Designation of Poor Counties

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Since almost all of poverty reduction funds had to go to the nationally

designated poor counties before they could be used for anti-poverty

projects or by poor households, the process and accuracy of poor county

designation had a critical effect on targeting effectiveness. Poor county

designation began in 1986 when the newly established Leading Group for

Poverty Reduction (LGPR) under the State Council designated 258 poor

counties in 17 provinces and autonomous regions. The original criteria for

being selected as a national poor county was that the average net income

per capita of all rural residents within the county should be less than

150 yuan. However, different treatment was given to different counties.

Revolutionary bases, where the Communist Party and its army were active

in the revolutionary era, minority counties and pastoral areas, received

preferential treatment. In some of these areas per capita net income could

be as high as 300 yuan and they still received poor county designation. Of

the original 258 poor counties, in only 83 was the per capita net income

of rural households below 150 yuan, in 82 it was between 150 and 200

yuan and in a further 93 it was between 200 and 300 yuan. The fact that

per capita incomes in only a third of the counties were under the original

LGPR income line of 150 yuan showed that the selection of poor counties

was highly political. In 1987 an additional 13 counties in old revolutionary

areas and two other counties were added to the list of poor counties. In

1988 27 pastoral and semi-pastoral counties were also designated as national

poor counties to give a total of 328 counties.1 Shaanxi, Gansu, Yunnan,

Guangxi and Sichuan had the greatest number of poor counties, while

Gansu, Ningxia, Shaanxi, Qinghai and Guangxi had the highest proportion

of their population designated as poor (see Table 4.3).

The central government also required that all provinces and autonomous

regions designate their own poor counties and that these counties be

supported with provincial funds. By 1988 370 counties had been designated

as provincial poor counties. In 1989, Hainan was made a separate province

from Guangdong and three counties in Hainan province were added to the

list of national poor counties. Subsequently, there were no major changes

in the list of poor counties until 1993.

In 1993, as part of the preparation for the Eight-Seven Poverty Reduction

Plan, adjustments were made to the list of state-designated poor counties.

Despite the estimated decrease in the national rural poor (using the offi cial

poverty line) from 125 million in 1985 to 80 million in 1993, the number

of state-designated poor counties was increased from 331 to 592 (see Table

4.4). The LGPR defi ned a per capita net income for rural households of

less than 300 yuan in 1990 as the standard for selecting new poor counties.

Table 4.3 National and provincial poor counties, 1988

Province National poor counties Provincial poor counties

Number Percent of rural Number Percent of provincial

population rural population

North

Hebei 14 9.4 35 21.5

Henan 15 11.7 9 7.8

Shandong 9 9.9 5 4.4

Northeast

Liaoning 3 6.9 8 13.4

Jilin – – 11 15.2

Heilongjiang – – 6 9.0

Northwest

Inner Mongolia 16 23.9 24 34.8

Shanxi 14 13.8 21 11.6

Shaanxi 34 27.4 12 13.9

Ningxia 8 53.5 – –

Gansu 31 47.5 12 16.0

Qinghai 10 36.3 10 48.7

Xinjiang 17 20.1 13 26.3

Yangtze River

Zhejiang 3 2.3 – –

Anhui 9 14.8 8 11.2

Jiangxi 17 23.4 39 44.6

Hubei 13 15.1 24 20.6

Hunan 8 5.4 20 17.7

South

Fujian 14 19.1 2 1.1

Guangdong 4 4.5 27 20.6

Hainan – – – –

Southwest

Guangxi 23 18.0 25 19.5

Sichuan 21 12.3 30 18.0

Guizhou 19 29.6 12 12.5

Yunnan 26 20.5 15 11.9

Tibet – – – –

Total 328 12.6 370 13.9

Source: Calculated from data in Offi ce of the Leading Group for Economic Development

in Poor Areas (1989); and SSB (1989).

