China 2098: Tarim Hunan Section -– Ruoqiang Pumping Station (中国2098:塔里木湖南段——若羌泵站), 2019-2022. Credit: Fan Wennan.

The Battle Against Poverty: An Alternative Revolutionary Practice in China’s Post-Revolutionary Era

Li Xiaoyun

Yang Chengxue

Li Xiaoyun (李小云) is a distinguished professor at the College of Humanities and Development Studies as well as honorary dean of the China Institute for South-South Cooperation in Agriculture and the College of International Development and Global Agriculture, at China Agricultural University. His research is focused on poverty, rural development, and international development.

Yang Chengxue (杨程雪) is a PhD student in the College of Humanities and Development Studies at China Agricultural University. Her doctoral research is focused on gender issues in rural China and explores the depth and necessity of women’s participation in rural governance.

‘The Battle Against Poverty: An Alternative Revolutionary Practice in China’s Post-Revolutionary Era’ (脱贫攻坚:后革命时代的另类革命实践) was originally published in Wenhua Zongheng (文化纵横), issue no. 3 (June 2020).

The end of an era of radical revolution does not mean that revolution becomes relegated to memory. As globalisation continues to expand, countries governed by revolutionary parties face the challenge of completing unfinished revolutionary missions. In the current era, the Communist Party of China (CPC) has highlighted the importance of ‘remaining true to our original aspiration and founding mission’ (不忘初心, 牢记使命, bùwàng chūxīn, láojì shǐmìng); this is not merely a rhetorical nod to the past, but rather an ideological basis for the party’s concrete action to maintain its revolutionary character in the new political and economic context.[1] This concrete action has been primarily focused on the issue of poverty alleviation.

Since 2012, poverty alleviation has been elevated to a central task for the whole party and society, with the party’s general secretary personally responsible for its completion. The party’s poverty alleviation strategy evolved from its conventional techno-bureaucratic approach to the ‘battle against poverty’ (扶贫攻坚, fúpín gōngjiān), which focused on innovating institutions of governance to promote economic and social transformation. Poverty alleviation has been given a new weight in the country’s political and economic environment in the current period. The battle against poverty approach has incorporated revolutionary language and slogans, giving the social issue a sense of importance and sacredness. For example, poverty has been referred to as the ‘enemy’, poverty alleviation as the ‘battlefield’, and the struggle against poverty as the ‘hard battle’; mobilisation meetings have declared a ‘war against poverty’ and celebrated the victories in the ‘battle’; and a multitude of young cadres have been sent to the ‘battlefield’, while those who have succumbed in this ‘battle’ have been hailed as the ‘heroes who died on the battlefield’. The ‘revolutionising’ of poverty alleviation has not simply been a mass movement or social mobilisation in the post-revolutionary era; rather, it was a political and a symbolic response to the growing inequalities that had emerged in China over the course of reform and opening up – inequalities that contradicted the basic philosophy of the CPC. In other words, the CPC made a return of sorts to its historic revolutionary agenda, in the post-revolutionary era, addressing the national and global dilemma of the distribution of social wealth. This reflects a new stage of the CPC’s governance that seeks to consolidate and ‘remain true to its original aspiration and founding mission’ on the road to national modernisation.

The revolutionary discourse of the poverty alleviation campaign is, of course, metaphorical. If class enemies no longer exist, it is time to bid farewell to the revolution; but if the poverty that the revolution vowed to eliminate is still present, an ‘enemy’ of the revolution persists and an essential task of the revolution remains unfinished. In this battle, the CPC has continuously redistributed socio-economic resources towards poverty alleviation, using the political and institutional means at its disposal and transcending the shackles of the existing bureaucracy and social interest groups; this resource mobilisation is arguably the most intensive and powerful in China’s history. The CPC’s capacity to regulate the pattern of social distribution of resources through the state institutions under its leadership as well as its ability to both initiate market-oriented reform and correct its developmental disparities, demonstrates a fundamental improvement in the institutional strength and capacity of the modern Chinese state compared to the late Qing dynasty (清朝, 1840–1912) and the Republic of China (1912–1949) periods. The practical significance of the battle against poverty extends beyond the domain of economic and social development policy, and has had a broader, profound political and economic impact. However, there has been little discussion and analysis of this extensive campaign to improve the people’s livelihood, rarely seen since the beginning of reform and opening up, in terms of the historic relationship between poverty and the political practices of the CPC.

