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Steadily Rising Living Standards in Yucun Village

By Wei Tianshu and Zheng Yali Source: English Edition of Qiushi Journal Updated: 2022-07-12

Lucid waters flow among rolling green hills, amid farmlands and gardens criss-crossed with winding paths. Arriving at Yucun Village in Anji County, Zhejiang Province, our senses are immediately filled with the fragrance of spring. At the village entrance sits a monument bearing the inscription "lucid waters and lush mountains are invaluable assets." This message tells the story of China's new era. 

The Yucun of today is connecting people to nature and tapping into our rural nostalgia, but the village also has a bleak past. In the 1980s and 1990s, local residents relied on mining and cement manufacturing to become better off. However, the price they paid was foul air, tainted waters, and mountains shrouded in dust. After 2003, Yucun began to shutter its mines and cement plants, and took the lead in developing a beautiful countryside. 

On August 15, 2005, Xi Jinping, then Secretary of the CPC Zhejiang Provincial Committee, visited Yucun Village. He praised the residents' determination to close the mines and pursue a new model of green development. It was on this occasion that Xi Jinping first put forward the concept that lucid waters and lush mountains are invaluable assets. 

On March 30, 2020, President Xi returned to Yucun Village. In Chunlin Mountain Villa, the first homestay to open after the village closed its mines and shifted to green development, China's President chatted with local residents. He noted that the concept that lucid waters and lush mountains are invaluable assets had become a consensus and call to action for the whole of China and an important component of China's new philosophy of development. Experience had shown that economic development could not come at the cost of ecological destruction; that our ecological environment was itself an economy, and ecological protection was an act of developing the productive forces.


Yucun Village in Anji County, Zhejiang Province. PHOTO BY XIA PENGFEI 

This vision has been a harbinger of great change. For over a decade, the people of Yucun have put this concept into practice, and have followed a sustainable development path featuring a beautiful environment, thriving businesses, and prosperity for ordinary people. 

Beautiful scenery, bright prospects 

The narrow village roads of the past have been replaced by broad and smooth avenues. The old cement plant has been dismantled, and its grounds resown as colorful fields and gardens. Over 33 hectares of leased land have been turned into rapeseed fields and lotus ponds based on designs for the village. Yucun has also gradually developed a leisure tourism industry chain, based on outdoor adventure programs, mountaineering and fishing, fruit and vegetable picking, and many other activities of agritourism. Today, Yucun is no longer a quarry-based economy but an ecology-based one. It has transformed from a polluted village into a National AAAA-Rated Scenic Area, a National Model Village for Beauty and Livability, and one of the World Tourism Organization's Best Tourism Villages. 

With a beautiful environment, convenient transportation, and a full complement of services, this once silent mountain village now bustles with energy, welcoming more tourists with each passing year. Pan Chunlin, the proprietor of Chunlin Mountain Villa, has established a farm-stay alliance to help more villagers realize prosperity. He has also opened a travel agency and cultural development company to provide a full range of services for all visitors to the village, whether for tourism or research purposes. 

Nowadays, it is common to hear Yucun residents mention such neologisms as the "dual carbon strategy," "zero carbon village," and "carbon sink." They have learned that local bamboo forests can absorb carbon dioxide and serve as carbon sinks. Through carbon sink trading, residents cannot only receive rent and earn wages as forest wardens, but also gain a stake in future returns on carbon sinks by becoming shareholders. Thus the road to ecological prosperity continues to widen for the villagers. 

Fostering the spirit of rural revitalization 

To borrow a common saying, Yucun is "rural but refined, country but cultivated." The village is not only ideal for business and travel but also for living. It has revised its resident code of conduct and introduced special regulations for a range of issues including land use, village life, consumer rights protection, and sanitation. Each household has also set its own "house rules," and displays them in a prominent position to remind each family member to follow these rules and promote positive family virtues. To protect the natural environment, village residents took it upon themselves to establish an ecological protection team to deal with uncivilized behaviors among some visitors. "If tourists litter or discard their cigarette butts, we villagers will collect them and throw them in the garbage as soon as we see them," explained local resident Sheng Xiaomei. 

To develop a rural civility credit system, Yucun has launched the first "civility bank" initiative in Zhejiang Province. At the end of each quarter, the representatives of village residents conduct reviews based on core criteria set out in a civility pledge agreed on by residents, covering areas such as compliance with laws and regulations, ecological protection, and civility in one's business operations. These are then verified by the village Party branch and village committee. Villagers who meet standards can earn points, which can be used to access bank loans with preferential amounts and interest rates. 

In recent years, a cultural center, a rural library, and an exhibition on Anji's green development have opened in succession. Such initiatives carry forward people's distinctive hometown memories and the hometown attachment they feel, and protect and promote local intangible cultural heritage. While enjoying better lives, residents are also more connected to their native soul and tapping its potential more effectively. In 2017, Yucun won the "National Civilized Village" award, injecting further vitality into its development as a model of civility. 

Toward common prosperity 

"One prosperous village does not constitute true prosperity; prosperity is genuine only if it is collective." Wang Yucheng, Party branch secretary of the village, explained, "As Zhejiang works to build a demonstration zone for common prosperity, Yucun will lead the way forward, serving as a pioneer and example." The village has joined forces with four neighboring villages to establish a company and a regional Party-development alliance to promote common prosperity. By boosting resource integration, these joint efforts will harness the natural environment to develop the economy. Wang Yucheng explained, "Yinkeng Village is a film and television base, Maji Village has revolutionary resources, Henglu Village is rich in water resources, and Shanhe Village offers a wide range of supporting public services. Integrating the resources of each village will create a more diverse tourism sector and help attract more tourists." 

Yucun Avenue, which starts in Yucun Village, is now fully open to traffic, linking all five above-mentioned villages together to create a unique picturesque route of beautiful countryside and scenic spots. The village's tourist transport hub has also been relocated to a central site for all surrounding villages to ensure that they all receive a share of Yucun's tourist traffic. In addition, Yucun has been paired with villages in Xinjiang and Sichuan, two provinces in western China, and also those within Zhejiang in order to share its experience of "turning green into gold." 

In 2021, the village received nearly 900,000 tourist visits. Its collective economic income exceeded 8 million yuan, and villagers' per capita annual income was 61,000 yuan. Lucid waters and lush mountains have created happy lives for the people of Yucun, and their journey toward common prosperity is already well under way. 

(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No. 7, 2022)