Wu Jiayu, an 88-year-old farmer from Central China’s Hunan province, never expected that Premier Wen Jiabao's work schedule would include sitting in his shabby house and asking him and his fellow villagers what the government can do to improve their livelihoods.
But over the last weekend, the unimaginable happened.
From May 25 to 27, Wen went to villages in the Xiangxi Tujia and Miao autonomous prefecture in Hunan province to study how poverty has affected local people's lives and how the government can pull them out of their economic plight.
Farmers told Wen that although starvation is no longer a problem, low incomes and a weak social security network create many challenges, such as being unable to afford the cost of treatment for serious diseases at hospitals.
Wen urged local officials to improve infrastructure to boost the local tourism industry, as well as carry out more water conservancy projects to reduce the harm caused by natural disasters.
He also stressed that the prefecture's government should work hard to expand the coverage of basic social services to more people.
"We must concentrate on enhancing the quality of medical services in community-based and village-based clinics and hospitals," he said.
In addition, he asked local authorities to improve the teaching conditions in rural schools, with more attention on improving the accommodation and dining facilities for students in remote areas.
The central and provincial governments will guarantee sufficient funds for the region to reduce poverty, Wen pledged.
The autonomous prefecture has been mapped into the Wulingyuan mountainous region, one of the 11 major battlefields against poverty in the country's latest 10-year (2011-2020) strategy on poverty alleviation and development.
Official figures showed that more than 1 million rural residents in the prefecture were poverty-stricken, and lived on an annual net income of less than 1,196 yuan ($188.5) — a national poverty line set in 2009. The prefecture's poor population is estimated to increase dramatically since the central government raised the poverty standard to 2,300 yuan last year.
The poverty reduction work remains challenging in areas inhabited by ethnic groups, said Wang Xiaolin, director of the research division of the International Poverty Reduction Center in China.
He told China Daily on Sunday that ethnic groups usually live in remote and mountainous regions with harsh natural conditions and poor traffic connections with the outside world.
As a result, these areas are often less developed with a massive population struggling with poverty.
Hampered by poor educational resources, these areas lack competitive work forces to export to urban areas, Wang said.
As most ethnic groups have unique languages or dialects, language barriers set back less-educated villagers from those ethnic groups that migrate to big cities for better-paying jobs to improve their families' lives, he explained.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao made an inspection tour to Xiangxi from May 25 to 27, conducting a survey on poverty alleviation and development work in poverty-stricken areas. Full story