State Ethnic Affairs Report Discusses Poverty in Minority Areas

May 31, 2005

The State Ethnic Affairs Commission (SEAC) published a new report on May 19 called "Unified Struggle, Common Prosperity", which contains survey findings and new details on government poverty alleviation efforts in minority areas. (See also the February State Council White Paper on Regional Autonomy for Ethnic Minorities in China.) The government uses different criteria for minority and Han areas when determining whether or not a particular county falls below the national poverty line. For example, in 1985 officials set the national poverty line at 150 yuan per year, but drew the line in autonomous areas at 200 yuan.

Officially-designated "poverty counties" are eligible for special development assistance funds from both the central and provincial governments. Although the government designed the dual criteria system to provide additional assistance to minorities, the system makes it difficult to compare figures for minority and non-minority areas directly. Recognizing that minority areas are disproportionately impoverished, however, the Chinese government has said since 2001 that minority "poverty counties" should receive top priority in all national poverty alleviation programs. Minorities make up less than 9 percent of the national population, but SEAC reports that more than 45 percent of all "poverty counties" are in minority areas. Over 53 percent of all counties in autonomous areas fall below the poverty line. The SEAC conducted a rare multi-provincial household survey on extreme poverty in minority areas in 2004, and the survey revealed that poverty is more widespread and severe within minority "poverty counties" than in similar counties in non-autonomous areas.

The report blames minorities' poverty on a variety of factors, including the harsh terrain in the border territories, ecological devastation, low levels of education and scientific training, and years of inadequate investment.