Table 4.4 National poor counties, 1993 and 2001

Province National poor counties 1993 National poor counties 2001

Number Rural pop. Percent of Percent of Number Rural pop. Percent of Percent of

in poor provincial pop. in poor in poor provincial pop. in poor

counties rural pop. counties counties rural pop. counties

(million) (million)

North

Hebei 39 16.6 31.2 8.3 39 11.6 21.5 5.8

Henan 28 16.8 22.0 8.4 31 20.9 26.6 10.6

Shandong 10 6.8 9.4 3.4 – – – –

Northeast

Liaoning 9 3.5 15.4 1.7 – – – –

Jilin 5 0.9 5.8 0.4 8 1.1 7.6 0.5

Heilongjiang 11 2.2 12.1 1.1 14 2.7 14.2 1.4

Northwest

Inner Mongolia 31 6.8 47.9 3.4 31 6.0 44.0 3.0

Shanxi 35 5.9 26.2 3.0 35 5.4 23.2 2.7

Shaanxi 50 12.0 43.77 6.0 50 11.8 43.0 6.0

Ningxia 8 2.0 55.8 1.0 8 2.2 55.0 1.1

Gansu 41 11.9 62.1 6.0 43 13.1 64.4 6.6

Qinghai 14 1.4 43.5 0.7 15 2.0 59.8 1.0

Xinjiang 25 3.0 35.8 1.5 27 4.1 44.0 2.1

144

Yangtze River

Zhejiang 3 0.8 2.3 0.4 – – – –

Anhui 17 15.6 31.8 7.8 19 16.4 32.2 8.3

Jiangxi 18 7.9 25.1 4.0 21 9.1 28.4 5.0

Hubei 25 11.5 28.3 5.8 25 11.0 27.9 5.6

Hunan 10 6.1 11.5 3.1 20 9.7 17.9 4.9

South

Fujian 8 2.1 8.0 1.0 – – – –

Guangdong 3 0.8 1.4 0.4 – – – –

Hainan 5 0.6 13.8 0.3 5 0.6 11.5 0.3

Southwest

Guangxi 28 7.7 20.0 3.9 28 8.2 20.4 4.1

Sichuan 43 19.3 20.6 9.7 36 13.1 18.9 6.6

Chongqing – – – – 14 9.6 39.4 4.8

Guizhou 48 16.8 57.5 8.4 50 19.1 60.5 9.7

Yunnan 73 20.1 61.1 10.1 73 20.5 59.3 10.4

Tibet 5 0.2 10.6 0.1 – – – –

Total 592 199.2 23.49 100.0 592 198.22 30.53 100.0

Note: pop. is population.

Source: Calculated from SSB (1994) and NBS (2003b).

Now 326 counties conformed to this standard. At that time as poor counties

enjoyed various allowances and preferential access to resources, the idea

of dropping counties from the new list met with strong opposition. The

result was that few were removed from the list, while many new ones were

added.

The revision of the list of poor counties in 1993 must be considered

progressive, since it was made on the basis of the poverty line recommended

by the National Bureau of Statistics, with the result that many previously

neglected poor counties were added. In some poor provinces and autonomous

regions, previously province-designated poor counties were changed into

state-designated national ones, and no additional provincial poor counties

were selected. The readjustment created the greatest benefi t for Yunnan,

Guizhou, Hebei provinces and the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region.

The proportion of the total rural population living in poor counties in

the three latter areas rose by 20 per cent, and in Yunnan by 40 per cent.

Coastal provinces, such as Fujian, Guangdong, Shandong and Zhejiang saw

a falling share of their population covered as a result of the readjustment.

The proportion of poor county rural population in Fujian, for example,

was reduced by 11 per cent.

After the government announced in early 2001, when the Eight-Seven

Poverty Reduction Plan was completed, that basically the problem of

absolute poverty had been resolved, the national poverty reduction strategy

entered a new stage.2 To refl ect the changes in the poverty situation in

different regions and to focus on poverty problems of inland provinces

and autonomous regions, the LGPR readjusted the poor county list once

again in 2001, renaming these as ‘key poverty reduction counties’. The total

number of national poor counties was still kept at 592, while the distribution

of poor counties further shifted to the central and western provinces. All

the poor counties in the coastal region designated in 1993 were eliminated

from the new national poor county list, as the provincial governments in

the coastal regions were assumed to take full responsibility for poverty

reduction within their jurisdiction.