In harmony with nature
  ·  2023-10-08  ·   Source: ChinAfrica


Ye Lifang at her homestay in Yantou Village, Bihu Town, Lishui City, Zhejiang Province, on 5 July 

Guyan Huaxiang, literally “ancient weir and picturesque town,” is 20 km away from the centre of Lishui City in Zhejiang Province. It is an idyllic region that features Chinese-style buildings and unblemished natural landscape. The Oujiang River splits the area into two. Guyan, on the north shore, refers to Yantou Village of Bihu Town, which has a 1,000-year-old canal weir and ancient camphor trees. Huaxiang, on the south shore, refers to Dagangtou Town, a beautiful painting town that is home to the vivacious Lishui Barbizon school of painting. 

Guyan Huaxiang is a paradise for tourists, painters and photographers. Zhang Weiwu, Party branch secretary of Yantou Village, said the Green Rural Revival Programme, put forward in 2003 by Chinese President Xi Jinping when he was secretary of Zhejiang Provincial Party Committee, has hugely contributed to the ecological progress in the area. 

Looking back, this programme, which started with the cleaning up of villages, marked a turning point for the development here,” said Zhang. The man, who has been a village leader for 25 years, has been a witness to the changes brought about by the project, and is overwhelmed with emotion when recalling them.  

Over the past 20 years, the programme has been expanded from 10,000 demonstration villages to all administrative villages in Zhejiang. In 2018, Zhejiang Province was recognised with the Champions of the Earth Award, the United Nation’s highest environmental honour, “for the transformation of a once heavily polluted area of rivers and streams,” according to the UN Environment Programme. 

According to Huang Zuhui, chief expert of the China Rural Development Research Centre of Zhejiang University, the Green Rural Revival Programme has changed the face of Zhejiang rural areas. “It has changed the rural housing environment, and also mobilised the villagers to play an active role in the management and maintenance of rural facilities. It also changed the business environment, making the village a place of recreation for urban residents, so as to boost the rural economy, through the integrated development of industries and the integrated development of cities and countryside. All of this has provided employment opportunities and increased incomes for farmers, and had a significant effect on pursuit of common prosperity,” he said. 


Photo taken on 5 July shows Ye Lifang’s homestay in Yantou Village, Bihu Town, Lishui City, Zhejiang Province 

Environmental improvement 

In 2005, the village of Yantou, which was dotted with cesspits due to pig farming, was included in the first batch of villages to be renovated under the Green Rural Revival Programme. “The first step was to clean it up,” said Zhang. 

Led by the village officials, the whole village began to refurbish roads, water supply, toilets and houses, and removed more than 200 structures of pig and cow pens and open-air cesspits. But not all villagers could understand the value of this operation, especially those who relied on raising pigs and cattle for their livelihoods. 

Zhang said that the villagers were not satisfied with the dirty environment, but were worried about losing their livelihoods. To solve the problem, the village applied for government subsidies, while asking its residents to switch from raising pigs and cattle to growing tea and vegetables, and start agritainment businesses. These industries are based on local development conditions, do not pollute the environment and bring real added value. 

The key to gaining the support of villagers is to offer them tangible benefits,” said Zhang. The environmental cleanup has made the village much more beautiful, and the agritainment business has brought residents a considerable increase in income. Thus, more and more villagers support the transformation of the village.  

The village has continued to expand environmental improvement, paving roads, treating garbage, improving public sanitation, and renovating buildings. The living environment has undergone momentous changes. 

The changes have not only improved the quality of life but also created business opportunities. 

Ye Lifang, who had been in the hotel catering business in Hangzhou City of Zhejiang Province for more than 10 years, built the first homestay in Yantou in 2017, which faces the Songyin Stream Scenic Area and is adjacent to the 1,500-year-old Tongjiyan Irrigation System. Attracted by the natural beauty, guests quickly flocked. Later, she opened a bookstore, showroom of oil painting, café and teahouse in the village, providing employment for over 30 villagers. Today, the annual revenue of her investment has reached 2.6 million yuan ($361,000). 

The income increase made the villagers see the concrete benefits of the environmental management. More villagers began to clean their courtyards, beautify the surrounding environment, and open farmhouses and homestays. Today’s Yantou Village has more than 30 homestays and farmhouses, and receives more than 300,000 tourists a year, with an annual turnover of over 10 million yuan ($1.38 million), and per-capita annual income of 46,000 yuan ($6,389). 

Guyan Huaxiang is just one example of the development of countless villages in Zhejiang Province. In 2019, Zhejiang became the first province to be recognised as an ecological province, and has since ranked first in the country in terms of rural habitat. In terms of building a beautiful countryside, by the end of 2022, Zhejiang had 70 model districts, 724 model towns, 743 scenic spots, 2,170 special villages and more than 3 million beautiful homes. 

