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.

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.

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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
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