Yu Liufen, Secretary of Yanbo Village Committee of the Communist Party of China, in Liupanshui, Guizhou Province, chats with a worker in the village's wine brewery on May 20 (XINHUA)
Wearing a bob hairstyle, a confident smile and a cape draped casually over a black dress, 48-year-old Yu Liufen exudes maturity and composure befitting her age.
A village branch secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in southwest China's Guizhou Province and a delegate to the 19th CPC National Congress in Beijing in October, Yu has been elected for leading her village out of poverty.
"By the end of 2015, all villagers in my village had moved out of poverty," Yu proudly told Beijing Review.
In 2001, when she became the Party secretary of Yanbo Village in Yuni Township, Panxian County of Guizhou, the average per-capita net income of the village, which has 900-plus villagers, was no more than 800 yuan ($120). Now, this number has risen to 16,200 yuan ($2,435). Meanwhile, during the period, the village's collectively owned assets have soared in value from virtually zero to 58 million yuan ($8.71 million).
Almost three decades ago, Yu came to the village through marriage. Now she feels deeply attached to the place. "I was once married to a man in the village. Now I am married to the entire village," Yu said, "I love every stretch of land in it, every blade of grass and every stone."
A woman with ideas
Situated at an altitude of 1,800 meters in the depths of Guizhou's karst hills, Yanbo Village was in dire poverty when Yu first arrived there.
"Villagers grew corn, yam, and buckwheat. They had to walk for two hours to get to the market to sell their produce, while 50 kg of yam could only fetch 7-8 yuan ($1)," she recalled.
"Villagers shared thatched cottages with farm animals…flies and mosquitoes were everywhere," she said. There was no paved road, electricity or tap water in the village. Even until 2004, most children did not go to school because it would take them four to five hours every day to walk to and from school.
Yu's early days in the village were not easy. As her husband worked far away from the village, she did housework and farmed land. After her two sons were born, she had to take care of them while working in the fields.
Life was so hard that it prompted Yu to yearn for change. Yu is hardworking and persevering, and more importantly, she is a woman who has ideas. In 1993, she opened a restaurant near a local coal mine. Thanks to her hard work and business acumen, the restaurant prospered, bringing her a decent income.
Two years later, Yu found another lucrative business opportunity—taking pictures for villagers, who generally could not afford to buy a camera at that time. With savings from the restaurant she bought a camera, which was sought after by villagers, who often had to queue to have their pictures taken. Thereafter, Yu opened a store. Her business endeavors made her family richer and richer.
Undaunted by difficulties
After her family got rich, Yu wanted to make the village rich too. In 2001, three months after she joined the CPC, villagers, impressed by her business success, elected her the secretary of the CPC Yanbo Village Branch. She vowed to change the situation in the village.
The first thing she decided to do was paving a road. To build a road, money was needed to buy materials and explosives. The paved road had to go through farmland, so some villagers' farmland had to be occupied and their trees cut down. Initially, some villagers were opposed to the idea because they had to suffer some losses. Yu went from door to door to persuade villagers to agree with her plan.
To compensate for these villagers' fields, village cadres held meetings and decided to transfer the use right of their land. They also invited villagers working elsewhere back to the village and suggested them transfer their land use right to villagers whose fields were to be occupied by the road.
She finally convinced villagers, and the project was launched. She invested 40,000 yuan ($6,012) she had earned from previous businesses to buy tools such as drill rods and hammers and materials like cement and sand and to pay for labor. That money was a huge amount back then.
Three months later, a road 3.5 km long and 4.5 meters wide was completed, connecting the village to a nearby highway. As two trucks transporting coal drove into the village, villagers celebrated with fireworks.
After the road was paved, Yu set her mind on buying back a forest contracted to an individual. The 100-hectare forest was poorly managed, with trees often chopped down and stolen. "Seeing tree stubs left behind here and there, my heart ached," Yu said.
She decided to raise money so that the village could buy back the forest. The cost, 230,000 yuan ($34,570), was an astronomical amount for her back then. To secure funding, she wrote a report to the county government, which reimbursed her for the personal savings she spent on paving the road. She put that money toward buying the forest and borrowed another 50,000 yuan ($7,515) from a coal mine and raised the remainder through loans.
Yu attaches great importance to the protection of the ecological environment. "Ecological environment is life. Without protection, there would be no development," she said. She added that because of Yanbo's karst landform, if the trees were gone, there would be no water.
After the management right of the forest was bought back in 2001, she made rules forbidding villagers to chop trees for firewood, though allowing them to collect broken or dead branches. To provide villagers with an alternative energy source to firewood, she negotiated with a local coal mine to sell coal to villagers at cost price. Thereafter, with the forest effectively protected, the village's forest coverage rate increased to 71 percent. Moreover, with a flourishing forest, people could also enjoy picking wild fruits and mushrooms.
The forest also yielded economic benefit. Yu said the village made money by thinning the forest and raised poultry, pigs and oxen in the forest. The village has not only paid back the debt, but also seen a profit.
Later, the village launched several other initiatives including a brick factory, a brewery called Yanbo Wine and a transportation fleet of more than 100 vehicles. The village has become richer. In 2005, the village built an office building with 560 square meters of floor space.
Villagers can benefit from the projects by earning salary for working on the projects and receiving dividends. For instance, Yanbo Wine has created more than 200 jobs for the village, and its profits are shared by villagers. In addition, wine dross from the brewery is given out to once-poor farmers, who use the dross to feed cattle and thereby get out of poverty.
Winning trust and support
In the past 17 years, Yu has encountered so many difficulties, including a failed marriage, yet she has never been crushed. She is grateful to villagers for their trust, which she said provides her with great spiritual support.
"In 2011, after I just learned to drive, one day my car crashed into a ditch. Within 10 minutes, more than 100 villagers rushed to the site and lifted the car out with their hands. I was very touched," she said.
Besides being elected a delegate to the 19th CPC National Congress, Yu was also a delegate to the previous two CPC national congresses, which were respectively held in 2012 and 2007.
"As a delegate of the national congress of the Party, I will work harder, live up to the expectations of villagers, and make greater contributions to the Party and the people," she said.
She said that at the national congress of the Party this year, she would like to call for more government support for village cadres, who work hard yet are paid little. She would also like to urge for greater improvement in rural infrastructure. (Reporting from Guizhou Province)
Copyedited by Chris Surtees
Comments to email@example.com