In the depths of the global financial crisis in 2008–09, China stunned the world with its massive $596 billion stimulus spending program, which helped Asia avoid the worst of the downturn. Another of Beijing’s initiatives drew much less attention but will prove even farther-reaching: a first-ever comprehensive pension plan aimed at alleviating crushing poverty in the Chinese countryside, home to two thirds of its 1.4 billion population, who live on an average wage of about $2 a day. The program distributes government-subsidized pensions to 55 million rural Chinese, 16 million of whom are already drawing benefits of up to $45 a month. Though enrollment is voluntary and requires each participant to kick in between $15 and $75 a year, the government picks up the lion’s share of the costs. By the end of 2010, nearly a quarter of China’s rural areas will have been covered. Now Beijing is working to extend the program to urban centers as well.