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'Qiongren' - the poor people

By Brian Hennessy - posted Wednesday, 11 February 2009


China's Qiongren (poor people): the aged, farmers, laid-off workers, the mentally-ill, migrant workers, peasants, and the uneducated. Millions and millions of them.

Stoic and tough survivors of both communist and capitalist economic policies and promises; natural disasters (usually drought and flood, but last year an earthquake also), and life itself.

Look at their faces: no emotion. Look into their eyes: no light. Look into their hearts: no hope. Just survival ... that is enough.

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A better life? Tell me another one ... A future? More of the same ...

How do they do it?

This is all they have known. There is no change, no expectation of change, and no hope of change. They have never known anything different, and they don't know any better.

Proud, independent people, living lives that would drive us soft westerners to despair. Yet they carry on because they have to. Nobody else will help them. And there are too many of them to help anyway. Where would you begin, and what difference could you hope to make?

Life is hard. The education system favours the rich. Likewise, the health system. Everything in China costs money. Everything.

Some of their housing is an insult to humanity (despite the gleaming new apartment complexes which surround them in the big cities).

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Sure there has been some tax relief. A little for a few. A lifting of the tax-threshold for farmers, but none for the 200 million migrant workers who are building modern China brick-by-brick, who sleep on a rattan mat under a crude shelter on a building site, and who live on a humble diet of rice and green vegetables. Their cheap labour enriches others.

Sure the central government has passed a law which will allow some private property for farmers, but if history is any guide to what will happen next, these honest toilers will find that they have been ripped-off again. Local County authorities are a law unto themselves, and they control everything: from births to taxes. They employ the cops, administer the law, and suppress any dissent. Sometimes violently.

The central government is sincere in what it is trying to do for its people, and I sympathise with the difficulties it faces: the problems are many, and they are huge. Lifting so many people out of poverty has to be one of history's greatest humanitarian tasks. Who cares whether it is done democratically or not.

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About the Author

Brian is an Australian author, educator, and psychologist who lived in China for ten years. These days he divides his time between both countries.

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