Dimensions of Poverty in China

Project outline

While policy attention in China has focussed on extreme income poverty in rural areas, poverty in its many forms is also found in China’ modern cities.  Drawing on the words of people experiencing poverty, this research describes what poverty is like in urban China today.

While China has succeeded in dramatically reducing income poverty, it is increasingly recognized that poverty is multidimensional.  Moreover, all countries are expected under the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals to halve poverty in all its dimension by 2030 ‘according to national definitions’.  However, there is little agreement, either in China or elsewhere, as to what the dimensions should be.

Therefore, qualitative research was undertaken in Guizhou Province China in 2019 to identify the dimensions of poverty through discussion with people with direct experience of poverty.  

Forty-two people participated in one of five extended creativity groups that met for up to 12 hours over two days.  One group comprised people on middle incomes, the others, people in poverty, a substantial minority of whom were functionally illiterate.

Creative discussion group in Guizhou Province, China


Eight dimensions of poverty were identified in addition to low income and poverty duration: lacking decent work; material deprivation; physical suffering; emotional suffering; social abuse and exclusion; institutional injustice; powerlessness; and struggle and resistance.  If replication confirms these dimensions, indicators should be developed to enable multidimensional poverty to be adequately measured and anti-poverty policies better evaluated.


Professor Robert Walker discusses the multiple dimensions of poverty & how the task of poverty alleviation in China is still not over, with China Talk.