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The Way to Progress
Modern transport link helps villagers escape virtual prison
By Yu Lintao & Ma Li | Web Exclusive
Luo Yunlian speaks at a group discussion of the 2016 NPC session on March 7 in Beijing (XINHUA)

Luo Yunlian was a virtual prisoner in her village 15 years ago, perched on a steep cliff in southwest China's Sichuan Province. The only way the 400-odd people living in Gulu, an ethnic Yi village at a height of 2,000 meters above sea level, could reach the outside world was by using long ladders, a precarious journey made even more dangerous by the wild Dadu River below.

In the beginning, villagers used rickety ladders made of sticks and vines. Later, they graduated to steel ones but the descents and ascents still remained risky and enervating.

In 2002, with financial aid from the local government, the villagers built a rugged, narrow track, which was dubbed the "mule path." Though they didn't have to risk their lives on the ladders any longer, reaching the outside world was still a struggle as it took at least three hours to get to the nearest county seat via the mule path.

But things have been changing since this decade. Luo, head of the Party branch of the village, was elected as a deputy to the National People's Congress (NPC), China's top legislature, in 2013. Since then, she has made motions for better infrastructure and transport in her hometown and hopes someday Gulu will have a road, which can transform the village.

"We need a road, not only for villagers to go out but for visitors to come in," she explained to Beijing Review.

Due to Gulu's complicated and rugged terrain, building a highway through it would be a tough job and immensely expensive. The required budget could be as huge as 40 million yuan ($5.79 million), according to local transport authority.

Nevertheless, Gulu's dream for a road has not been forgotten by the government. With Luo's efforts and more funds from the government, the village infrastructure has been improved step by step. In 2014, the mule path got safety handrails and a public toilet was also built for the convenience of the growing number of visitors who have been coming to Gulu for sightseeing.

Last October, a 750-meter ropeway was built across the Dadu River at a cost of 24 million yuan ($3.47 million). Today, it is the villagers' main link to the outside world, taking them to another village that is connected to a highway.

"The ropeway has resolved the commuting problem of our 400-year-old village," Luo said. "Villagers' destinies have changed completely."

There has been some criticism though. Critics have wondered on social media whether a village with a mere 400 people deserved so many resources. Many suggest that the villagers should move to another place instead.

But it would have been hard to persuade the villagers, who have lived in Gulu for generations, to leave their home and relocate to another place, according to Luo. It is therefore important to improve transport infrastructure for the village because it concerns people's livelihood and development.

"Due to its special landscape and green environment, Gulu is attracting more tourists," Luo said. She attributes it to the targeted poverty alleviation policy of the government. "In the future, we will focus on tourism development," she added.

The "mule path" of Gulu Village (XINHUA)
The new ropeway connecting Gulu Village and the outside world (XINHUA)

Copyedited by Sudeshna Sarkar

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