In recent years, Chinese social scientists have gone beyond their traditional focus on revolutionary themes in party history, and have launched an academic initiative to ‘bring back the revolution’.[2] Intellectual communities have started to rethink the grand narrative of traditional Chinese civilisation and begun to analyse how the political and ideological changes that have taken place in modern China have been shaped by the logic of the revolution.[3] The battle against poverty, as a ‘revolutionary form’, provides a vivid case study of the Chinese party-led state system and of how the CPC has shaped a new political tradition. This article, rather than a scholarly discussion of the meanings of revolution and post-revolution, or an evaluation of the battle against poverty, aims to use the concepts of revolution and post-revolution to discuss the importance of this revolutionised movement for the people’s wellbeing in the context of modern Chinese politics and society.

Poverty: A Thread Connecting the Stages of the Chinese Revolution

Revolution is a process of transformation that produces major political, economic, and technological changes in a society. Since the mid-nineteenth century, Chinese society has been marked by revolution during almost every stage of its history. In contrast to the ‘revolutions’ in ancient Chinese history, which saw dynastic rule continue under different royal surnames, the series of revolutions that occurred in China after the mid-nineteenth century began to break away from the traditional pattern of dynastic change, becoming linked to Western revolutionary thought and practice based on the theory of social evolution. China entered a new, revolutionary phase in its history mainly because it was no longer possible for the Qing dynasty’s ruling system to cope with external pressures and internal strife, which inevitably led to domestic resistance from political forces that were not part of the governing system, namely, a bottom-up movement based upon the collaboration of the lower and middle gentry classes, the national bourgeoisie, civil society including anti-Qing secret societies, new intellectual circles, and the Nationalist Party of China, or Kuomintang (KMT), with the New Army under its control.[4] It is important to note that the anti-Qing rebel forces that emerged in the late Qing period were completely different in composition, ideology, and practice than those forces that had spurred previous dynastic changes.

Some scholars have argued that the momentous changes that have taken place in China since the late Qing period, were simply a natural continuation of Chinese civilisation and indigenous modernity, through the self-critical and adaptive Confucian system.[5] However, there was also an external impetus for change. After the opening up of the country in the mid-nineteenth century, the huge civilisational gap in development, technology, and knowledge between China and Western capitalism began to enter the national consciousness; at the same time, Western Enlightenment ideas began to reach China, where the intellectual elite began to embrace these new world views. As the centuries-old rule of the Qing dynasty came to an end, the rebels who sought to replace it were not the traditional forces of change, but revolutionaries who, to varying degrees, understood the systemic roots of China’s ‘backwardness’. As with previous dynastic changes and crises of legitimacy in China, people’s suffering was the root cause of the crisis of Qing rule; but unlike the previous rebellions, the demands of the anti-Qing revolutionaries were formulated through dialogue with the West, a study of China’s religion and culture, and a systematic, comprehensive, and reflective examination of the country’s political, economic, and social history.

Poverty was a key thread running through the phases of the anti-Qing revolution. In 1904, the Guangxu Emperor (the tenth emperor of the Qing dynasty, ruling from 1875–1908) had issued an imperial decree stating that, ‘The only way to sustain a nation is to protect the people. In recent years, the people’s financial resources have been depleted to the extreme, and with all the provinces sharing the burden of war reparations, the people’s livelihood has become increasingly precarious’. While the emperor recognised that the people’s wealth had dried up and that they had become deeply impoverished, he failed to recognise the inability of the Qing system to cope with the internal concerns and the external threats, making it impossible to ease poverty. In contrast, the revolutionaries almost universally advocated modernisation as a solution to the country’s problem of poverty.

