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Last Updated: Monday, 19 July, 2004, 11:40 GMT 12:40 UK
China boom leaves many behind
By Louisa Lim
BBC correspondent in Beijing

A beggar lies outside the Beijing Railway Station (archive picture)
Reforms which began 25 years ago have not benefited everyone
The number of Chinese people living in abject poverty rose last year for the first time in a quarter of a century.

According to official figures, 800,000 Chinese citizens fell into abject poverty last year, with incomes of less than $77 a year.

State-run newspapers said natural disasters were to blame for the surge.

The figures show that the gap between urban and rural incomes is also widening, with China's economic reforms benefiting some more than others.

China's economic boom may be making headlines, but behind the glitzy new skyscrapers an old phenomenon is rearing its ugly head.

Poverty has increased in China for the first time since the economic reforms began 25 years ago.

Given the country's long history of peasant rebellions, China's rulers are well aware of the potential for social unrest. They have pledged to narrow the wealth gap and have declared war on poverty.

But experts say the poor are scattered more widely than before, making poverty alleviation more difficult and expensive.

China boasts that it has lifted more than 220 million people out of absolute poverty in the last 25 years, but many of the methods it has used to achieve this - such as implementing the one child policy - are only possible in an authoritarian political system.

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