China's President Xi Jinping has pledged to wipe out poverty, or annual incomes lower than 2,300 yuan, by 2020.
Researchers have warned about a growing wealth gap in rural areas.
An annual report by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) found that although the wealth gap between different regions is narrowing, inequality between different income groups is expanding.
The annual disposable income for rural residents averaged 12,363 yuan (US$1,797) last year, a 6.2 per cent increase over the previous year, but not every group of rural residents fared equally well. The annual disposable income for high-income groups increased by 9.8 per cent last year, and by 8.4 per cent for the middle-low group. However, the amount decreased by 2.6 per cent for low-income groups, the report said.
“The income distribution among rural residents has become increasingly complicated. It is more and more difficult to keep the momentum of income growth,” the report concluded. “This might pose an issue, when the incomes of all the other income groups are growing but the low-income group, especially when the central Communist Party leadership takes poverty alleviation as one of the top priorities,” CASS researcher Du Xiaoshan warned. “We can’t be too optimistic about this,” Du said. “We must pay special attention to the comparison of different groups, including between and among urban and rural residents.”
Du said the report clearly showed the wealth gap among rural residents was expanding, which cast doubt on whether the wealth gap between urban and rural residents was narrowing. The income ratio between rural and urban residents dropped from 1: 3.33 in 2015 to 1:2.72 last year. Du said having such a wide gap in incomes among rural residents made comparing average rural and urban incomes less meaningful.