Resettlement in the Yellow River Floodplains
In the past, life in the Yellow River floodplains followed a cycle—frequent flooding meant residents roughly spent three years saving money, three years building earthen platforms, three years rebuilding their homes, and three years repaying their debts. Today, thanks to efforts to relocate residents away from these areas, construct raised villages nearby, build up embankments, and renovate and upgrade older raised villages, people in the Yellow River floodplains are finally living in secure and stable homes in the new era.
"Since the 18th CPC National Congress in 2012, I have closely followed the relocation of residents in the Yellow River floodplains. The comprehensive relocation of residents to new homes has been a remarkable feat." In October 2021, President Xi Jinping visited a residential community of resettled residents during his tour of Shandong, where he issued instructions on the relocation of people in the Yellow River floodplains. He declared warmly to local residents, "I am delighted to see you are living and working in peace and contentment."
In early spring, we drove along the Yellow River embankments as far as Dongming County in Shandong Province, the river's first stop on entering Shandong. Outside the floodplains brimmed with life, as lush willow trees drooped over the embankments, and colorful flowers were in full bloom.
Relocating and getting settled
In the Liming Community of Village No. 2 in Jiaoyuan Township, white buildings with gray tiles sit in neat rows. The community is served by a school, a supermarket, and various other small stores. More than 1,800 people from 475 households in Xinzhuang Village moved to the community in 2021.
"Spring is forever in bloom on the road of poverty alleviation; Renewal is always ongoing in the prosperous village." Li Jincheng, 78 years old, from Xinzhuang Village smiled as he read the Spring Festival couplet pasted outside his door. The year of the tiger was the first Chinese New Year that residents of the floodplains celebrated in their new homes.
"Living in a secure building is something I would never have dreamed of." Li sighs deeply when he recalls the housing "trilogy" that he has experienced over the decades. In 1962, the Yellow River engulfed his village. With the support of the Party and the government, the villagers selected a site for the new Xinzhuang Village, where they built mudbrick houses. In the 1970s and 1980s, villagers gradually began to build brick and tile houses. However, these were often destroyed by flooding. Finally in July 2021, Li's family moved into a bright and spacious two-story home.
For people in the floodplains, the most striking transformation has not been the move to a new home but the change in their mentality during flood season and other exceptional times. In 2021, the floodplains on the lower reaches of the Yellow River were struck by rare autumn flooding. The flow of water on the Shandong section reached the order of 5,000 cubic meters per second. Li Zhansheng, Party branch secretary of Xinzhuang Village, explained, "In our old village, residents built the earthen platforms themselves. These platforms would be eroded by the rain, and people lived in fear of the foundations getting washed away. Our new village is built on a raised platform of about five or six meters. So even if the waters run very high, we don't have to worry."
Village No. 8 in Changxingji Township, Heze, Shandong Province. As the main battleground for relocating residents in Shandong's Yellow River floodplains, the city of Heze has built 28 new raised villages and relocated 6 communities over the past five years, helping 146,000 people in the floodplains realize their long-held dream of living a peaceful life. PHOTO BY XU JIAHUI
Now that people feel safe, they are willing to do up their homes. After Fan Haina got the keys to her new home in the Xiangyang Community of Village No. 1, she immediately began decorating. "We spent about 60,000 or 70,000 yuan on decorations and new furniture. When we lived in the old village, we stored furniture in the homes of relatives who lived outside the floodplains. The furniture was ours but we never got to use it," she said.
Looking around these new villages, you can see clean and tidy buildings, standardized health clinics, modern schools, and fully functional community service centers. They jointly weave a safety net for securing the wellbeing of residents in floodplains.
Capacity for development makes prosperity possible.
Having moved out of their old homes, residents of the floodplains are seizing golden opportunities for development. By relocating, they have opened up vast stretches of land, attracting industries that will benefit farmers and put people on the road to prosperity.
In Dongming's knotweed cultivation park, dozens of hectares of newly planted knotweed are sprouting fresh buds in the warm spring breeze. Meng Fanren, a resident of the new Zhulin Village, has worked here for almost two years. "We moved to our new village several years ago. Our family's 1.4 hectare farm is now fully mechanized, saving a lot of time and energy. We can earn an extra two to three thousand yuan a month working here."
"Japanese knotweed, which is used in traditional Chinese medicine, is easy to grow and sells well," explains a project supervisor at the cultivation park. The Japanese knotweed cultivation base covers 966.7 hectares, including 100 hectares that have been newly leased and planted this year. From planting to watering and harvesting, the entire process creates at least 3,500 jobs.
In addition to its economic value, knotweed also has a noticeable ecological value. "Knotweed can grow up to almost two meters. It has a dense crown of leaves and large root system, which can increase vegetation coverage, and reduce wind and water erosion. This helps with soil and water conservation and with protecting the eco-environment of the floodplains," said the project supervisor.
Nearby in Shawo Town, construction on more than 100 steel-framed greenhouse units has just been completed in the Yellow River Floodplain Ecological Agro-industrial Park. A person in charge at the park explained that the structures would house a new 80-hectare circular breeding base for Yellow River carp. Once the project comes into operation it will create more jobs. In addition, the park is also introducing 66.7 hectares of rumex dapibus herba for a new health technology project and constructing supporting workshops for deep processing, a move which will provide a further boost to local incomes.
Confidence in the future
The thousand-mile floodplains of the Yellow River have taken on a whole new look. The improvements in people's lives are just the start of things to come. Now they are content with work and life, and are more confident and motivated to pursue even better lives. These days, local Party branch secretary Li Zhansheng is busy coordinating investment projects for people returning home. "When the floodplains were poor, residents had to leave in order to earn a living. Many ended up opening their own factories. Now the new village has been built and our hometown has experienced tremendous changes, so many people are willing to return home and invest in factories to promote rural revitalization."
At the local schools, you will find beautiful campuses, brand new desks and chairs, and the crisp sound of students reading. The learning environment for children in the floodplains is on a par with that in the city. To eliminate the roots of poverty through education, Heze City has adopted preferential policies in terms of staffing structures, the awarding of professional titles, and salaries to attract young teachers to the area.
"Children are the future and our hope. In the village, we now attach great importance to education. If we can give over 200 children a good education, our village will have even greater momentum for development." As they face the future, the residents of the Yellow River floodplains are brimming with confidence.
(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No. 8, 2022)