By Jesús Centeno
Liangshan, China, Sep 23 (efe-epa).- After being relocated from an inhospitable mountainous area in China’s Sichuan province, Tibetan farmer San Gujijin was not surprised to find himself in front of an omnipresent portrait of President Xi Jinping in the living room of his new home.
He also did not think that it would be so difficult for him to adapt to a new life in the community, away from the place he was born, but a few months later he began to see the positive side.
Now he is comforted to have left his battered home, he no longer has to worry about the rains and has gone from growing potatoes to working as a manager in an agricultural cooperative alongside his neighbors.
“Before, we lived in isolation. We have all been through the same thing and that has made us stronger,” says San from his new home in Qingshui village, where the Chinese government invested about 15 million yuan ($2.2 million) to provide “safe housing” for those it deems disadvantaged.
Local authorities hope that this town will lift itself out of poverty this year – when residents’ income reaches 5,000 yuan ($736) per year – under the huge ambitious project with which China aims to end the misery still present in many rural areas of the country.
In the past four decades, Beijing has officially lifted more than 800 million people out of poverty on the back of economic reforms. Its contribution to the world economy has gone from 1.5 percent to the current 15.4 percent, and GDP per capita has multiplied by almost 65.
However, the standard established in 2011 by the Chinese government considers poor residents in rural areas those whose income does not exceed $1.2 dollars a day – in contrast to the $1.9 established by other international institutions – and those who do not have “basic access” to housing, food, clothing, health, education and drinking water.
At the end of 2019, only around 0.6 percent of the population, 5.5 million people, lived below this threshold, according to statistics verified by the United Nations Development Program.
A NEW LIFE
“From poverty to prosperity. The unremitting efforts of Chinese Communist Party officials have brought about wonderful changes,” reads a banner with a red background at the entrance of Chengbei Gan’an village, where 1,400 apartments have been built to accommodate 6,660 relocated people.
One of its residents recalls a time when “you had to walk barefoot because there were no shoes,” when you ate what was grown and the rest was obtained through bartering.
Young Axiwusha, 26 and with her child in her arms, emphasizes that the community has a school, a health center and another center for the elderly, something “unthinkable” a few years ago.
Both she and her family belong to the Yi ethnic group, the majority in Liangshan prefecture, where there are still 178,000 officially poor people of the 200,000 who live in Sichuan.
She shares a home with her sisters and their families: 11 people under the same roof. Axiwusha takes care of her three children. Her husband, who works in the city, visits the village once or twice a year.
“I don’t know why we moved here, it just happened. They decided that we couldn’t live in the mountains under those conditions. We also received a subsidy from the government,” she says.
Villagers do not understand how authorities process the policies, but say they will stop being poor after the implementation of projects ranging from relocations to improving road infrastructure, promoting eco tourism and launching vocational training programs that will bring more jobs.
From the gestures and expressions of Axiwusha – attentively watched by half a dozen local officials – it is possible to suspect that the residents’ choice about their relocation was limited.
Local official Dong Jiaoqi said relocations are necessary so that they have access to “water, food and a safe roof” and can “progress.” The official said now “all children can go to school and everyone enjoys basic health care.”
“We do not force anyone to be relocated. And the government subsidizes many of the costs. We try to persuade them with the idea that it is the best thing for their lives, but it is a challenge. There are people who do not want to move, but we respect their decision,” he said.