How China Became Rich? From Poverty to Prosperity – An Eyewitness Perspective
By Syed Hasan Javed
Paramount Books (Pvt.) Ltd
ISBN: 978-6-2731-0022-7
376pp.

From being a most populated and poor nation, how China became rich is a most intriguing question for the world, especially for developing countries. Diplomat Syed Hasan Javed has effectively and lucidly answered this question in his latest book, How China Became Rich? From Poverty to Prosperity — An Eyewitness Perspective.

China achieved the ‘zero poverty’ target by 2020, unlike any other country in global history. It was a long struggle that began in 1949. Toiling through many evolutionary phases and setbacks over three decades, China embarked on an upward and rapid trajectory of progress and spectacular industrial and infrastructure development from 1979 onwards.

It was blessed with sincere and dedicated leaders who learned to succeed from their monumental mistakes.

The Soviet-inspired communism model became their first phase, with centralised governance and economy. As the uplift of the common man and liberation from foreign influence in China remained elusive objectives for the first three decades, another revolution — based on a contrasting policy direction with a decentralised approach — ensued.

The empowerment of individual households, targeted ‘wealth creation’ and ‘poverty alleviation’ as central goals. Diverging from the common myth, China decided to let a few common people get rich through their innovative attitude and the promotion of entrepreneurial small and medium-sized farming and industrial ventures owned by individuals and families. The aim was to provide a sustainable source of income to every citizen, as opposed to the failed policy of reliance on state charity.

According to Dr Ashfaque Hasan Khan, quoted on the back of the book, “The IFI [International Financial Institutions] template of state charity neither achieved wealth creation nor poverty alleviation in Pakistan, which continues to move in vicious circles of poverty, indebtedness, and underdevelopment. China’s success offers major lessons for Pakistan.”

The author holds a Master’s degree in Economics and has spent about 10 years in the People’s Republic of China, first as Third and Second Secretary (1980-1987), then as Deputy Head, and Head of the Pakistani Mission from 2001 to 2003. He has authored several books on China and Southeast Asia, including Rise of China and the Asian Century, Chinese Made Easy, Chinese-English-Urdu Dictionary, and China, West and The Islamic World: The World in 2050.

In Chapter Three of the book, Javed describes the eight phases of China’s Poverty Alleviation Programme. In the first phase, from 1949 to 1957, land reforms were carried out and industries and businesses were nationalised. In the second phase, from 1957 to 1966, collectives and communes were launched. The third phase, from 1966 to 1979, was the cultural revolution period during which poverty was accentuated. In the fourth phase, 1979 to 1986, a turnaround marked Deng Xiaoping’s launching of reforms and the Open Door Policy, with an emphasis on agricultural reforms.

These reforms broke up the collectives and communes and introduced the ‘Household Responsibility System’, where farmers were leased out individual plots of land with full freedom to produce the output and sell the surplus after meeting the state quota. “These measures broke the back of rural poverty by enabling wealth creation.”

Prpsperity speaks: China’s Chongqing city skyline by night | Pic from the book
Prpsperity speaks: China’s Chongqing city skyline by night | Pic from the book

The fifth phase (1986-1993) was also known as the ‘Eight Seven’ era, ie eradicating poverty of 80 million in seven years, focused on attacking urban poverty by policies aimed at a three-pronged massive industrialisation process, for the production of consumer and light industrial goods by launching rural industrialisation and Township Village Enterprises (TVEs).

The sixth phase (1993-2000) was the era of wealth creation with inflows of foreign direct investment in Special Economic Zones (SEZs). Non-resident Chinese played an important role in this. The seventh phase (2000-2010) was the launching of the National Poverty Alleviation Programme.

The eighth and final phase (2010-2020) “was an era with a warlike strategy known precisely as Targeted Poverty Alleviation Programme, which evolved into the goal of zero absolute poverty by 2020.”

Javed describes the above phases in detail with reader-friendly historical background and relevant research data, pointing out for example, “in 1950, China’s exports of US$550 million were even less than Pakistan’s US$633 million.”

Chapter nine is dedicated to ‘Poverty Alleviation — A Case Study of Pakistan’. It is a comprehensive review of almost all past and present sectors of Pakistan’s economy and social uplift programmes, accompanied with data and graphs that are easily understandable by average readers.

He has underlined the main causes of the failure, or success, of these programmes. Javed has a propensity towards the Chinese model and an anti-Western mindset that dominates his analysis of Pakistan’s policies. Nevertheless, he builds his case objectively through the latest facts and figures and examples from other developing countries.

The China Pakistan Economic Corridor is comprehensively and critically analysed for its potential for positive contributions to investment, employment, and infrastructure development in Pakistan. It is a must-read for conscientious Pakistani politicians, bureaucrats and intellectuals.

Last but not least, the final chapter of the book is a candid and inspiring autobiographical account of the author who rose from a modest background, aptly titled, ‘The Story of My Own Journey from Relative Poverty to Relative Prosperity.’

Javed also served in diplomatic assignments at different Pakistani embassies, including those in Belgium, Mauritius, Singapore and Germany. He is associated with advisory bodies as an expert on China.

The reviewer is a freelance writer and translator.

He can be reached at mehwer@yahoo.com

Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, March 31st, 2024

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