“The Evolution of China’s Anti-Poverty Strategies” by William N. Brown

The Evolution of China’s Anti-Poverty Strategies

William N. Brown
New Channel International Education Group Limited
ISBN 978-9811972805
Reviewed by Lee Barckmann for Reader Views (12//2022)

(Full disclosure – this reviewer taught English in Xian and Beijing for three years in the mid-80s).

“The Evolution of China’s Anti-Poverty Strategies” is a collection of 20 stories about Chinese people who have risen from poverty to have successful careers. The stories are told through interviews with Professor Brown, an American business professor at Xiamen University in Fujian province. Brown has taught in China since the late 80s.

The motifs of the stories usually begin with accounts of how bad life used to be in China before the economic boom that took off in the 1990s. Life was difficult then when compared with the West. Basic amenities such as regular water or electrical services were often lacking or restricted. Travel was difficult, opportunities for advancement rare, and medical, educational and other services were backward or non-existent.

But, the motif of Anti-Poverty continues, through hard work, an optimistic attitude about life, and most of all, the policies promoted by the Party and leader Xi Jinping have led to a better life for most people. The stories tell of how these improvements, combined with hard work, have led to monumental advancements in the quality of life for Chinese people in general and the subjects of the stories in particular.

While the individual accounts Dr. Brown writes are undoubtedly (mostly) true, and the stories his subjects tell seem authentic and heart-felt, the book as a whole is pure propaganda. Brown recounts in the preface how Xi Jinping began his career in Fujian, and how he often visited the farming cooperatives, and even worked in the fields with the people. Chairman Xi will be mentioned glowingly many times in the stories.

And how will China solve its many social problems?”

President Xi Jinping is very smart,” Yunguang said. “He has many ideas that are obviously correct. One is the Chinese Dream; another is the Belt and Road Initiative. The Chinese Dream is to let us all have goals and to once again be the world’s No.1 as we were during the Tang, Song, and Ming dynasties. We have 5,000 years of unbroken history, and our self-reliance will allow us to become No.1 again. In addition, the Belt and Road Initiative is using Chinese methods to positively influence the world….”

It is important to understand propaganda (宣传 xuānchuán) is not a pejorative concept in the People’s Republic of China. It is considered patriotic to spread praise of the government (and this concept predates Communism). And in producing it, the writer/propagandist is under no obligation to point out countering views or examine cracks in the glossy accounts.

It is undeniable, (and witnessed up close by this reviewer) that China has advanced economically and socially very quickly, and the progress has been spread to almost all sectors of society. But the questions of why conditions were so bad before, or aspects of the darker sides of that progress, are not mentioned or considered at all. The stories of these people, who have suffered and struggled only to eventually prosper, are all positive and uplifting. And it’s not a bad read. Dr. Brown writes well and provides vivid details of his journeys and the surroundings (including photos of himself and the subjects together). They remind me a little bit of mid-century profiles in American Reader’s Digest stories.

Dr. Brown gives us a vibrant picture of the personalities and histories of his subjects, all of whom are now retired or near retirement, and who often have a connection to Xiamen University where Dr. Brown taught. It depicts many details of local conditions and is centered on rural areas far outside of Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and other prosperous Chinese cities.

The recurring theme is that because of the “good policies” of the Communist Party, China is now a great place to live. It is not a story we hear much in the West now. But to understand China today, you should know how the Party wants China to be seen. The clearly stated goal of the Anti-Poverty stories is to tell China’s story in a positive light.

 To quote Professor Brown,  “As Xi Jinping said 20 years ago when he was our Fujian governor, ‘We need to do a better job of telling China’s story because Chinese have come to know the world but the world still doesn’t know China.’”

It is certainly not the whole story, but it is an important part of the story of China today.

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