By Associated Press
CHENGBEI GAN’EN, China (AP) — Under a portrait of President Xi Jinping, Ashibusha sits in her freshly painted living room cradling her infant daughter beside a chair labeled a “gift from the government.”
The mother of three is among 6,600 members of the Yi ethnic minority who were moved out of 38 mountain villages in China’s southwest and into a newly built town in an anti-poverty initiative.
Farmers who tended mountainside plots were assigned jobs at an apple plantation. Children who until then spoke only their own tongue, Nuosu, attend kindergarten in Mandarin, China’s official language.
“Everyone is together,” said Ashibusha, 26.
While other nations invest in developing poor areas, Beijing doesn’t hesitate to operate on a more ambitious scale by moving communities wholesale and building new towns in its effort to modernize China. The ruling Communist Party has announced an official target of ending extreme poverty by the end of the year, ahead of the 100th anniversary of its founding in 2021.
The party says such initiatives have helped to lift millions of people out of poverty. But they can require drastic changes, sometimes uprooting whole communities. They fuel complaints the party is trying to erase cultures as it prods minorities to embrace the language and lifestyle of the Han, who make up more than 90% of China’s population.
At a time when the party faces protests by students in China’s northern region of Inner Mongolia over plans to reduce the use of the Mongolian language in schools, officials want to show they are sensitive to minority cultures.
They invited reporters to visit Chengbei Gan’en and four other villages — Xujiashan, Qingshui, Daganyi and Xiaoshan — that are part of what authorities see as a successful development project for the Yi in Liangshan Prefecture in Sichuan Province.
The initiative is one of hundreds launched over the past four decades to spread prosperity from China’s thriving east to the countryside and west.
Mass relocations still are carried out because some mountainous and other areas are too isolated, said Wang Sangui, president of the China Poverty Alleviation Research Institute of Renmin University in Beijing.
“It is impossible to solve the problem of absolute poverty without relocation,” he said.
In Sichuan, which includes some of China’s poorest areas, 80 billion yuan ($12 billion) has been spent to date to relocate 1.4 million people, according to Peng Qinghua, the provincial party secretary. He said that included building 370,000 new homes and over 110,000 kilometers (68,000 miles) of rural roads.
In Chengbei Gan’en, 420 million yuan ($60 million) was spent to build 1,440 apartments in 25 identical white buildings, a clinic, a kindergarten and a center for the elderly.