One of the leading intellectual figures in China’s modernisation movement, Yan Fu (严复), believed that resolving the issue of poverty was critical to China’s survival, arguing that ‘the first thing to do to save the country today is to eliminate this poverty. Only when poverty can be cured can we talk about making the nation stronger, and then steadily advance the people’s wealth, intelligence and morality’.[6] Yan Fu not only placed poverty at the centre of China’s problems, but also put forward a number of ideas on poverty alleviation, including building roads and mines – which can be regarded as a source of the popular saying of ‘building roads before getting rich’ (要想富先修路, yà o xiǎngfù xiān xiūlù) – improving education, supporting the rural smallholder economy, and developing a comprehensive strategy to tackle poverty. Meanwhile, the leader of the 1911 revolution, Dr. Sun Yat-sen (孙中山, Sūn Zhōngshān), also centred his thinking on nation-building on the matter of resolving the problem of poverty in China.[7] In Plan for National Reconstruction (建国方略, Jiànguó fānglüè), published in 1918, Sun discussed the reasons for the rise of poverty in China, and in Principles of People’s Livelihood (民生主义, Mínshēng zhǔyì), published in 1924, he proposed a governing strategy that focused on the ‘Three Principles of the People’ (三民主义, Sānmín zhǔyì) – nationalism, democracy, and ‘the people’s livelihood’ – and sought to modernise China through bourgeois revolution.[8]

Despite the revolutionaries in this period sharing the aims of eradicating poverty and achieving national prosperity and strength through modernisation, the actual practice of nation-building after the 1911 Xinhai Revolution (辛亥革命, Xīnhài gémìng) – which overthrew the Qing dynasty and led to the establishment of the Republic of China (ROC) – did not set the country on a trajectory out of poverty. As the modernisation scholar Luo Rongqu (罗荣渠) pointed out, the Xinhai Revolution had failed because a modern state was not established after the collapse of the Qing dynasty; Chinese modernisation required that a strong political force first constructed a state that was capable of the task.[9] After the Xinhai Revolution, the construction of a modern state was impeded by the existence of a plurality of local centres of power. The KMT attempted to overcome this fragmentation by leading a military campaign to reunify the country, known as the National Revolution or Northern Expedition (1926–1928), and through the centralisation of power, with party rule at its core. However, the KMT-led ROC government remained a complex and fragile arrangement that was swayed by multiple local political and military forces. In addition, the main political forces on which the government relied were in sharp class conflict with the rural population. As a result, the KMT government lacked sufficient political authority to effectively mobilise the social resources necessary for top-down modernisation. During the ROC period, progress was not made in poverty alleviation and industrialisation – the issues that the Xinhai and National Revolutions had aimed to address – and so the KMT’s rule was plunged into a crisis of legitimacy.

The organisational composition of the KMT dictated that it could not transform the basic class structure of China. Resolving the issues of poverty and modernisation in China required a political authority that was powered by the majority of society, that is, the peasantry; the establishment of this authority required a radical transformation of China’s superstructure. These factors pushed the struggle to eradicate poverty and modernise China from a reformist path to a revolutionary one. Landlords, capitalists, and feudal forces, along with the forces of imperialism, were increasingly seen as the causes of China’s poverty and backwardness, and consequently were identified as the enemies of the revolution.

In this context, the CPC came onto the political scene in modern China. Since its founding in 1921, the CPC had expressly declared its mission to transform China from a poor country into a prosperous and powerful one. The party’s early alliance with the KMT had been based on the Three Principles of the People with the equal right to land at its core. Under the leadership of the CPC, the revolution not only aimed to fulfill the unfinished tasks of the Xinhai Revolution – namely, anti-imperialism and anti-feudalism – but sought to incorporate them into the Communist Revolution.[10] Although poverty eradication and modernisation were common aspirations shared by the different revolutionary currents in modern China, which connected the Xinhai, National, and Communist Revolutions, the hope for a solution only emerged when the CPC came to power.

