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'Heartland of poverty' shows a different China


09:47, June 05, 2012

ZHENFENG COUNTY, Guizhou, June 4 (Xinhua) -- Mao Yongsha can't remember the last time she ate meat.

Mao is not a vegetarian, but a 13-year-old fifth grader living in Zhenfeng county, an area that has suffered from desertification as a result of its proximity to the mountains of southwest China's Guizhou province.

She looked a little bit embarrassed when she was asked, "Hong long ago did you last had meat?"

She thought for a while and couldn't utter a word.

"You just don't remember it, do you?" she was asked again.

She nodded, in awkward silence.

Over a rainy weekend, a walk on a muddy trail led us to the decayed thatched house that shelters Mao and her father, Mao Guowu. Light penetrated the gloomy house through cracks in the bamboo walls, while rain dropped through large holes in the roof.

It is a scene rarely seen in cities in the country's eastern and coastal regions, where steamroller modernization has helped to build China into the world's second-largest economy.

Despite the darkness of her surroundings, Mao's day was brightened up with the arrival of a sequined dress, a gift from her father.

"My dad asked our neighbor to buy it from town yesterday as a gift for Children's Day," Mao said, holding up the new dress.

"I used to buy my daughter new clothes for the New Year holiday," the father said. He has had difficulty getting around since suffering from a cerebral thrombosis last year.

His sickness forced him to leave the brick factory in central China's Hunan province, where he worked for a monthly salary of 1,000 yuan (about 160 U.S.dollars)to 2,000 yuan.

The county in which the Maos live is among China's poorest regions. It has been prioritized by the government as one of 592 key counties where poverty alleviation efforts are being concentrated.

In November last year, China raised its official poverty line by 92 percent to 2,300 yuan in per capital annual income in rural areas, causing more people to qualify as "poor" despite the country's booming economy.

The sharp upward revision redefined about 128 million Chinese in rural areas, a number equivalent to the population of Japan, as poor, 100 million more than under the previous standard.

The new threshold of about one U.S. dollar a day is much closer to the World Bank's poverty standard of 1.25 U.S.dollars a day.

Of China's 128 million impoverished people, 11.5 million people live in Guizhou province, which has a total population of 38 million people.

"Guizhou province is facing significant poverty problems due to geological, natural and other factors," said Lu Zhiming, vice governor of Guizhou.

Guizhou has very few flat areas suitable for growing food, with mountains and hills taking up 92.5 percent of its total land area. The region is also prone to geological and natural disasters such as desertification, landslides and floods.

"Although the task of fighting poverty is extremely arduous here, we will mobilize all of the province's resources to win the battle," Lu said.

Since the beginning of this year, the central government has increased its investment in poverty alleviation efforts to more than 33 billion yuan, according to data from the Poverty Alleviation Leading Group Office of the State Council, or China's cabinet.

From 2001 to 2011, central and local governments spent 204.38 billion yuan on poverty alleviation programs.

But for Mao Yongsha, China's poverty alleviation plans are a bit too complicated to understand.

"My wish is very simple," she said. "All I want is for my dad to get well very soon and make money again."


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