Visitors tour Daliangjiang Village in Shijiazhuang, Hebei Province in north China, on June 7. The village takes advantage of its rich historical and cultural resources to develop tourism and increase residents' income (XINHUA)
Despite being only 10 minutes by road from the nearest city now, Gaohuai Village, located in Deyang in Sichuan Province in southwest China, was once a poor and isolated backwater.
Now it has been reborn into a place for urbanites to get together and relax at weekends. The cafés in the village are a symbol of this rebirth. "My café is a chic resort where people enjoy coffee, the sunshine and fresh air in the countryside," said Hu Rong, owner of the village's first café called Buyuan, meaning not far away.
Hu opened her café in 2014. With many residents in nearby cities flocking to the rural areas to relax during weekends and holidays, her café has become increasingly popular. More cafés have been opened in Gaohuai, creating employment and business opportunities for local residents. In recent years, the village's development has gained more traction under the rural vitalization policy. The village has developed a relatively comprehensive industrial chain including food and accommodation, sightseeing, shopping and entertainment, in addition to its traditional agricultural industries.
Visitors to Gaohuai can now enjoy not only coffee, but also a wide variety of new products and services, including unique handicrafts, arts, and traditional music with local flavor.
The local government has allocated dedicated funds for tourism development and construction of key infrastructure, and the upgrades have benefited both tourists and villagers. With visits now reaching around 500,000 per year, tourism is generating as much as 20 million yuan ($2.8 million) per annum.
The per-capita disposable income of Gaohuai residents exceeded 23,000 yuan ($3,253) in 2019. By comparison, the per-capita disposable income of other rural residents in China over the same period was slightly more than 16,000 yuan ($2,263).
He Jian, head of Deyang's Donghu sub-district office, said the national rural vitalization strategy has turned Gaohuai into a local success story. "The new development initiatives under the strategy have turned a formerly unnoticed village into a famous tourist attraction," he said. "They've brought about a complete makeover."
Unveiled in 2017, the strategy was part of the report made to the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China. The strategy emphasizes the importance of rural development, including the need to develop rural businesses, create a pleasant living environment, promote civility and effective governance, and improve the living standards of rural residents.
In September 2018, the Rural Vitalization Strategy (2018-2022) was released, outlining key tasks in the five years.
In June, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs and other related government organizations released an interim report on the implementation and results of the strategy. According to the report, 97 percent of rural poor across China have moved out of poverty, with average annual per-capita disposable income in poverty-stricken counties increasing by 9.7 percent, 2.2 percentage points above the national average growth rate.
The report also said the number of tourists and the amount of tourism revenue in rural areas have increased considerably over two years, new industries and commercial activities like e-commerce are gaining momentum, and the quality of industrial development is increasing.
Caomiaogou Village in Henan Province, central China, is a typical example of how e-commerce and high-quality development give new life to traditional agriculture.
Noodles made from acorns and wheat is a local specialty of village, but due to a backward business model, local farmers and manufacturers had difficulty selling these nutritious noodles. All this changed in 2017 when e-commerce was promoted in the village.
Local entrepreneur Zhou Hongqing saw a business opportunity in village specialty products and launched an e-commerce platform dedicated to selling the noodles. In addition to product development, branding and marketing activities aimed at engaging China's increasingly demanding online consumers, Zhou also provided free e-commerce training for fellow villagers. Many villagers have since become Zhou's distribution partners, selling noodles across the country for triple the price they could receive from selling locally. Zhou's online platform has expanded to include other local specialty produce such as pomegranates and green tea, which are sold under the same brand, with standardized packaging.
Caomiaogou Village is in Xichuan County, Henan. The county's vice head Xu Ziguang said the local government is working with villagers to improve produce supply chains and logistics. "Rural e-commerce has a huge potential in lifting villagers out of poverty," Xu said.
Workers in a vegetable base in Laojunshan Village in Chongqing carry newly harvested vegetables on June 16 (XINHUA)
A comfortable life
The June report said building beautiful and habitable villages is progressing across China. Policies will see increased construction of educational and medical institutions, as well as elderly care facilities in villages.
In Beihai, a city in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, south China, authorities such as the Housing and Urban-Rural Construction Department, Ecological and Environmental Protection Department and Municipal Administration Department have joined hands to improve the living environment in rural areas.
Refuse and sewage treatment infrastructure, as well as pollution control, have been improved and more sanitary toilets built.
The local authorities plan to invest in building roads, repairing bridges, and making transportation more convenient for rural residents.
In October 2019, the Beihai Municipal Government initiated a plan for developing 10 model villages of rural vitalization, and villages with beautiful environments, sound infrastructure and industrial bases were selected.
Enriching rural residents' leisure time is also an important task. Shandong Province in east China is as an example. From 2018 to 2019, over 53,000 cultural activities were held for rural residents, with nearly 17 million visits. A number of operas, plays and other performances were organized at the request of villagers.
Since 2018, the province has also invested to protect traditional villages that have cultural value. Lijiatuan Village in Zibo is a historical place, with ancient building complexes that date back to the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties.
To preserve traditional culture and heritage, the village has repaired the ancient streets and houses. The village government has built a museum exhibiting items that tell the history of the village for residents and tourists. Currently, over 210 similar village museums have been built throughout the province.
To revive traditional arts and crafts, villagers are encouraged to develop woodcarving, printmaking, paper-cutting and embroidery as hobbies or professions.
Li Longjun, who lives in Liaocheng, Shandong, is good at painting and woodcarving. His handmade woodcraft products are well received by tourists as souvenirs. Small handicrafts such as artworks made from reused chopsticks have a high added value. "By making them, villagers like me can earn money while having fun at the same time," Li said.
(Printed Edition Title: Revamping Rural China)
Copyedited by Garth Wilson
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