Anhui Situation Analysis
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An April 2005 report (commissioned by Save the Children UK) that looks into Anhui's development with particular attention to the situation of children. By Nick Young & James Yang, 21 pages.
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Boundary changes during the Qing dynasty saw four prosperous districts of eastern
China redefined into coastal Jiangsu Province and landlocked Anhui. Anhui has been the poor relation ever since. It is still struggling to re-integrate with the booming coast, while contending with levels of poverty more commonly associated with western China. Indeed, over the last decade Anhui has been slipping towards the bottom of the UN’s ‘Human Development Index’ league table for China. In the early years of Communist rule, Anhui was seen as vulnerable to attack and difficult to defend from Nationalist insurgency or US bombing. As such it received little investment from the central government. Hefei, designated as the provincial capital in 1952, has always been overshadowed by Jiangsu’s capital, Nanjing, only 120 kilometres to the east. In 1978, Anhui played a key role in the break-up of China’s rural communes. Defying national policy, commune leaders in Fengyang County awarded private contracts on collectively owned farmland to some 18 rural households. The move was soon hailed as a success and adopted into the national reform agenda. De-collectivisation of farming spurred income growth and the development of rural industries, but Anhui soon began to lag behind the coastal provinces, which enjoyed better infrastructure and market access. Foreign direct investment (FDI) has always flowed much more readily to Jiangsu.
With few jobs at home and low incomes from farming it is not surprising that the province is a net exporter of labour. The prospering Yangtze River delta (Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Shanghai) attracts the majority of Anhui migrants, but many also go to Guangdong and Beijing. Anhui women have established a niche as housemaids in Beijing. Begging is another occupation with a high representation of Anhui migrants. Reports indicate that criminal networks manage much of this begging, exploiting children and disabled adults as charitable bait. As well as splitting families, migration can trigger child labour, as children of migrants left behind in the care of grandparents may assume responsibility for farm work. Migration was also posited as a factor in the ‘fake milk powder’ scandal that afflicted Fuyang in 2004. Children in their grandparents’ care were reported to be among the main consumers of a substandard product that caused more than a hundred deaths. Despite inflows of migrant remittances, Anhui’s GDP per capita remains well below the national aggregate. Considerable income disparity also exists within Anhui. Also huge is the disparity between government revenues in different parts of the province. This has clear and grave implications for the capacity of local governments to provide basic services – notably education. The poorer local governments are chronically indebted, and fiscal reform through a ‘fees to taxes’ pilot project has, while removing the burden for educational financing to higher levels, appears to have resulted in a net drop in the funding available for basic education at township level and below. Anhui clearly still contains pockets of stubborn poverty in the north and west. Indeed, according to one report, the number of people in abject poverty in Anhui’s 19 officially designated ‘poor counties’ increased by more than 300,000 in 2003. At the same time, even relatively prosperous areas within the province almost certainly include a number of extremely impoverished households where sickness, accident, disability or the death of family members has created a shortage of labour power.
On a brighter note, the province has begun replacing sticks with carrots in the implementation of family planning regulations. A ‘health maintenance’ allowance of CNY 5-15 per month is reportedly paid to families with one child who pledge not to have another; and in one prefecture, as part of a national pilot programme, a yearly payment of CNY 600 is made to rural families of child-bearing age that have complied with the regulations. Of growing concern, however, is an extremely high gender ratio imbalance in young children: there are almost 130 boys aged 0-4 years for every 100 girls. Sex selective abortions are the main presumed culprit, despite a regime of heavy penalties for the practice. Trade in women and children is the market response to deficits. Unfortunately, the practice is already well established in Anhui, even before the ratio imbalance has reached the population of child-bearing age. Faced with this web of social and economic problems, Anhui leaders justifiably feel that they stand in need of central government support, and were thus less than delighted by the central leadership’s Western Development Strategy (which most international donors have dutifully supported.) Having missed out on state investment during the Maoist period, and missed out again on the FDI influx during the 1980s and 90s, Anhui seemed set to miss out again when the national government began to urge both public and private investment to ‘Go West.’ Central government has, however, used the province as a pilot for reforms: not only in family planning, but also in the ‘fees-to-taxes’ reforms initiated by former Premier Zhu Rongji. Given both its historic role in rural de-collectivisation and its ‘China microcosm’ quality, Anhui is a logical choice of policy laboratory. But local leaders might have preferred an injection of cash. They are nonetheless proceeding apace with their own development programme that centres, like the Western Development Strategy itself, on communications infrastructure: more road and rail networks, in the hope of reconnecting Anhui with its neighbours, and with domestic and international markets. This may in years to come make the province more attractive to investors, and create more jobs within the province. But in the short term it will likely also facilitate the outward flow of labour and create the kind of transport hubs where street children congregate.