges Dams, in five years rather than the 17 years taken to relocate people for the reservoir, reported Xinhua News Agency.

According to the plan, a large resettlement location will meet the placement needs for at least 800 people. It also states that each person should occupy no more than 25 square meters of floor space in order to avoid falling into debt due to relocation.

The plan also specifies the financial costs likely to be incurred. It is estimated that the resettlement cost over the coming five years will total approximately 950 billion yuan ($141.27 billion) nationwide, of which, 30 billion yuan ($4.46 billion) will be paid by relocated people, and the remaining amount will be paid by various levels of governments.

Efforts in Shangluo continue. From now till 2020, the city will relocate 261,200 people, according to Liu. Currently, the city has 490,000 poverty-stricken citizens, who face hardships because of natural disasters, illness and tuition costs. For destitute families to be resettled, the government will provide them with apartments as large as 60 square meters, free of charge, he said.


Xiong Xingliang and his family members get ready for a meal in their new home in the Gaoba settlement for relocated people in Shanyang County, Shangluo of Shaanxi Province, on February 13, 2015 (XINHUA) 

Post-relocation development 

Over the past decades, many people have moved out of areas unsuitable for inhabitance, leaving behind those lacking in business acumen or necessary labor skills, wrote Zhu Weiqun, a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, China's political advisory body, in a People's Daily article. Moreover, resettlement areas, also constrained by limited land resources and weak infrastructure, have difficulty in providing sufficient jobs for the migrants, Zhu said.

Even after relocation, some migrants have retained their old homes, which they continue to live in and farm during the farming season before returning to their new place in the offseason. Each household occupies two residences, which is a huge waste of land resources, said Li.

Post-relocation development is crucial to the success of poverty alleviation, said Zhu. He suggested that professional skills training should be given to relocated people, new rural agricultural entities such as farmers' cooperatives and family farms should be nurtured, and enterprises recruiting relocated people should be given tax reductions or exemptions.

Shangluo has taken various measures to give relocated people a stable and prosperous life, such as locating new settlement areas close to industrial bases, scenic spots and agricultural parks.

After moving into a community in the Yungaisi town of Zhen'an County, Fei Yuting, 48, found a job at Zhen'an Minco Electronic Co. Ltd., which is close to her new home. Fei previously lived in a remote mountain area vulnerable to mudslides. Back then, she had to leave home to work elsewhere. "In the past, I worked odd jobs in various places, and spent a good amount of money on visits back home. My biggest wish is to find a job close to home," she told the Beijing-based Economic Daily.

Now her dream has come true. Her new home is close to a scenic area, a modern agricultural park, and an incubating park for small- and medium-sized enterprises, where her company is located.

As of May, the 16 enterprises in the incubating park had employed more than 900 relocated people, and more than 130 relocated households had opened businesses, said Wang Qingshui, Director of Zhen'an County Development and Research Bureau.

Similar measures to create jobs for relocated people have been adopted across the region. Orchards, Chinese herbal medicine plantations, apiculture farms, and industrial parks have been built near placement locations.

The Economic Daily reported that in recent years, Shangluo has nurtured more than 1,000 businesses in agricultural product processing, retail, catering, transportation and tourism industries, and created jobs for relocated people, ensuring that at least one person in a relocated household is employed.

Copyedited by Dominic James Madar 

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