The Communist Party of China’s Approach to Poverty

The CPC and social reformists shared the view that China was poor and backward, however, they differed in terms of how to resolve these issues. While many historians and political scientists have studied the CPC’s grassroots mobilisations and the strategies through which it gained power, such as the united front, armed struggle, party building, and the mass line; scholars have often neglected to examine how the party sought to use its power to redefine the meaning of development and pursued a radical form of revolution to achieve modernisation.

During the early twentieth century, Chinese civil society lacked the self-organisation and power to effectively promote industrialisation, so it was necessary for the state to step in and direct the process.[11] In the ROC period, the KMT’s party-run state was unable to realise industrialisation; the necessary transformation of the Chinese state would finally be achieved through the political mobilisation of a Marxist-Leninist party, the CPC.[12] In fact, the legitimacy of the CPC, in replacing the KMT administration, was determined by its capacity to advance state-building and, consequently, modernisation. In the late 1930s, Mao Zedong (毛泽东) proposed that ‘economic construction should be at the centre of the entire work of the party and people’s organisations, and at the centre of the work of the party’s committees and governments’.[13] He also pointed out that ‘the people support the Communist Party because we represent the demands of the nation and the people. But if we fail to solve the problems, build new forms of industry, and develop productive forces, the people will not necessarily support us’.[14] In this sense, it is not difficult to understand the CPC’s consistent prioritisation of national development and pursuit of the eradication of poverty and industrialisation, as well as its motivation to launch reform and opening up.

In its early years, while developing the revolutionary struggle, the CPC carried out a series of poverty alleviation campaigns in the revolutionary base areas. These campaigns foreshadowed the developmental policies in the ‘post-revolutionary’ period, and reflected the CPC’s original intention in building a modernised state. For example, the party’s efforts in land reform, education, health care, social security, and social assistance in the Central Revolutionary Base or Jiangxi–Fujian Soviet and in the Shaanxi-Gansu-Ningxia Border Region during the 1930s and 1940s bear a striking resemblance to the party’s battle against poverty today.

First, the CPC’s two-pronged approach to resolving poverty in the Shaanxi-Gansu-Ningxia Border Region – focusing on economic backwardness and providing social assistance – shares similarities with the party’s contemporary poverty alleviation programs. In the Border Region, the party set agricultural production as the initial priority in economic construction, organising the peasants through cooperatives to improve productivity and boost rural development. Subsequently, the party enacted a progressive tax system where people from all classes – except those in dire poverty – had to pay taxes to the government, while providing rent and interest relief. Finally, the party created an institution devoted to social assistance, granting special funds for disaster relief and the resettlement of refugees from China’s civil war and the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression (1937–1945).[15] In some ways, the experience in the Border Region represented the prototype for the party’s contemporary development-oriented poverty alleviation programs, focused on improving living conditions in the long term by promoting economic development in poorer areas, and welfare-oriented poverty alleviation programs, focused on providing immediate relief and support to those living in poverty.

Second, the CPC’s development of education in the Central Revolutionary Base shares similarities with the party’s contemporary poverty alleviation efforts. After establishing the base area in 1931, the party had built primary schools in all of its townships by January 1934, providing free education to all children. Along with developing a system of compulsory education for children and youth, the CPC also carried out a large-scale adult learning campaign in the base area to eradicate illiteracy. For example, in Xingguo County, the party set up 1,900 night schools, open to all those who were illiterate under the age of 35 – women accounted for 69 percent of students.[16] During the founding of the Central Revolutionary Base, Mao had declared that everyone had an equal right to education regardless of gender, status, or identity; in addition, the constitution which governed the base area guaranteed the right of the working, peasant, and toiling masses to receive education and the implementation of a system of free, universal education.[17] China now has a nation-wide free and compulsory nine-year education system and the party continues to pursue poverty alleviation through education, focused on increasing access to education and educational resources in rural areas to block the intergenerational transmission of poverty as well as providing vocational education and skills training.

