Party chief Xi Jinping said lifting tens of millions of people out of poverty remains the biggest challenge for the new leadership in its bid to build a moderately prosperous society by 2020, state media reported.
Xi made the remarks during a visit to Luotuowan village and Gujiatai village in Baoding, Hebei province yesterday.
CCTV showed footage of Xi checking out local groceries and chatting with villagers on their brick-beds, hands on laps and shoes off, in an apparent effort to display his personal touch.
In his first trip to destitute rural areas since he took power last month, Xi also blasted widespread corruption, especially the embezzlement and misuse of funds aimed at reducing poverty.
"I am deeply unhappy and sometimes indignant over the cases that funds earmarked for poverty alleviation are intercepted, embezzled or diverted for other purposes," he was quoted as saying by Xinhua in its official Sina Weibo account.
"They are simply criminal acts, just like the embezzling of disaster relief funds. We must rein them in and resolutely probe those cases and punish those responsible," he said.
According to Xinhua, there are 128 million people in nearly 600 counties living in poverty, meaning their annual income is less than 2,300 yuan (HK$2,822).
But in Luotuowan village, located deep in the Taihang mountains in Fuping county, the average annual income is just over 900 yuan, with 428 out of 608 people - or about 70 per cent - living below the poverty line.
"The reason why I come here is to see for myself the reality of the poverty-stricken areas in the country and to think about what the party and government can do next," Xi was quoted as saying by China Central Television, which also updated his remarks on Sina Weibo throughout the trip.
"You've got to let me see what is really happening there, not some fabricated truth," he told accompanying officials.
This was an apparent reference to previous allegations that senior leaders' inspection trips to grass roots areas were often rigged by local authorities.
Xinhua said Xi braved freezing temperatures of up to minus 10 degrees Celsius and snow.
But it quoted him as saying: "I want to have a close-up look at real poverty. If I've managed to see that, it's worth the trip."
Beijing-based analyst, Professor Hu Xingdou , said Xi's visit was aimed at casting the new leaders as populists and may give hope to vulnerable people who had become discontented over the past decade.
"Despite their populist images, it remains to be seen if they can rein in local authorities and push for bolder reforms to make the system more transparent and accountable," he said.