China’s poverty crisis goes deeper than news headlines.

When you hear about China in the news today, you hear about their booming economy. You hear about the current state of diplomatic relations with the United States.

You hear half of the story.

While China’s economy is indeed booming in the major cities, China is a drastically divided country.

There is urban China and rural China.

And the difference couldn’t be more dramatic.

Rural China Is Left Behind

Here’s an example.

The economy in Maluk is not booming.

Maluk is a rural village about 50 miles from Kunming, China, where jobs are plentiful, and the residents have access to quality education and healthcare.

Instead of enjoying the booming economy of Kunming, the villagers in Maluk are isolated in poverty. It’s almost as if the villagers are in a different country.

map of china showing Kunming

Rural Chinese villages are cut off geographically by soaring mountain ranges and lack of infrastructure (roads, power, water). These rural communities are also cut off politically, though.

China’s political system is largely based on regional governments to manage and provide the constitutionally-provided rights like education and healthcare. These local governments also have a significant role in the economic development.

Unfortunately, the regional governments in rural areas have not been as effective as those in urban areas.

Rural China commonly lacks many of the rights and privileges afforded to urban China. The results look like this:

Ultimately, rural China is home to more people living in poverty than the entire population of the United States.

The Poverty Crisis In Rural China

The World Bank estimates 150M Chinese live below the poverty line.

A Chinese official speaking on the condition of anonymity estimated there are over 82M Chinese living on less than $1/day in 2014.

Reliable statistics on China’s population are tough to verify because of how vast the country is. China is the fourth largest country in land mass with over 5.9M square miles of land and has the largest population with over 1.3B people.

China is also known to be very protective of their public image, controlling the flow of information – not uncommon for communist governments.

Based on our trips to rural China and 30-plus years of working with local leaders in rural China, we think the poverty stats are closer to what Wei Shangjin, chief economist of the Asian Development Bank, describes.

In a 2014 article, Shangjin concluded that there are over 400M Chinese living in poverty. He adjusted his numbers based on real-world conditions and reasonable living requirements.


But, the study shows that the traditional $1.25 per day measurement for poverty does not fully capture the extent of extreme poverty in Asia, Wei explained. The “poverty level is defined in terms of the minimal requirements necessary to afford minimal standards of food, clothing, health care and shelter”, he said.

“Three additional elements should be considered in the poverty picture: the cost of consumption specific to the poor in Asia; food costs that rise faster than the general price level; and vulnerability to illness, natural disasters, climate change, economic crisis and other shocks,” said Wei.

Rural China is drastically different that urban China.

There Biggest Opportunity To Change The World

The Chinese government has focused part of their national efforts on poverty alleviation. According to self-reported numbers, they have been effective.

The enormity of the Poverty Crisis is just too large for a government initiative to solve.

Rural China represents the biggest opportunity to change the world today. No other country has a combination of a population living in poverty and restriction of aid.

You see water projects in Africa and schools being built in the Philippines because those countries have a need but are also easily accessible by outside organizations.

Some of the largest charities in the world aren’t able to work in China because they don’t have the local relationships.

Project Partner has those relationships.

If you want to change the world and have a heart for the Chinese people,¬†we want you on our team. Sign up for the email list to get stared. It’s the best way to get news about what’s going on, updates on projects, and opportunities to help.

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