Dong Jianxin (right) introduces the development experience of Yuangudui Village of Weiyuan County in Dingxi, Gansu Province in northwest China, on February 3 (COURTESY PHOTO)
Ten years ago, a group of young adults arrived in Rongzhong Village of Fujian Province in southeast China to learn from the village's development experience. They came one month after Xi Jinping, General Secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, had visited the village and called on his fellow Chinese citizens to "work together in the pursuit of a prosperous life." At that point, Rongzhong was already famous for its economic development, with its main economic indicators ranking at the forefront of Fujian's rural economies.
The group was from Yuangudui Village of Weiyuan County in Dingxi, Gansu Province in northwest China.
As of late 2012, the per-capita annual income in Yuangudui stood at 1,465 yuan ($211), well below the then poverty line of 2,300 yuan ($331) per capita per annum. The poverty line increased to 4,000 yuan ($576) in 2020.
Dong Jianxin was part of the group. With the backing of Fujian Provincial Government, the young adults took up different management positions in Rongzhong to gain firsthand experience in developing its predominantly agrarian rural economy.
"That experience changed my life," Dong told Beijing Review. Before that, he'd been a farmer in Yuangudui, after having finished his military service years. At the end of that year in Rongzhong, Dong was selected to be an assistant to the village's leadership, and later went on to become the village Party secretary—the leader of the CPC branch in the village.
The group brought the experience they gained in Rongzhong back to Yuangudui. Later, they successfully led their home village out of poverty. As of late 2022, per-capita annual income in Yuangudui stood at 14,216 yuan ($2,049), nearly 10 times the figure a decade earlier, and also much higher than the 2020 poverty line.
For his contributions to rural development, Dong is among the 2,977 deputies to the 14th National People's Congress (NPC), China's highest state organ of power, who are elected from 35 electoral units according to the law.
Located on the edge of a forest zone, Yuangudui is suitable for the cultivation of herbs and fungi often used in traditional Chinese medicine. To engage villagers in the cultivation of these herbs, the village has established several cooperatives, Dong said.
One farming cooperative typically consists of members from one or several villages. The co-op is jointly managed by its members who then share the profits. Simply put, the cooperative provides villages and farmers with an entrepreneurial platform for commercial activity.
For instance, a grower co-op there trains locals in growing crops and an agricultural machinery co-op leases equipment to farmers during planting and harvest seasons, according to Dong.
Yuangudui has also introduced a Chinese herbal medicine processing enterprise to increase its products' added value. In addition, the government has issued policies to offer villagers agricultural insurance, to protect them against risks such as crop failure due to natural disasters or revenue loss due to price falls.
With the increase in the village's herbal medicine production, Dong is currently seeking ways to expand sales channels.
Today, the co-ops and a photovoltaic power station have raised that village's collective income to nearly 500,000 yuan ($72,071), according to Dong. Photovoltaic-based targeted poverty alleviation, launched in 2009, has been one of China's 10 large-scale poverty relief programs, supplying poor families or villages with clean power as well as generating considerable income.
"That income has been used to improve the residential environment and the quality of drinking water," Dong elaborated. Additionally, local infrastructure has received continuous upgrades, for example, the classrooms in the local school have been transformed from adobe into reinforced concrete structures.
Chen Wangdi (right) conducts field research in Nanhai District of Foshan, Guangdong Province, on February 17 (COURTESY PHOTO)
On February 13, China unveiled its 2023 No.1 Central Document, outlining nine tasks for the comprehensive promotion of rural revitalization this year. As the first policy statement released by China's central authorities each year, the document is seen as an indicator of policy priorities. Undertakings focusing on the country's agriculture and rural areas have featured high on the agenda for 20 consecutive years since 2004.
"I will carefully study the document and fully implement related policies," he said.
The rural revitalization drive is part of China's efforts to turn the country into "a great modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced harmonious and beautiful" by 2049.
"The rural revitalization strategy benefits the country and its people, and the great changes and gains it has generated so far have been both rewarding and exciting," said Chen Wangdi, Secretary of the CPC Ruxi Village Branch. Like Dong, Chen is also a deputy to the 14th NPC.
Unlike Yuangudui, Ruxi Village in Nanhai District of Foshan, Guangdong Province in south China, was not in a state of poverty 10 years ago, with per-capita annual income reaching 16,819 yuan ($2,424) in 2013, thanks to its fruitful and extensive aquaculture.
"It was not that rich compared with other areas in Guangdong," Chen told Beijing Review. This coastal province has been a leading economic region ever since China embarked on its reform and opening-up journey in 1978.
However, the village's income continued to increase, exceeding 37,000 yuan ($5,333) in 2022, Chen said.
Ruxi now has more than 1,000 fishponds which cover about 333 hectares, according to Chen. The village has poured many efforts into improving its aquaculture ecosystem in the past years, for example, by optimizing its use of water. It also guides local farmers in advanced breeding technologies. Additionally, it has introduced higher-quality fish varieties with greater value.
In its most recent undertaking to give the area an economic leg up, the village has been trying to develop its rural and cultural tourism. "For example, right now, we are in the process of creating a beautiful village travel route wholly based on the Nanhai Land Art Festival," Chen said.
This two-year-long festival, which started on November 18 last year and will run until the spring of 2024, has invited artists from over 15 countries and regions to create and exhibit their works in Nanhai's Xiqiao Town. The festival has so far brought over 1 million visitors to the town and pushed forward the local cultural tourism industry.
Without the policy support from the government, Ruxi would not have undergone these changes, according to Chen.
"In the past decade, the village's environment, living standards and morale all have gone up a lot," she added.
Representing rural people
Now, as NPC deputies, both Dong and Chen seek to further promote rural development.
Dong's focus is on the integrated development of agriculture and tourism, rural education, medical care and talent cultivation. He always has his notebook in his pocket when he's out doing field research as an NPC deputy, in which he writes down the problems he encounters as well as the suggestions from locals.
"I am a farmer and live with farmers, so I have a good grasp of the area's rural conditions," Dong said.
Chen has also been doing field research to uncover the most pressing problems facing local residents. "This is my first time serving as an NPC deputy," Chen said, adding "My focus is on the rural environment, education, medical care, transportation, housing and pensions, which are closely related to the people," she added.
"As a grassroots-level worker, I am proud to be an NPC deputy and have the opportunity to speak for the greater good on this national platform, " Chen said. "I will work hard to build a better China."
(Print Edition Title: A Tale of Two Villages)
Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon
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