To reach President Xi Jinping’s poverty alleviation goals on time, local governments destroyed farmers’ homes and farmland amid the coronavirus outbreak.
by Zhang Wenshu
The poverty alleviation policy, launched by President Xi Jinping in 2015, is aimed at lifting 70 million impoverished households in China out of poverty by 2020. Treated as a political task for CCP’s officials, the implementation of the president’s vanity project continued amid the ranging coronavirus pandemic. On March 16, Xi Jinping convened a symposium on “securing a decisive victory in poverty alleviation,” stressing that it “must be realized as scheduled, without any retreat or flexibility” by the end of this year.
In late February, local government officials informed some households in a village under the jurisdiction of Heze city in the eastern province of Shandong that they would soon be relocated. On top of that, half of about 170 acres of the village’s farmland would be repurposed.
A farmer from the village told Bitter Winter that officials came to each household, telling people that they were taking residents’ temperatures to prevent the spread of the virus. Many refused to open their doors, afraid to be infected. But the officials insisted, explaining that they were also introducing the new relocation campaign, aimed at poverty alleviation, the goal of which is to demolish old houses and build a modern village in their place.
“Officials don’t put efforts into epidemic prevention but go around implementing the poverty alleviation policy even during the lockdown,” the farmer complained.
In early April, village residents were forced to sign agreements to give up their land for the new village under threats that their subsistence allowances would be revoked. CCP members were threatened to be expelled from the Party if they refused to sign.
“They used machines, guarded by police officers, to destroy all the fields that usually yield great harvests of wheat. Even our houses were demolished. If the epidemic worsens, we’re doomed to death,” the farmer was devastated.
“We won’t live a good life this year,” another villager added helplessly.
When a local farmer who ran a pesticide shop refused to sign, the county’s Market Supervision Administration suspended his business license on a trumped-up charge that he was selling pesticides with expired sell-by dates.
Since the launch of the poverty alleviation policy, the Chinese authorities have been boasting about its remarkable achievements. But residents of villages that were relocated in their entirety in the name of poverty alleviation have a different opinion.
Farmers from Shenchi county in Xinzhou, a prefecture-level city in the northern province of Shanxi, are still paying a hefty price for Xi Jinping’s poverty alleviation dream after all households from the county’s 74 villages were moved to urban areas in 2018. Since the primary source of income for the county’s residents is agriculture, the relocated farmers were deprived of an opportunity to earn a living.
“How can we earn a living in the urban area?” one of the relocated villagers complained. “There are no opportunities for employment. Even if there were any, we can do nothing but farming, and most of us are elderly, we won’t be employed.” When he raised this issue with some government officials, they replied that the state was only responsible for relocations, not sources of income for residents.
A relocated 58-year-old man told Bitter Winter that he could not find any job after many attempts, not even as a sanitation worker. “When I lived in the village, I didn’t worry about my income at all, but since I was moved to an apartment, I worry all the time,” he said.
“For us, moving to the urban area means losing our sources of livelihood,” a former sheep farmer added. “Residents like me are all victims of the relocation policy. The government doesn’t care about our lives, but we can do nothing about it.”
Some elderly relocated villagers compared Xi Jinping’s poverty alleviation to Mao Zedong’s social and economic campaigns, like the Great Leap Forward. The drive, implemented from 1958 to 1960, aimed to transform China from an agrarian economy into a communist society based on communes. Local officials competed to fulfill, often over-fulfill, quotas based on Mao’s unrealistic demands, reporting “surplus” yields, when in reality, people were starving. The campaign resulted in the Great Chinese Famine, with an estimated death toll in the tens of millions.