Persistence Pays Off
The mountain roads in Xiadang Township, Ningde, Fujian Province have a moving past. More than 30 years ago, Xi Jinping, who was then secretary of the Ningde Prefectural CPC Committee, arrived in Xiadang after a long and bumpy drive along these rugged roads and an additional two hour hike in the heat of summer. Once there, he chaired a meeting on poverty alleviation work, and then spent another three hours making it out of this remote mountainous area. Recalling his trip to Xiadang, Xi Jinping described it as "unusually difficult and unusually memorable."
At the time, Ningde was one of the 18 contiguous areas in China where poverty was concentrated, with six of the nine counties under its jurisdiction designated as poor. Though tucked between the provincial capital Fuzhou on one side and Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province on the other, both of which are prosperous and populous cities, it was as if prosperity bypassed Ningde, making it stand out on the otherwise prosperous southeastern coast.
In contrast, today Ningde has succeeded in bringing its registered rural poor population down to zero. Once the weakest bird in the nest, it has now spread its wings, achieving stable growth and leading the province in economic development.
Catching up through persistent effort
For the people of Xiadang, even the word "road" brings up bitter memories. In the past, the only road connecting the area to the outside world was a narrow path covered in thick brambles that winded along rocky cliffs. This made girls marrying into Xiadang from other villages disappointed to the point of tears.
For the area to take off, it was essential to focus on roads. Work began on a highway just months after President Xi's first visit, and the road into Xiadang opened in January 1991. In the following decades, the people of Xiadang have worked with persistence and dedication, building roads and pursuing development among the steep cliffs and mountains.
During Xi's trip all those years ago, Wang Guangzhao volunteered to provide herbal tea to stave off the heat. Though he is now getting along in age, he is still as energetic as ever. In 2016, he fixed up his old house and opened up a teahouse called "Happy Teahouse." Asked about the origin of the name, Mr. Wang says emotionally, "Our happy town will never forget President Xi. If he had not come to Xiadang back then and shown concern for us, where could our happiness possibly come from? The people here are grateful to him."
The new and improved scenery of Xiadang Village. PHOTO PROVIDED BY THE PUBLICITY DEPARTMENT OF THE CPC NINGDE MUNICIPAL COMMITTEE
In Xiadang today, there are good roads, thriving tea production, and many new houses. This poor mountain town that left such a deep impression on Xi Jinping has gone through tremendous changes. Residents are now leading more and more prosperous lives, with per capita disposable income rising from just 186 yuan in 1988 to 14,777 yuan in 2019.
In August 2019, President Xi Jinping sent a letter to the folks in Xiadang. He wrote, "I remember the three challenging journeys to get to Xiadang like it was yesterday. Through 30 years of tireless work, Xiadang has conquered the natural barriers that once kept it blocked off, and completely transformed itself with a whole new look. The fact that you are now enjoying a greater sense of wellbeing and fulfillment is vivid proof that persistence pays off."
Adopting precise measures tailored to local conditions
Chixi Village was once dubbed the number one village for poverty alleviation in China. Made up of 14 smaller hamlets wedged between the mountains, the village was hard pressed because of its minimal land resources. Despite working busily throughout the year, its people could barely produce a few baskets of grain.
In 1988, after an in-depth tour of Ningde's nine counties, Xi Jinping said, "To escape poverty, one must make the best of their surroundings; those next to the ocean should look to the ocean, and those next to mountains must look to the mountains." Speaking specifically about Fuding, the city in which Chixi Village is located, he once said, "Mountains can also be paths to prosperity. If we can work persistently for 10, 15, or maybe 20 years to make good use of the mountains, then they will ultimately blossom with wealth."
Answering this call, Chixi began moving the little hamlets perched on the mountain-sides to the village's present administrative center, thus relocating people from inhospitable areas. Meanwhile, it started using the forest to its advantage, and worked to make the best of its ecological strengths and mountain resources, turning the entire village into a tourist attraction. In 2019, Chixi was visited 270,000 times by tourists, generating more than 20 million yuan in income and bringing the average disposable income of its residents up to 22,698 yuan.
Du Ying, born and raised in Chixi, is a young man in his twenties. After graduating, he decided to return home and start a business. His company processes and sells white tea, but he also tries to help his neighbors get prosperous together in all kinds of ways. Du Ying says confidently, "The village has completely changed from the past, now everyone is full of hope. Our dream for the future is to make Chixi famous across China for self-improvement."
In February 2016, during a video call with officials and local representatives from Chixi, Xi Jinping said that the village's experience affirms that the current targeted approach is the right way to go about poverty alleviation.
(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No. 17, 2020)