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Center on Chinese Education


Education and Poverty Reduction in China

Education and poverty reduction is an important theme of activities undertaken by the Center on Chinese Education, Teachers College Columbia University. This site describes CoCE projects and provides additional information on poverty reduction in China.

It is widely recognized that China has made substantial progress in economic development since the implementation in 1978 of the twin policies of reform and opening up to the outside world.  In the two decades since 1978, national output has increased by five folds and average per-capita income quadrupled.  Accompanying the rapid growth of the national economy was an astounding achievement in the reduction in absolute poverty in rural China.  Based on the government's standard of absolute poverty ($.6 per person per day, in constant 1985 purchasing power parity dollars), the incidence of absolute poverty in rural China declined from 260 million in 1978 to 42 million in 1998.  But the size of the poor population remains large.  In fact, according to the international standard of absolute poverty ($1.0 per person per day), there were still 106 million poor people in rural China at the end of 1998.

Rapid growth of the national economy was accompanied by highly uneven economic development across different regions of the country, with the western region lagging far behind the eastern and central regions.  Income inequality has widened over time.  For example, the GINI coefficient (with a possible range between 0 for perfect equality, and 1 for perfect inequality) increased from .29 in 1981 to .42 in 1995.  Thus, it is not surprising to find that most of the poor in China today are concentrated in the rural areas of western provinces, particularly within remote and mountainous townships. 

In 1994, the Chinese government launched a poverty-reduction initiative under the "8-7 Plan" with the major objective of raising per-capita income to 500 yuan (in 1990 prices) within seven years.  This plan targets 592 designated poverty counties in the country.  Poverty reduction, especially in China's west, remains a formidable challenge today.

Selected studies on poverty in China

  • World Bank (2001).  Overcoming rural poverty .  Washington, DC: Country Study Report Number 22137, the World Bank.
  • Chen, S. & Wang, Y.  (2001). China's growth and poverty reduction- trends between 1990 and 1999.  Washington, DC: Policy Research Working Paper Number WPS2651, the World Bank.

Nationally-designated Poor Counties in China

Map of Nationally-designated Poor Counties in China

This is a collaborative research project between Teachers College and Peking University, co-directed by Professor Mun Tsang and Professor Weifang Min.  The project seeks to document challenges in the financing of compulsory education in rural China and explores strategies for addressing these challenges, particularly the use of a substantial and regularized scheme of intergovernmental grants.  The project is funded by the Ford Foundation.

Some examples of the analyses can be found in the publications listed in Series A of the Publications section of the website of CoCE. This list will be updated periodically.  For inquires about this project, contact Professor Mun Tsang (

This is a pilot project to provide financial assistance to children from poor households in Yunnan to enable them to go to primary school.  Directed by Professor Mun Tsang, the project is a collaborative effort between the Center on Chinese Education, Teachers College Columbia and the Education Society of Yunnan.

The project runs from September 2002 to July 2005.  The five poorest towns in Xundian County, Yunnan (He Kou, Dian Sha, Jin Yuan, Liu Xiao, and Lian He) have been identified for participation in this project.  Up to 5,100 student assistantships will be provided to eligible children in these towns during the project period.  Each student assistantship covers the private costs of miscellaneous school fees, textbooks and workbooks, and stationery.  The primary criterion is the income level of the concerned households (roughly below 400 yuan or US$50 per-capita per year in household net income) and children will be identified by principals and teachers of the project primary schools.

This project is made possible by a generous grant from the Schulz Charitable Foundation.  The entire grant will be distributed as student assistantships to children in Xundian County.  Both the Center on Chinese Education and the Education Society of Yunnan serve as volunteers and charge no fee for implementing the project.  Project fund goes from Teachers College to a special account of the Education Society of Yunnan and then to the project primary schools.  The fund will not be mixed with the education budget of the different levels of government in Yunnan.  The principals in project primary schools will use the fund to help selected children pay the private costs of schooling. The children and their families will not receive the fund directly so that they will not be able to use the fund for non-intended purposes.

