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Chinese countryside thinking out of the poverty box

By Xinhua [Sponsored Content] | September 18th 2020 at 09:18:07 GMT +0300

Chinese tourists abroad. Villages in China are also reaping the benefits of tourism. [Xinhua]

Wearing a bright red dress, a mottled cappa and dainty makeup, Yang Huiqin is setting a first for women in a village in northwest China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.

   "Before we had tourism, women in the village never wore dresses or silk stockings, let alone lipstick," said the 43-year-old owner of a cave-style family inn in Longwangba Village.

   The village lies in Xiji County, one of China's last 52 counties that are yet to shake off poverty. Prior to the turn of the century, the county had been plagued by extreme drought and grinding poverty.

   In recent years, China's poverty-reduction campaign has transformed Longwangba into a tourist boomtown with rustic family inns and terraced fields of flowers. Along with a better environment and rising prosperity has come a psychological revolution.

   Once a potato farmer that was barely able to feed her family, Yang now rents out her four rooms while working as a manager at another family inn, earning over 60,000 yuan (about 8,766 U.S. dollars) a year.

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   "I used to ask my husband for money whenever I wanted to buy something. Now I earn money so I feel free to buy things for myself," Yang said, brandishing an iPhone 8 she bought last year.

   Jiao Jianpeng, director of the villagers' committee, said Longwangba was once so poor that "no non-local women would marry into the village." But when he opened a family inn to kick-start local tourism in 2015, none of the locals, including his own parents, were impressed.

   "I had difficulties even hiring a waiter because villagers thought it was demeaning to serve customers," Jiao said. "They also believed tourists were idle men and women who would only bring trouble."

   Only after witnessing Jiao's success did more villagers follow suit. Now 35 local families run family inns and the village, with a traditional rural ambience and cool summer weather, received 180,000 visitors last year, generating an income of 18 million yuan.

 China is in the homestretch to eradicate absolute poverty by the end of 2020, after slashing its rural poor population from 98.99 million at the end of 2012 to 5.51 million at the end of 2019.

   The historic anti-poverty campaign has also seen a mentality shift among the once deprived rural population, making them more open-minded and proactive in the pursuit of wealth.

   "Villagers nowadays are occupied with improving their lives. As a result, trivial squabbles among villagers have declined," said Wei Tingfeng, Party chief of Malian Township in Xiji County.

   This stronger urge to make a fortune is palpable in the country's last strongholds of poverty, where the efforts to reduce poverty have long been impeded by residents' lack of incentives to cast off poverty through hard work, even with supportive policies in place.

   Facilitating this change are many "pioneers in achieving prosperity" like Jiao. In many places, this honorary title brings favourable subsidies as officials expect their success to set an example for others.

   In June, the State Council Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development said China had nurtured at least three such trailblazers in each impoverished village while planning to further increase the number.

   Yang testifies to the power of a paragon. A year after Jiao's family inn proved a commercial success, Yang opened her own with a government subsidy of 40,000 yuan.

   "I saw his success and asked myself: If others can do it, why can't I?" she said. "Then the subsidy helped me make up my mind."

   Officials in Xiji said a considerable portion of their poverty-relief funds is now used to encourage deprived farmers to start a business or expand production.

   "If an impoverished farmer wishes to start rearing cattle, he or she can purchase the first head of cattle easily with interest-free loans and subsidies. From then on, the more the farmer rears, the more subsidies we'll give," said Wang Xuejun, Party chief of the county.

   "The goal is to spur the 'endogenous momentum' of impoverished families," he said, referring to the urge to work out of poverty rather than lean on government assistance.

   Apart from the increasing number of successful villagers and favourable policies, a legion of grassroots officials, including many assigned to villages from towns and counties, are working diligently to boost this momentum.

   In Jiashan Village, northwest China's Gansu Province, local residents were once reluctant to change the status quo, even as abject poverty and poor infrastructure rendered most villagers illiterate and ruled out the possibility of developing profitable industries.

   "Poverty has been a norm in the village since ancient times. Besides, villagers were scattered in the mountains and rarely travelled outside, so they couldn't visualize a better life," said Gao Yali, a township official assisting the village's poverty relief.

   So while introducing new industries and building concrete roads, Gao and her colleagues made extra efforts to motivate villagers by visiting their homes and convening whole-village meetings.

   In a campaign to eradicate "visual poverty," local officials renovated dilapidated public spaces and gifted new furniture to villagers, so as to impress them with visible improvements in their lives.

   "It's important for villagers to have 'endogenous momentum' to pull themselves out of poverty," Gao said. "After 2020, it's such momentum that will keep villagers moving forward along the path of prosperity." 

 -Xinhua Writers Yao Yuan and Ren Wei

China Rural Tourism
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