On the Chinese Internet, a video showing what groceries a retired woman could buy for 100 yuan (roughly $14.50), her pension or sole source of income each month. The video has been deleted.
A Chinese singer expressed the frustration of young educated Chinese regarding their dire financial situation and grim job prospects. He sings, 'I wash every day my face but my pockets are cleaner than my faces'. I went to college not to provide meals, but to revitalize China. His social media accounts and song were banned.
Last year, a migrant worker who was working to support his family received widespread sympathy and attention after he tested Covid positive. Officials released detailed details about his movements. He was known as China's hardest worker. Censors stopped discussions about him and local authorities stationed themselves outside his home to prevent journalists visiting his wife.
China claims to be a socialist nation that strives for common prosperity. In 2021, Xi Jinping declared a 'comprehensive victory in the fight against poverty'. Many people are still poor or barely above the poverty level. The government is becoming more and more angry about poverty as the economy of the country dims, and people are increasingly anxious about their future.
Cyberspace Administration of China (the country's Internet regulator) announced in March that it will crackdown on anyone who posts videos or posts which 'deliberately manipulate sadness, incites polarization, creates harmful information damaging the image of Party and government and disrupts social and economic development'. It bans videos that are sad.
The ban was imposed by a government that wants to maintain a positive image of China. The Communist Party boasts of how many people they have lifted out from poverty over the last four decades while refusing mention that it had plunged the entire nation into abject misery under Mao Zedong.
The party uses poverty alleviation as a badge of legitimacy. China has an inadequate social safety network despite its economic rise. The government wants to prevent any discussion about the conditions that poor people face.
On the largest news portal in China, qq.com - a search for the Chinese word "pinkun" or poverty reveals the most popular news story about a study that reveals poverty as the fourth leading cause to death in the United States. In China, the news media rarely report on poverty's systemic cause.
Hu Chenfeng was the one who recorded the footage which has been removed from Chinese internet. He had uploaded a video on popular video sites showing an elderly woman barely making $15 per month. Many social media commenters felt he revealed too much. One commenter said that the subject was untouchable on Zhihu - a similar site to Quora. One commenter wrote: 'His account has been censored because it showed how life is for many people.
In the video that has survived outside of the Chinese internet, Mr. Hu interviewed the woman on the street, a widow aged 78, in the city of Chengdu, located in the southwest. She told him she was going to buy rice because it was the only thing that she could afford. She had not eaten meat in a very long time. As she described her financial difficulties, tears rolled down her face. They walk into a supermarket. They bought flour, rice, pork, and eggs. The bill was 127 yuan (18 dollars). Mr. Hu refused to pay.
He signed off with "a heavy heart" and was also emotional.
The video has been removed from two of the largest user-generated video platforms (UGC) in China. Mr. Hu’s accounts have been suspended.
Even a Zhihu discussion thread about why the government does not allow videos about the poor has been censored. One social media user wrote in a post that there are no poor people in China because theoretically, this is not true. The thread was then deleted. "China has eradicated poverty."
Another commenter said: 'Because you can only celebrate prosperity in this society'. You have to bear all your sufferings and not post them online.
Inequality of income is a major problem in many countries including the United States. In China, rural and urban residents have the greatest wealth gap. The government's rules, which tie social benefits like schooling, health insurance and pensions to the place a person was borne, rather than their income, residence or needs, are responsible for this gap. This policy is particularly harmful to retirees.
According to a report by the government, in 2021, rural older people received an average of $27 per month as social security benefits. This pension is only about 5 percent what an average urban retiree receives.
In one of China's largest provinces, Henan - where rural residents were able to receive a higher monthly pension this year, the government increased it from $16 up to $18 - a viral video was made about senior citizens struggling to survive. Two porters in their 70s are shown unloading cement from a truck using their shoulders and hands.
During the go-go period of China's miraculous economic growth from 1990 to 2010, poverty was not a subject that attracted much attention. With the economy sputtering in China, those who have recently entered the middle class worry that they may fall into poverty. This is one of the reasons these videos were so popular.
Many of them were unaware of the extent and severity of poverty throughout the country due to propaganda and censorship.
Some people who did not know the source of the figures, such as those who were unaware of Li Keqiang's statement, referred to it as fake news. It was only after the official People's Daily contacted the State Statistics Bureau that they were able to confirm this. The official Chinese media rarely mentioned the unpalatable number again.
A second reason why poverty is viewed as a novelty by the middle class, is because local governments chase homeless people and beggars off the street. In big cities, they become invisible. Last year, a friend's daughter from Beijing asked what a beggar is. Recently, I met a 13 year old new Chinese immigrant who was horrified by the sighting of homeless people. She claimed she had never seen a homeless person in Beijing.
Beijing does not just ban beggars or homeless people from living in the city. It kicked out many low-income residents of their apartments in the winter of 2017 to rid itself of what it called "low-quality populations."
With video streamers now roaming the country in search of revealing facts to attract online attention, people can now see some of the less pleasant aspects of Chinese life. This is a reason for censorship.
The government does not want to focus on the youth unemployment rate, which it says is nearly 20 percent.
The songwriter used a literary character known as Kong Yiji to challenge the government's claim that young people are not able to find jobs because they don't try hard enough. The song was censored, and the singer had his online accounts suspended.
In turn, the official media published articles about how college graduates could earn a decent income by picking up garbage or becoming street sellers.
A commenter said that the government wanted to "deny economic recession and unemployment" and avoid accountability.
Poverty is no different. The government, by censoring online videos and discussions, is evading their responsibility to provide a basic social safety net for the poor.
In a video that was posted on a social media account other than the one blocked, Mr. Hu said, 'I shot these Videos in the Hope of Making Some Money While Pushing Our Society to Move Forward Just a Little Bit'. But I never thought that this would be prohibited.