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Keep Running, Huaxi Village

By Zhou Zhaocheng and Long Danmei Source: English Edition of Qiushi Journal Updated: 2022-07-12

It's early summer in Huaxi Village, Shizhu Tujia Autonomous County, Chongqing. The familiar tones of Tujia ethnic minority song "Everyone Is Happy When the Sun Rises" can be frequently heard around the village. Houses are nestled among clear streams and lush mountains, and the sealwort plants growing beneath the Chaenomeles shrubs have begun to hit their stride. 

As soon as his plane touched down in Chongqing on April 15, 2019, President Xi Jinping made straight for the mountain village of Huaxi, in order to gain an up-close and personal understanding of the progress of poverty alleviation work in Chongqing and the efforts being made to resolve the prominent problems in assuring the rural poor population that their food and clothing needs were met and guaranteeing that they had access to compulsory education, basic medical services, and safe housing (referred to below as the "two assurances and three guarantees"). President Xi encouraged the residents of Huaxi to work together and strive to move forward at full tilt so as to leave poverty behind and embrace moderate prosperity as soon as possible. 

In the more than three years since the visit, the officials and residents of Huaxi Village have kept President Xi's words in mind, and have gratefully worked to see their once poor and backward village breaking into a sprint toward rural revitalization. 

A familiar couplet with new meaning 

Written in black characters on a red background, the couplet pasted on the door of the central room of Tan Dengzhou's house is eye-catching. The words on the left of the couplet reads, "Good policies are vital to survive grave crises." The words on the right reads, "Our illnesses and ailments are covered by medical insurance." The horizontal scroll reads, "The CPC is great." 

There is an interesting story behind the couplet. In March 2018, Tan Dengzhou suffered a serious fall while he was out working in the fields. The fall left him unable to do any strenuous work, while his wife also suffers from several chronic illnesses including rheumatism and asthma. Despite this, the Tans were still able to have their needs met thanks to China's basic medical insurance, major illness insurance, and medical assistance subsidies. Feeling grateful for these policies, Tan had the above-mentioned couplet composed for the Spring Festival of 2019. President Xi called to Tan's home during his visit to Huaxi Village. Tightly holding Tan's hand, the president remarked, "The Party's policies can only be considered good if they benefit the people." 

In recent years, the Tan family has experienced further changes that have added to the story of the Spring Festival couplet. Now a family doctor calls regularly to the house so the Tans do not have to worry about seeking out medical treatment. Dividends earned from their land, along with rural subsistence allowances, social security benefits, and subsidies from public service posts, as well as income from raising native Chinese bees, mean the basic necessities are no longer a worry. With the encouragement of the village collective, the Tans converted their firewood shed into a small shop stocked with Tujia specialty products, whose profits they have a stake in, thus opening a path to prosperity for the family.


An aerial photo of Huaxi Village, Shizhu Tujia Autonomous County, Chongqing. PHOTO BY TAN HUAXIANG 

In 2022, Tan Dengzhou took the initiative to raise eight hives of native Chinese bees. "Though the Party's policies are good," he explained, "I also need to work hard to make progress and stay in step with everyone else." Tan's confidence and motivation for realizing a better life continues to grow stronger. 

In recent years, every household in Huaxi Village has developed a stable channel for growing its income. As a result, not a single household in the village has relapsed into poverty. Huaxi has also set up a "two assurances and three guarantees" fund for any unexpected difficulties people might encounter. These efforts have created a strong sense of fulfillment and happiness that is writ large upon residents' faces. 

Leading up to the 2022 Spring Festival, Tan traveled to the local township and bought the best red calligraphy paper he could find. He had his original couplet written out again and pasted it up outside his door once more. The characters of the couplet are unchanged, but Tan says that they have attained richer meaning with each passing year. 

Passing the Party badge to the next generation 

Ma Peiqing, an 89-year-old veteran Party member, has a Communist Party of China badge pinned to her chest. Ma remains in excellent health despite her age; her conversation is lively and straightforward. Her father, Ma Fazi, was an underground Party member prior to the founding of the PRC who used his status as a craftsman to engage in revolutionary activities. Inspired by her father, Ma Peiqing proudly joined the Communist Party of China in 1974. Before his passing, her father left his cap badge inscribed with the five-pointed star to his daughter, along with instructions to willingly dedicate herself to her work, always have a grateful heart, and pass the badge on to the next generation of the family.

On April 15, 2019, President Xi Jinping visited the home of Ma Peiqing and sat with village residents in the courtyard to explain the Party's policies, discuss changes that were occurring, and plan for the future. "Happiness is born from hard work," President Xi said during the meeting. It is this statement that has stayed with Ma Peiqing's youngest son, Chen Peng, ever since the visit. With the assistance of village officials, Chen Peng has completed a carpentry course and found work on construction sites in the local area. He has also leased back about an acre of sealwort, a type of traditional Chinese medicinal herb, which are now under his management. Chen now earns an annual income of at least 40,000 to 50,000 yuan. It is remarkable to think that just a few years ago, he was lagging behind the rest of the village on the path to poverty alleviation and barely making ends meet. 

Grateful for the support he received, Chen applied to the Party branch of Huaxi Village to become a Party member on three occasions. On the day he officially became a probationary Party member, his mother Ma Peiqing personally helped him put on the Party badge and passed on her treasured pin with the five-pointed star to him. 

The sealwort plants under Chen's management are making excellent progress and look exceptionally sturdy. When villagers probe Chen for the secret to his success, he simply tells them that you have to put in the hard work. When asked why he is so hardworking, Chen replies that it is because he is a Party member. 

Cultivating prosperity with traditional Chinese medicinal herbs 

Huaxi Village's sealwort cultivation base, which is actually located in Yanjing, the next village over, sold 300,000 yuan worth of sealwort seedlings this year. Sealwort production has "outgrown the village," jokes Wang Xiangsheng, secretary of the village Party branch. 

When President Xi visited Huaxi, he was pleased to hear that the village's residents were trying to shake off poverty through the cultivation of specialty crops like sealwort. So far, the village has planted 48.67 hectares of sealwort and built a full production chain from seedling cultivation to planting and deep processing. It has developed new sealwort products, including noodles, tea, and peach slice pastries. It has also launched specialty dishes with farm stay businesses in mind, including a chicken stew made with sealwort. 

How is Huaxi ensuring that local industries develop sustainably while also benefitting more and more residents? The answer lies in a mechanism to link the interests of leading enterprises, the village collective economy, and individual households. While the village centrally leases out collective land and enterprises centrally oversee production, scattered parcels of land in the mountain areas are taken care of by capable villagers who head up protection and management. In addition to dividends from land shares and sealwort sales, these residents also earn an additional protection and management fee. 

Thanks to the growth of main businesses, like sealwort cultivation, native Chinese beekeeping, and tourism, the per capita net income of Huaxi's entire previously poor population hit 16,041 yuan in 2021, an increase of 2,628 yuan over 2020. 

(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No. 10, 2022)