In addition, the CPC’s social assistance practices in the Central Revolutionary Base also resemble the aforementioned welfare-oriented poverty alleviation programs of today. In the base area, the party established a working people’s committee that enforced labour rights, supported unemployed workers, and provided social security, as well as various mutual aid societies. The party also set up corresponding offices that primarily worked to rescue and aid victims of war and natural disasters. This tradition, which dates back to the party’s earliest experiences in governance, continues to this day.

Regarding the campaigns to improve people’s livelihood in the Central Revolutionary Base, Mao emphasised that no one should be left behind or neglected, and that all people should be treated equally and with respect, especially the marginalised sections of the groups such as women, the elderly, and people with disabilities.[18] The battle against poverty today carries on this principle of ‘leaving no one behind’.

Despite the CPC’s view that the root causes of poverty were the exploitation of the peasantry by the feudal landlord class, the economic aggression of imperialism, and the oppression of the bureaucrat-capitalist class, following the victory of the revolution and the completion of the land reform, the party came to the sobering realisation that the fundamental conditions of poverty in the rural areas had not changed. Immediately after the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949, the CPC embarked on a process of systematic social transformation with the aim of eradicating poverty, implementing a nationwide land reform that completely destroyed the feudal land system. At the same time, recognising the importance of transforming the individual economy of smallholders, the CPC mobilised a mutual aid and cooperative movement in rural areas. Yet, in 1956, in his notes for The High Tide of Socialism in Rural China (中国农村社会主义高潮, Zhōngguó nóngcūn shèhuì zhǔyì gāocháo), Mao would write that China was still very poor and that it would take decades for China to become rich; two decades later, when Mao met Kukrit Pramoj, Prime Minister of Thailand, in 1975, he would state that ‘the Communist Party is not fearful, but what is really fearful is poverty’.[19] These examples reflect the longstanding emphasis on poverty alleviation in the political agenda of the CPC.

Throughout the Mao era, the party continued to pursue social transformation across the country and on all fronts, developing basic infrastructure in agriculture, water conservancy, transportation, education, and health care, and achieving basic industrialisation. In this sense, the period of socialist construction between the founding of the PRC and 1978, can broadly be placed within the history of, what the party now calls, development-oriented poverty alleviation.[20]

In 1978, China entered a period of market economic reform. Despite the profound changes in the CPC’s economic strategy, poverty remained central in the party’s political agenda, as Deng Xiaoping (邓小平) stated, ‘Our decades-long struggle has always had the purpose of eliminating poverty’.[21] To attain this goal, Deng argued that it was necessary to take a different approach from the previous era: ‘Our twenty years of experience from 1958 to 1976 have told us: poverty is not socialism, socialism is to eliminate poverty’.[22] Deng attempted to clarify the relationship between modernisation and poverty, putting forward creative formulations such as ‘those who get rich first bring others along’ (先富带后富, xiānfù dài hòufù),[23] introducing the concept of building a ‘moderately prosperous society’ (小康社会, xiǎokāng shèhuì) as the goal of modernisation, proposing the Three-Step Development Strategy to achieve modernisation, and setting the CPC’s ruling objective as leading the Chinese people to achieve ‘common prosperity’ (共同富裕, gòngtóng fùyù).

Although subsequent CPC leaders have continued to emphasise the party’s adherence to the goal of common prosperity, as reform and opening up has proceeded polarisation and social inequality have become increasingly serious issues amid the country’s rapid economic development. Although the CPC identified the problem of poverty at the beginning of reform and opening up and has undertaken a series of initiatives to address the issue during this period – including the development-oriented poverty alleviation campaign in the ‘three areas’ (三西地区, sānxī dìqū) in the early 1980s and the Seven-Year Priority Poverty Alleviation Program to lift 80 million people out of absolute poverty between 1994 and 2000 – it has become increasingly difficult for poor populations to escape from poverty as the inequality has soared.[24] While China has made significant achievements in modernisation, it is clear that the CPC now faces the major challenge of managing the relationship between efficiency and equity.

