Luotuowan: A Happy Haven
"I hope you are all doing okay."
Xi Jinping trekked through the bitter cold and snow to deliver warm greetings to the residents of Luotuowan Village on December 30, 2012, a little over a month after he became General Secretary of the CPC Central Committee.
Nestled deep in the Taihang Mountains in northern China, Luotuowan is a poor village in Longquanguan Township, Fuping County, Hebei Province. Sitting at an altitude of 1,500 meters, its terrain is rugged, barren, and remote. In Luotuowan in 2012, the annual per-capita disposable income was just 950 yuan. What General Secretary Xi discovered here was sheer destitution that filled him with worry for all of those who had yet to shake off the yoke of poverty.
Escaping poverty is only possible if the right approach is found.
Before General Secretary Xi's visit, people at the village including officials who had been sent there to help with poverty alleviation had tried many approaches to development, but none had produced the desired result, prompting a lack of confidence among residents and leading to bleak prospects for life in the village. After learning about the situation, General Secretary Xi encouraged local officials and villagers by telling them that "as long as one has confidence, even yellow earth can be turned to gold," but the key was to work to find solutions that were compatible with local conditions. Xi's words did much to reassure and encourage everyone.
Despite the daunting nature of their challenges, the villagers, with much more determination than ever, raised the curtain on a story of a remarkable transformation. With the help of supporting officials, Luotuowan Village began to persistently explore ways to alleviate poverty and create prosperity. It engaged in animal farming, grew walnuts, established cooperatives, and developed cottage industries. Despite the difficulties and uncertainties, the General Secretary's earnest advice spurred the villagers on to keep searching for approaches to escape poverty. "The General Secretary said it was doable, so as long as we found the right path, we would undoubtedly get it done," said Mr. Sun, who is in his late seventies.
In 2015, based on expert research and advice, Luotuowan Village began to promote the transfer of land-use rights and to pursue an industrial model for growing edible mushrooms and alpine forest fruits based on an "enterprise + cultivation base + individual grower" model and a "professional cooperative + farming household" model. The villagers soon came to view mushrooms and mountain fruits as produce of prosperity. They left behind traditional grain farming on their land and instead now collect income through their land rights. At the end of 2017, poverty in Luotuowan was completely eradicated.
But eliminating poverty was merely a first step. As industry began to take shape and the appearance of the village improved, tourist companies were brought in to develop new forms of folk tourism based on Luotuowan's natural environment and revolutionary history. A total of 68 homes in the village were leased out to open guesthouses, which created employment for over 90 people in the village and surrounding areas. Since a trial opening during the Labor Day holiday in May 2019, the village has received more than 200,000 visitors. Thanks to industrial development, the villagers who once relied solely on the soil to survive now have three sources of income— land transfer fees, shareholder dividends, and wages. In 2019, their average per capita disposable income reached 13,620 yuan.
Luotuowan Village was once a bleak place with rugged roads and dilapidated houses, but it has now taken on a new look with paved roads, bright new houses, and a clean and comfortable environment. It has thus blossomed into a scene of moderate prosperity at the foot of verdant mountains. PHOTO BY XINHUA REPORTER ZHAO HONGYU
The CPC branch takes the lead in creating prosperity for the villagers.
Once the right approach for escaping poverty was found, it was essential to follow through. Rural community-level CPC organizations are the locus of all the Party's work and effectiveness in rural areas. They are undoubtedly the pathfinders for leading rural residents out of poverty and toward prosperity.
To persuade villagers to transfer their land-use rights for the purpose of opening orchards, village officials went door to door to walk residents through the proposal and the reasoning behind it and to convince them that their barren mountainside could reinvent itself. To get villagers to rent out their houses for the purpose of opening guesthouses, village officials took the lead in renting out their own ancestral homes to show everyone that old houses could be put to good use. To ensure poverty alleviation was tangible and effective, officials inquired about the circumstances of each and every household and individual, and asked about people's basic needs in order to gain a clear picture about which households were poor, what the causes were, and how they could be helped.
"Tasty sweet potatoes...." Tang Yunhai's tantalizing call rings through the air. In 2012, while working in the city, he contracted an eye disease that almost made him blind. This only added to the woes of his family, who were already living in straitened circumstances. After learning about the situation, officials began working on all fronts to put Mr. Tang in touch with a hospital and organize insurance coverage for him, and they provided him with an oven so he could set up a stall in the village. Today, the condition of Mr. Tang's disease is considerably improved. Among tourists, he is affectionately called the "sweet-potato man" and is known for his hospitality and generous portions. In both life and business, Tang is now thriving.
When the new village CPC branch and village committee were formed in 2017, Gu Ruili, a skilled hand in creating prosperity, returned home to take up the torch as secretary of the Party branch. The new village leadership group is creative, motivated, and committed, injecting new vigor into Luotuowan Village. "Leadership is a heavy burden," says Gu Ruili, "but as General Secretary Xi has said, we should be passionate about working for people in difficulty, so we should throw ourselves into our work whole-heartedly."
Real confidence comes from the enthusiasm of the people.
Poverty eradication is a practical endeavor that relies on the concerted efforts of the public in poor areas.
"Poverty assistance cannot provide for idlers; prosperity creation requires everyone's efforts." This slogan has not only been painted on the walls around the village but also become part of the mindset of village residents. While showing us a tourist farmyard, the village's first CPC branch secretary Liu Huage says, "If you're talking about changes, I think the biggest change has been in the morale of the villagers. Before they would look on with their hands behind their backs, but now they are looking for new tasks every day and compete with each other to make sure they don't fall behind." In the yard, 69-year-old Sun Zhengfeng is preparing a kind of pancake known as "a flat yellow," and the delicious smell of eggs and corn flour over a wood fire wafts through the air. "Originally, we had just a small piece of land to work on. When there was something to do, we worked; when there wasn't, we stayed idle. Now I work close to home. Not only do I earn good wages, I also feel content every day. My son also has plans to come back and work at home," Mrs. Sun says happily.
As the saying goes, when the phoenix tree blossoms, the phoenix will come over. So far over 30 natives, like Mrs. Sun's son, have returned to the village to set up businesses. After an almost eight-year-long fight against poverty, Luotuowan Village has fulfilled the hopes of General Secretary Xi by creating a thriving climate of prosperity deep in the mountains of Hebei. As 72-year-old Gu Baoqing touchingly puts it, "The General Secretary has us in his thoughts, and we miss him too. Now that the village has changed so much, I hope he will visit again."
(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No. 18, 2020)