The central government is raising the rural poverty line. The threshold will nearly double as part of efforts to eradicate poverty in the next decade, in a move that also reflects the country's rising wealth and the erosion of consumer purchasing power.
The definition of rural poverty will cover people with annual per capita incomes of 2,300 yuan (HK$2,810) or less, up 80 per cent from the threshold of 1,274 yuan introduced last year. In 2009 the poverty line was 1,196 yuan.
The move could increase the number of people officially regarded as poor in the world's largest developing economy to about 100 million.
The new threshold is closer to the United Nations' definition of US$1.25 a day, which is equal to 2,910 yuan a year at the current exchange rate.
The announcement came at a top-level meeting to finalise a 10-year poverty alleviation programme, to end in 2020, which was attended by President Hu Jintao , Premier Wen Jiabao and other Politburo members.
Since he came to power in 2002, Hu has advocated the building of a 'harmonious society' to help those left behind by breakneck growth in urban areas by directing investment towards rural areas in the west, centre and northeast and increasing handouts to the needy.
After the phenomenal economic growth of the past three decades, material life for the general population has never been better, with more than 300 million people lifted out of poverty, an achievement hailed by the World Bank as the biggest poverty reduction effort in history and the country's greatest contribution to world development.
However, income gaps between urban and rural areas, rich and poor and different regions have been growing, pushing the Gini coefficient, a gauge of income disparity, to 0.47 in 2009 from 0.21 three decades ago, the World Bank said last year. A Gini coefficient of 0.4 is widely regarded as a 'security line', above which unequal income distribution could spur social unrest.
A government white paper on poverty reduction released this month showed that the mainland reduced the number of people living in poverty in rural regions to 26.88 million by the end of last year, down from 94.22 million a decade ago.
However, the new poverty line will make at least 100 million people eligible for government anti-poverty subsidies, Xinhua quoted experts as saying.
Speaking at the meeting, Hu called for 'greater resolve, intensified efforts, and more effective actions and measures' in poverty alleviation work 'in order to achieve the target of building a comprehensively well-off society by 2020'.
'By 2020, our general target is to ensure that the nation's impoverished will no longer need to worry about food and clothing. Their access to compulsory education, basic medical care and housing will also be ensured,' Hu said.
He pledged to reverse the current trend of a widening rich-poor gap.
Wen said the government would channel more resources into the campaign in the next decade. He said Beijing had increased spending on poverty reduction from 12.75 billion yuan in 2001 to 34.93 billion yuan last year, representing an average annual growth rate of 11.9 per cent. Spending from 2001 to last year totalled 204.38 billion yuan.