Grassroots workers struggle under immense pressure to meet anti-poverty targets
Lijiagou, an arid township in Shanxi province, wants to eliminate poverty in five remaining villages. But for Liu Feng, head of Lijiagou’s “poverty alleviation workstation,” it has also eliminated something else. “If hair loss can lead to poverty loss, then I can’t wait to go completely bald,” Liu quipped to China News, looking older than his 40 years.
To meet poverty alleviation targets, Liu once stayed up for 48 hours, and returned to work 15 days after a car accident for which he needed surgery. Behind the anti-poverty numbers China has touted throughout domestic media this year, its deadline for eliminating poverty and achieving a “moderately prosperous society,” the pressure on grassroots-level cadres to meet these targets goes underreported.
According to China Comment magazine, a staggering 17 cadres dispatched to alleviate poverty in one unnamed county in southwestern China resigned in 2018 alone. “The closer to the grassroots level, the heavier the workload, and the fewer the people able to execute it,” one former head of the county workstation said.
In some cases, accountability measures have proven counter-productive. The state-run Xinhua News Agency reported in December 2018 that a cadre in a county in western China lost his annual bonus because of two punctuation errors he made in a booklet of reports.
Overwhelming workload has even triggered death. Liu Yongfu, head of the State Council’s Poverty Alleviation Office, estimated that over 770 poverty alleviation workers have died in the line of duty as of June 2019. According to news reports, cadres have died of natural disasters, health conditions due to overwork or harsh local conditions, car accidents on country roads, and even violent attacks by locals.
Poverty elimination is often a form-filing nightmare, exacerbated by constantly updating standards and incomplete digital registration systems. A cadre in western China told Xinhua that housing information of poor families alone needs to be input on two different apps. “There are over 200 impoverished households in the village. Cadres have to fill in their information day and night. Every day is like a battle.”
Low income is the last straw for many. A civil servant of over 20 years in southwestern China resigned last year due to his paltry salary, according to China Comment. Chen Yue, a cadre who has worked for eight years in an impoverished county in Shanxi, told South Review magazine that his monthly disposable income was just 2,000 RMB last year, with no overtime pay.
The State Council released measures last year to improve the safety of cadres, including “eliminating formalism and bureaucratism, decreasing the number of meetings, forms, and evaluations,” and “not punishing [cadres] for natural objective conditions that delay their work,” such as adverse weather or natural disasters.
Cover image from VCG
“Behind the Victory” is a story from our issue, “Rural Rising”. To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the iTunes Store.