The improvement of the rural living environment is the most direct and visible change that the Green Rural Revival Programme has brought to Zhejiang’s rural areas. This transformation has promoted green development, allowing villagers to strive for a win-win situation between economic development and ecological progress,” said Lan Hai, deputy director of the Publicity Department of Lishui City.  


Farmer painter Lei Chunying works in her studio in Dagangtou Village, Lishui City, Zhejiang Province, on 4 July 

Industrial transformation 

The Green Rural Revival Programme not only improves the environment of tens of millions of villages, but also introduces changes in the development mode of rural industries. 

On the other side of the Oujiang River lies the Dagangtou and Hebian villages of Dagangtou Town, which are important parts of Guyan Huaxiang.  

These two villages have attracted countless painters since the 1980s thanks to their beautiful landscapes. Visitors are fascinated by the museums, galleries and painting institutes of the Barbizon school, which can be seen everywhere, by its camphor trees, docks and streets, as well as the guest houses, restaurants and shops decorated with plants and flowers. 

Yang Xiangjun opened a wooden handicraft shop in Hebian Village, selling wooden ornaments. The shop was the site of a wood processing factory that operated for more than 20 years. The past and present of this small shop reflect the past and present of the painting town, which can be described as worlds apart. 

In the 1990s, in order to pursue rapid economic development, a large number of local people joined the wood processing industry and more than 140 wood factories were established in the town. Yang’s family was among them. In his memory, at that time, the roads were full of piles of wood, and wastewater from the wood-boiling pits spilled into the street. There was no advanced dust removal equipment, forcing people to keep their doors and windows closed all year round. “It was a dark time,” he said. 

After the launch of the Green Rural Revival Programme, the region began to improve the environment, relocate wood processing factories and develop tourism.  

At that time, the government called for transformation, and we were thinking if that was good or bad for our business,” Yang said, adding that in the end, the transformation ushered in a turning point for his business. In 2015, Yang’s family moved the factory to the Bihu Industrial Zone, Liandu District in Lishui City. In order to adapt to the trend of green development, the factory has stopped making furniture and instead produces biomass pellets for fuel. Because the products are green and environmentally friendly, the market demand is increasing, and the annual output has rapidly increased from the initial 10 tonnes to 110 tonnes. 

As the Barbizon oil painting industry in the village replaces wood processing, new business forms represented by homestays, cultural and creative stores, and coffee shops are booming. In 2017, Yang transformed the former factory into a homestay and opened a woodworking workshop, which became a popular place in Guyan Huaxiang hangout. 

Now the annual income of the homestay business is between 200,000 ($27,778) and 300,000 ($41,667) yuan, and the business of the wood workshop is getting better and better,” Yang said. “What’s more, our children no longer have to live in dusty conditions.”  


Yang Xiangjun shows a child how to make small decorative wooden objects in Hebian Village, Lishui City, Zhejiang Province, on 4 July 

Change of mindset 

In addition to the appearance of the countryside, the Green Rural Revival Programme has profoundly changed the mindset of the inhabitants. “It has revolutionised the thinking of the villagers,” said Lan Xiaoqing, Party branch secretary of Hebian Village. 

Lei Chunying is the most popular farmer painter in Dagangtou Village. Under her brushes, the pebbles collected by the river are transformed into cute ladybugs. “I used to work in a local wood factory. Many painters came to our village to draw real life, and I loved to watch and learn from them,” she said. Lei uses the landscapes of the village as inspiration for her designs, for example, the wharf, the white sails, the old trees and the pavilions. Now, her paintings can sell for 200 yuan ($27.78) each, with frequent online orders. In her 10-square-metre studio, she sketches the beauty of her village and her happy days. 

Every morning, by the Oujiang River, Lan Xiaoqing greets the female river protection team. Composed of 20 village women aged 20 to 60, the team is responsible for detecting dangers and collecting garbage. These women have been working to keep the water clean for seven years. 

Previously, environmental cleaning was done as a passive response to inspections, but now, doing a good job in environmental cleaning has become a habit and conscious action of local people,” said Lan. 

Huang Xiaohua originally thought that he would inherit the family skills and become the fourth-generation ferryman in the Oujiang River. However, as Barbizon culture took root in Guyan Huaxiang, he embarked on the path of art. 

Today, as a famous Barbizon painter, he has established an art community in Guyan Huaxiang to share theoretical knowledge and painting techniques for free among painting enthusiasts. “Common prosperity is not only the growth of material wealth, but also intellectual and cultural satisfaction. I absolutely want to contribute to improving the artistic literacy of villagers,” he said. 

The change in villagers’ way of thinking brought about by the Green Rural Revival Programme has given deeper meaning and lasting vitality to building a beautiful countryside to live in, according to Gu Yikang, chief expert of the Zhejiang Rural Revitalisation Institute. “With the strengthening of the consciousness of community of interests, villagers increasingly realise that a beautiful countryside leads to a happy life.” 


A man rides past the entrance of a Barbizon gallery in Guyan Huaxiang, Lishui City, Zhejiang Province, on 5 July 

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