Prior to the revolution, China’s economy and society suffered from a long-term period of underdevelopment due to, on the one hand, the weakness of grassroots and civil society forces to drive economic development and, on the other hand, the state’s inability to advance modernisation at the national level. When the CPC came to power in 1949, it provided a new force to drive the country’s modernisation process forward and became equipped with the political, institutional, and administrative capacity to transform Chinese society, breaking the cycle of dynastic change and putting China’s national development on secure footing. However, in the post-revolutionary era, the CPC has faced challenges in regulating and distributing wealth in a society with diverse interests.

An Alternative Revolutionary Practice to Eradicate Poverty

The eighteenth CPC National Congress in 2012 marked a shift in the party’s approach, as it placed a greater weight on using its institutional strength to guide the modernisation process. As General Secretary Xi Jinping (习近平)stated at the time, ‘Eliminating poverty, improving people’s livelihood and achieving common prosperity are the essential requirements of socialism. Today, the majority of the population have seen a great improvement in their living standards, with the emergence of middle-income and high-income groups, but there are still a large number of low-income people, and it is them who really need our help’.[25] In a series of discussions on poverty alleviation work, Xi Jinping repeatedly emphasised the fundamental concept that ‘shared development is focused on addressing issues of social justice’.[26] Among CPC leaders in recent decades, Xi has raised the issue of poverty most frequently, representing the party’s increased concern for social justice issues in this new stage of development. Whereas the initial challenge that the CPC faced, in transforming from a revolutionary party to a ruling party, concerned the advancement of China’s modernisation, with an emphasis on economic development; now, having made great economic achievements, the party faces the challenge of promoting social justice to fully realise the country’s modernisation.

During the post-revolutionary era, changes in party-government relations, state-society relations, and sociocultural factors have limited the CPC’s use of revolutionary means to the distribution of social wealth. Furthermore, because the problem of poverty is structural, the normative mechanisms of techno-bureaucratic governance have been incapable of regulating the distribution. As a result, to change the pattern of distribution, the party has had to use its institutional resources and make institutional interventions, while also going beyond existing institutions through ‘revolutionary’ initiatives. This has included a self-revolution within the CPC itself, reshaping the interests of the party and the personal interests of its members. The evolution of the party’s approach, from its techno-bureaucratic strategy to the large-scale poverty eradication campaign, was not an irrational mass movement akin to the Great Leap Forward (1958–1962), but a rational movement of consensus building and mass mobilisation, an experiment to revitalise revolutionary practice and symbolism in the post-revolutionary era.

The battle against poverty has re-established the political authority of the CPC, closing the gap between the party and government that emerged amid the prioritisation of economic growth; party secretaries at all five levels of government – village, town, county, city, and province – are responsible for ensuring the success of poverty alleviation efforts assuming overall responsibility, under the direct leadership of the general secretary. The return of centralised party leadership has helped the CPC to rebuild social consensus, avoid social disorder, and manage the complex internal and external environment. In this way, the battle against poverty has had a political significance that goes far beyond the improvement of people’s livelihoods.

This impact has been particularly visible in rural areas, which is not surprising given that resolving the issue of rural poverty in China is essential to realising modernisation, building a moderately prosperous society, and advancing social justice in the country. The CPC has implemented a wide range of measures in rural areas that have broken with the techno-bureaucratic logic and the constraints of existing administrative and technical norms, allowing social justice goals to transcend the administrative process. Examples include concentrating resources on poverty-stricken areas, such as the ‘three regions and three prefectures’[27] (三区三州, sānqū sānzhōu); sending officials to poor villages to take on lead responsibilities for local poverty alleviation efforts as first party secretaries; and implementing a system of oversight to address problems in poverty-stricken counties and villages, which in some cases requires relocating people who lived in very difficult or dangerous conditions. The government has also introduced many initiatives that have simultaneously been market-oriented and also run counter to market interests, such as poverty alleviation through consumption, focused on promoting the purchase of rural goods and services to promote development; poverty alleviation workshops; and the ‘10,000 enterprises helping 10,000 villages’ (万企帮万村, wànqǐ bāng wàncūn) program, which mobilises private firms to contribute to rural poverty alleviation efforts. The CPC has been able to reset the balance between equity and efficiency by using ‘victory’ in the battle against poverty and the ‘quality of the victory’ as the standards to monitor and evaluate party and governmental work.