For each selected child, a form will be filled out to provide basic information about the child and his/her family.  After receiving the assistantship, both the school principal and the child will sign the form.  Two copies of the signed form will be kept, one at the school and the other in the headquarters of the Education Society of Yunnan.  The Education Society of Yunnan will conduct periodic and random monitoring of the distribution of project fund; it will submit an annual report to the Center on Chinese Education.  The Center on Chinese Education can also conduct occasional project monitoring on its own.

This site will be updated periodically to provide additional information on the project.  For further inquires, interested parties are welcome to contact the Project Assistant,  Mr. Yanqing Ding (, 212-678-3814.

About Xundian County: Xundian is a Hui-Yi autonomous county located about 150 km northeast of Kunming, the provincial capital of Yunnan.  It is a nationally-designated poor county in China, with an average per-capital rural net income of 1,252 yuan in 2001.  98% of its total area of 3,598 square-km is hills and mountains.  Major agricultural products include corn, wheat, and potatoes.  At the end of 2001, the county had a total population of 496,000.   21.8% (about 108,000) of the total population were ethnic minorities, including the Hui, Yi, Miao, and other groups.  In 2002, the county has a total student enrollment of 91,126 in 474 schools (including teaching points) at various levels.  At the primary level, there are 438 schools (including teaching points) with 55,845 students.  47.1% of the students are female and 21.2% are ethnic minorities.  Xundian has 11 towns and 6 townships.  Uneven economic development within the county is reflected by large variation in per-capital rural net income among residents of the 17 towns/townships.  The provincial government of Yunnan has decided to concentrate its poverty-reduction effort at the five poorest towns/townships within the county: He Kou, Dian Sha, Jin Yuan, Liu Xiao, and Lian He. Please visit the Center Staff Visiting Xundian County.
List of Xundian educators who made significant contribution towards the successful completion of the project

序 号

姓  名

性  别



所   在   单   位


马 金 华

汉 族

局  长



龙    江

汉 族




保 德 贵

汉 族




余 乔 留

汉 族

科  员



李 学 平

汉 族




李 金 所

汉 族

专  干



王 应 满

汉 族

教  师



马 仲 林

回 族




李 慧 仙

汉 族

教  师



普 德 荣

彝 族

教  师



李 从 金

汉 族

教  师



杨 家 寿

汉 族

教  师



李 周 茹

汉 族

教  师



张 兴 华

汉 族

校  长



马 兴 川

汉 族

专  干



李 永 奇

汉 族

校  长


Xundian educators with representatives from the Center on Chinese Education and Yunnan Education Society

Center on Chinese Education-Dr. Tsai Yen-Ping College Scholarship Project

With the support of the Yunnan Department of Education, the Center on Chinese Education and the Yunnan Education Society jointly organize the Dr. Tsai Yen-Ping College Scholarship Project to expand the opportunity for college education for female students from poor, rural, and minority backgrounds in Yunnan province. In this project that runs from 2005-2010, 22 five-year full college scholarships (covering college tuition, living expenses, and school supplies) will be provided to academically-qualified female minority high-school graduates in two nationally-designated poor counties (Ning-Lang Yi-Minority Autonomous County, and Xi-Meng Wa-Minority Autonomous County).  These scholarships enable the recipients to attend Yunnan Normal University, which they will otherwise not be able to attend because of poverty.  Upon graduation from college, the recipients will return to their hometown to serve as secondary-school teachers, for a period of at least three years.  After serving as teachers for two years, these recipients will be eligible to apply for funding for a four-month visit to Teachers College the following year.  Three recipients will be selected, based on their teaching performance.  The Center on Chinese Education will organize the four-month professional-development activities in New York for these three recipients. 


Please refer to the introduction of Yunnan College Scholarship Project.

The list of female students supported by the program in 2005 and 2006 Dr. Tsai Fund

  • World Bank (1999). China - Western poverty reduction project: Project .  Washington, DC: Project Appraisal Document Number 18982, the World Bank.
  • World Bank (under preparation). Basic education project in China's west .  Washington, DC.
  • World Bank's website on poverty reduction