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Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 May, 2004, 13:48 GMT 14:48 UK
China's growing poverty gap
A beggar lies outside the Beijing Railway Station (archive picture)
The gap between rich and poor in China is widening
An international conference aimed at finding ways to reduce world poverty has opened in China. Our correspondent Francis Markus went to Jiangxi province to discover how well China itself was doing at reducing poverty.

Although it used to be an inaccessible and poverty-stricken area, the Chinese province of Jiangxi is now benefiting from new investment and transport links with the wider world.

The growing web of motorways and highways is having an obvious effect in boosting the local economy.

But even here poverty is far from vanquished, let alone in regions thousands of miles away in China's inaccessible western provinces.

All sorts of new enterprises are springing up in Jiangxi.

A formerly struggling collective farm has now become a project for breeding the silkie fowl, a kind of chicken supposed to be particularly healthy to eat, which has black skin and bones under its white plumage.

The project's director, a wealthy entrepreneur called Li Xiangfa, said he was already employing a number of local people, giving them useful skills.

He said he had also been talking to the local authorities about taking on even more workers to help relieve some of the worst conditions.

"I proposed to the local Poverty Reduction Bureau that some of the people from the poorest villages could come and work on this project, and they thought it was a good idea," he said.

In a nearby village, typical of the areas where more staff might be recruited, poverty is a serious problem.

In the main street, a retired doctor is still manning a simple clinic, where dozens of people show up each day to have basic ailments treated for a minimal fee.

The doctor said that living conditions had improved greatly over the three decades he had been in the village, but there was still a long way to go.

"People nowadays here have enough food to eat and enough clothes to wear," he said.

"Their biggest problems are if they fall seriously ill and have hundreds of dollars worth of medical bills - or the fact that, for old people, there are mostly no pensions."

But even if the numbers of people who do not have the basic necessities of life are going down, the Chinese Government admits that the gap between the poor and those who are now better off is widening.

That is certainly how it seems to workers in a local carpentry workshop, stacking up banisters and door panels onto a tiny motor tricycle, ready for a job at the house of a well-off businessman.

The workers used to belong to a local government-run enterprise, which has since collapsed. Now they are living and working in what is little more than a large wooden shed.

Yes, they said, the whole area is in the grip of change. But the change is benefiting some people much more than others.

The debate, both within China and internationally, is how much it matters that the significant progress made in cutting poverty has been achieved at a cost of growing inequality.

China's rulers to aid farmers
08 Feb 04  |  Business
World inequality
18 Jun 02  |  Business

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