To complete the unfinished tasks of the revolution in the post-revolutionary era, the CPC has needed to overcome the existing normative framework of governance and the influence of interest groups that have emerged during reform and opening up. At the same time, from past experiences, such as the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976), the party is keenly aware of the need to ensure institutional stability. Altogether, the battle against poverty can be understood as an alternative type of revolutionary practice.

Concluding Remarks

The use of the term ‘post-revolutionary era’ in this paper is not an argument to abandon revolutionary concepts or practices in the age of globalisation, nor is it an argument for returning to the revolutionary practices of previous eras. The CPC identifies the current historical stage of China as the ‘primary stage of socialism’ (社会主义初级阶段, shèhuì zhǔyì chūjí jiēduàn), in which relations of production that are incompatible with the basic principles of socialism will continue to exist. Accordingly, radical revolutionary practices have lost legitimacy. However, the realisation of the revolutionary goals remains of great importance, both in the party’s theory and practice, as it manages the tension between equity and efficiency in China’s modernisation process. With the eradication of absolute poverty in 2021, China achieved its first centenary goal of building a moderately prosperous society; however, to achieve its second centenary goal of building a modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious, and beautiful, the CPC must continue this battle and confront relative poverty and inequality.[28] It remains to be seen whether the alternative revolutionary practices of the battle against poverty will fade to memory or become established as a new political tradition.


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Zhou Feizhou. ‘Differential Order Patterns and Ethical Priorities’ [差序格局和伦理本位]. Chinese Journal of Sociology [社会] 35, no. 1 (January 2015): 26–48.

Author’s Notes

1. Xi Jinping, ‘Remain True to Our Original Aspiration and Founding Mission – An Ongoing Campaign’, in The Governance of China, Vol. 3 (Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 2020).

2. Ying Xing, ‘“Bringing the Revolution Back”: Expanding New Horizons in Sociology’ [‘把革命带回来’:社会学新视野的拓展], Chinese Journal of Sociology [社会] 36, no. 4 (July 2016).

3. Zhou Feizhou, ‘Differential Order Patterns and Ethical Priorities’ [差序格局和伦理本位], Chinese Journal of Sociology [社会] 35, no. 1 (January 2015); Qu Jingdong, ‘Returning to the Historical Perspective and Reshaping the Sociological Imagination’ [返回历史视野,重塑社会学的想象力], Chinese Journal of Sociology [社会] 35, no. 1 (January 2015).

4. The New Army was a modernised armed force formed under the Qing dynasty following its defeat in the First Sino-Japanese War (1894–1895). See Chen Mingming, Politics and Modernisation in Post-Revolutionary Society [革命后社会的政治与现代化] (Shanghai: Shanghai Lexicographical Publishing House [上海辞书出版社], 2002).

5. Wang Ban, He Xiang, and Zhang Yu, ‘Discovering Enlightenment in History: Reading Wang Hui’s The Emergence of Modern Chinese Thought’ [在历史中发现启蒙——读汪晖的《现代中国思想的兴起》], Journal of Tsinghua University (Philosophy and Social Sciences Edition) [清华大学学报(哲学社会科学版)], no. 5 (2008).

6. Yan Fu, ‘Reading the New Translation of Henry George’s Social Problems’ [读新译甄克思《社会通诠》] in Collection of Yan Fu, Vol. 1 [严复集, 第1册], ed. Wang Shi (Beijing: Zhonghua Book Company [中华书局], 1986), 149.

7. Translator’s note: the pinyin translation of Dr. Sun Yat-sen’s name has been included here, as his English name does not correspond to his Chinese name, unlike, for example, Yan Fu.

8. Sun Yat-sen, ‘The First Lecture on Principles of People’s Livelihood (3 August 1924)’ [民生主义第一讲(1924年8月3日)], in The Complete Works of Sun Yat-sen, Vol. 9 (孙中山全集, 第9卷), (Beijing: Zhonghua Book Company [中华书局], 1986).

