Since December 4 last year, when Xi Jinping declared China’s victory in the fight against poverty during a meeting of the Politburo Standing Committee, this claimed victory has been a centrepiece of the CCP’s propaganda efforts, both domestically and globally. Those efforts have further intensified since February 25, when Xi again spoke of a “complete victory” during a ceremony to commemorate the anti-poverty campaign, declaring that China had “generated another earthly miracle that will go down in the annals of history.”

Xi Jinping. File photo: World Economic Forum via Flickr.

Some have called China’s declaration of victory premature, based on creative benchmarks and statistics. They have noted, for example, that the line for extreme poverty should be around 5.5 dollars a day by World Bank estimates, considering that China is an upper-middle income country. That would mean about 13 percent of China’s population, or some 200 million people, still live in extreme poverty. For the purposes of its campaign, however, the Chinese government pushed its line for extreme poverty down to 2.3 dollars a day.

Noting the costs of the anti-poverty campaign and its top-down nature, others have questioned its long-term sustainability. “To bring people out of poverty at a moment in time doesn’t mean you can keep them there,” Terry Sicular, a professor of economics at Western University, told NPR. Still others have highlighted the historical evasion underpinning the numbers, the CCPs own dishonesty about its role in creating economic misery from the 1950s through to the end of the Cultural Revolution. Hu Ping, editor of the New York-based journal Beijing Springwrote that the high “rate of poverty creation” (造贫率) in the decades before reforms was an important factor in the country’s climb out of extreme poverty.

Photo: Dominic Rivard via Flickr.

But as I pointed out back in January, the propaganda push that has been constructed around this supposed eradication of extreme poverty – not just since the declaration of victory, but throughout the entire process – tells us a great deal about the goals of this eradication campaign, beyond the question of poverty. This talk of “earthly miracles,” or renjian qiji (人间奇迹), the Party’s final word on the anti-poverty campaign, is ultimately about the consolidation of power. It is about the “X factor.”

Allow me to explain what I mean by looking at the latest piece of English-language poverty eradication propaganda from People’s Daily Online, the portal operated by the CCP’s flagship People’s Daily newspaper. Called, “The ABCs to Decoding China’s Poverty Alleviation Campaign,” the feature graphically provides “the keys for decoding China’s success in poverty alleviation” by spelling it out with the letters of the English alphabet. This is the A-Z of the poverty eradication campaign.

A is for “acting according to local conditions.” B is for “budget allocation to poverty alleviation.” C is for “cooperation between eastern and western regions.” D is for “development-oriented poverty alleviation.” And so on.

Photo: HKFP remix.

Whatever one might think of the CCP’s external propaganda, and as heavy-handed as the tactics can be (“Z,” for example, is for the “zeal of the people”), there is an undeniable artistry to this particular piece of agitprop, with its colorful letters and its digestible descriptions of policy.

But the key to this key comes only toward the end of the alphabet. “X” is, not surprisingly, for “Xi’s leadership.” Never mind that the China’s positive trajectory on poverty alleviation, any way you slice it and any policy you credit for it, has been a journey of more than four decades. Without the charismatic leadership of the general secretary, none of this would have been possible. The description beside the “X” tells us: “To win the largest and most vigorous battle in human history against poverty, Chinese President Xi Jinping has remained steadfast at the country’s helm.”

This reference to Xi at the “helm,” which has a deep history in CCP politics, is another telling clue.

The X-factor, according to People’s Daily. Photo: HKFP remix.

The key to understanding the ultimate nature of the entire poverty eradication campaign as it was engineered from the beginning can be found here at the end of “The ABCs.” It is the reason why the CCP can rest on its laurels while 200 million Chinese still live in extreme poverty by very real measures, and 600 million live precariously on the edge, as Premier Li Keqiang could only hint at the NPC press conference last year.

It is all about the man and his ambitions for the Party. It is all about the X Factor.


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David Bandurski

David is the co-director of the China Media Project, a research and fellowship program with the Journalism & Media Studies Centre at the University of Hong Kong. A frequent commentator on Chinese media, his writings have appeared in Far Eastern Economic Review, the Wall Street Journal, Index on Censorship, the SCMP and others.