9. Chen, Politics and Modernisation.

10. Chen, Politics and Modernisation.

11. Chen, Politics and Modernisation.

12. Chen, Politics and Modernisation.

13. Literature Research Office of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China [中共中央文献研究室] The Chronology of Mao Zedong (1893–1949), Vol. 2 [毛泽东年谱(1893–1949): 中] (Beijing: Central Party Literature Press [中央文献出版社], 2013), 209.

14. Mao Zedong, Collected Works of Mao Zedong, Vol. 3 [毛泽东文集, 第3卷] (Beijing: People’s Publishing House [人民出版社], 1996), 147.

15. Ouyang Dejun, ‘The Anti-Poverty Practices of the Communist Party of China in the Shaan-Gan-Ning Border Region’ [中国共产党在陕甘宁边区的反贫困实践], Journal of Yan’an University (Social Science Edition) [延安大学学报(社会科学版)] 41, no. 4 (2019).

16. Yu Boliu and Ling Buji, Mao Zedong and Ruijin [毛泽东与瑞金] (Nanchang: Jiangxi People’s Publishing House [江西人民出版社], 2003), 317.

17. Yu and Ling, Mao Zedong and Ruijin, 317.

18. Yu and Ling, Mao Zedong and Ruijin, 317.

19. Zhao Xingsheng, ‘Poverty and Anti-Poverty: The CPC’s Expression and Practice on Rural Issues in the Age of Collectivisation’ [贫困与反贫困——集体化时代中共对乡村问题的表达与实践], Anhui Historiography [安徽史学], no. 6 (2016).

20. Li Xiaoyun, Yu Lerong, and Tang Lixia, ‘The Anti-Poverty Journey and Poverty Reduction Mechanisms in the 70 Years After the Founding of New China’ [新中国成立后 70 年的反贫困历程及减贫机制], Chinese Rural Economy [中国农村经济] 9, no. 10 (2019).

21. Aban Maolitihan, ‘The Anti-Poverty Theory and Practice of the Communist Party of China’ [中国共产党反贫困理论与实践], Studies on Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping Theories [毛泽东邓小平理论研究], no. 11 (2006).

22. Deng Xiaoping, Building Socialism with Chinese Characteristics [建设有中国特色的社会主义] (Beijing: People’s Publishing House [人民出版社], 1987), 103–4.

23. In the West, Deng Xiaoping is often miscited as only saying ‘let some get rich first’, while omitting the second part of his statement, indicating that the wealthier members of society have a responsibility to ‘bring others along’ towards the goal of common prosperity.

24. Translator’s note: the ‘three areas’ refer to Hexi and Dingxi of Gansu province, and Xihaigu of Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.

25. Xi Jinping, Excerpts from Xi Jinping’s Discourse on Poverty Alleviation [习近平扶贫论述编摘], ed. The Institute of Party History and Literature of the CPC Central Committee [中国共产党中央委员会党史和文献研究院] (Beijing: Central Party Literature Press [中央文献出版社], 2018), 3.

26. Xi, Excerpts, 9.

27. Translator’s note: the ‘three regions’ are Tibet, the Tibetan ethnic areas of Sichuan, Yunnan, Gansu and Qinghai province, and the four prefectures in southern Xinjiang (Hotan, Aksu, Kashgar, and the Kizilsu Kyrgyz Autonomous Prefecture). The ‘three prefectures’ are Liangshan in Sichuan, Nujiang in Yunnan, and Linxia in Gansu. 

28. At the eighteenth CPC National Congress in 2012, the party announced a set of developmental goals – known as the ‘two centenary goals’ – to be achieved by two significant 100-year anniversaries. The first centenary goal was to eradicate absolute poverty and build a moderately prosperous society in all respects by 2021, the centenary of the CPC’s founding in 1921; the second centenary goal is to build a ‘modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious, and beautiful’ by 2049, the centenary of the founding of the PRC in 1949.