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Travel Notes on Guizhou Province

By Ouyang Qiansen Source: English Edition of Qiushi Journal Updated: 2024-05-11

Guizhou Province in southwest China is not supported by any plains. According to the Guizhou Department of Land and Resources, the province has over 1.2 million mountain peaks. My visits to the countless valleys and mountains that comprise this province in the years of the fight against poverty make up the most precious and unforgettable journey of my life.

On February 25, 2021, President Xi Jinping announced China’s poverty alleviation achievements to the world at the National Conference to Review the Fight Against Poverty and Commend Individuals and Groups Involved. Guizhou Province led the country in terms of the number of people both lifted from poverty and relocated from inhospitable areas. By the end of 2020, the province had lifted all 9.23 million of its impoverished residents out of poverty, and eliminated poverty in all 9,000 poor villages that spread out in 66 poor counties. A total of 1.92 million people were relocated from inhospitable mountainous areas. In doing so, it shed its centuries-old reputation as an impoverished province and wrote a remarkable chapter in the story of China’s miraculous poverty alleviation success.

I have personally witnessed and experienced this historic transformation. During my continuous coverage of the contiguous impoverished region spanning the Wumeng and Wuling mountain ranges over many years, I have observed the tireless efforts of the officials working on the front lines from the start of the fight against poverty. In the most profound terms, they have given heart and soul to this cause. I have also been deeply moved by the simple values of the ordinary people here—they have never forgotten what the Communist Party of China (CPC) has done to improve their living standards and what efforts President Xi has made to ensure they can live happy lives.

Nowadays, China is working hard to achieve all-around rural revitalization.

Industrial revitalization sits at the heart of the rural revitalization agenda and is the starting point of this work. Having borne witness to Guizhou’s fight against poverty, I was filled with an even greater sense of anticipation about the revitalization of its rural areas. Over the past year or more, I have visited 9 cities and prefectures, 36 counties, and 156 villages in the province, covering over 30,000 kilometers. This journey has given me a deep insight into how rural revitalization is invigorating countless industries and transforming mountain villages.


Tourists visit the scenic area in Huawu Village, which is part of a one-hundred-mile scenic corridor at the source of the Wujiang River, September 30, 2023. The scenic area has become a jewel of the premium tourist routes in western Guizhou Province. CNS / PHOTO BY SHI KAIXIN

The magnificent Wumeng Mountains and the transformation of Huawu Village

I have visited the Wumeng Mountains on multiple occasions. Despite its grandeur, the region is severely affected by karst desertification, making it a place of breathtaking beauty but also deep-seated poverty.

Nestled beneath a bank of cliffs deep in the Wujiang River Valley, Huawu Village is part of Xinren Miao Township in Qianxi, Bijie City. Precisely 96.7% of its inhabitants are members of the Miao ethnic group. In the past, the village was accessible only by a treacherous and winding trail. Communication depended on word of mouth, transportation hinged on the labor of one’s feet, and warmth was generated solely by one’s own body heat. The deprivation in the village was even more severe than in the most destitute places. In 2014, the village identified 145 households, totaling 661 people, as impoverished, with the poverty headcount ratio peaking at 63.6%. Remarkably, just five years later in 2019, annual per capita disposable income had soared from 2,450 yuan to 10,500 yuan, allowing Huawu to successfully emerge from the clutches of poverty.

When President Xi visited Guizhou Province on February 3, 2021, Huawu Village was his first stop.

Traveling on the 140-kilometer stretch of expressway from Wujiang Town, it took me just two hours to reach Huawu Village. The village’s young CPC branch secretary, Xu Lei, was a delegate to the 20th CPC National Congress held in 2022. She is also chairman of the People’s Congress of Xinren Miao Township. She recounted how President Xi closely inspected the living conditions of Zhao Yuxue when he visited the homes of some Miao villagers who had been relocated from inhospitable areas. Zhao explained to President Xi that whereas his family’s old home in Mawo Village had no running water, electricity, or paved roads, their new two-story residence was equipped with all these facilities. President Xi was delighted to hear about these improvements. He told villagers that employment was the fundamental measure for consolidating achievements in poverty alleviation. Therefore, it was important to proactively develop rural industries that would provide local employment opportunities. This way, people could earn a good living and have the time to care for family and raise their kids.

In Huawu Village, nearly all women are skilled in the art of Miao embroidery. During his visit, President Xi paid a call to the village’s poverty-alleviation workshop to learn about the development of the Miao embroidery industry and the preservation of traditional ethnic culture. He noted that “The treasures of ethnic culture are also the pride of the entire world. Miao embroidery is both traditional and fashionable, both a cultural treasure and an industry. It can promote not only traditional culture but also rural revitalization. Traditional ethnic culture like Miao embroidery must be kept alive and developed well.” Following the approach put forward by the president, Huawu has made the ancient art of Miao embroidery a significant driver in the revitalization of rural industry, turning itself into one of China’s beautiful leisure villages.

President Xi also joined Zhao Yuxue and others in Zhao’s home to make huangba, a local festive dessert made of sticky rice. The production of this local delicacy has now become an important industry for the village. Along with turmeric cultivation, cattle breeding, and Miao embroidery, it has contributed to the steady development and expansion of industry in the village, significantly strengthening its collective economy.

On the hills behind the village, you can see distant mountains rising like majestic ocean waves. This stunning landscape deep in the mountains remained hidden for years. By 2015, Guizhou had connected every county in the province to the expressway network, creating a link to the outside world for its many mountains and valleys. With the opening of these roads, the natural landscape of the Wujiang River’s source showed its majestic charm almost instantly, and Miao villages became a much sought-after cultural resource. As rural tourism boomed, more village residents began earning a living from this industry and their lives improved significantly.

From February 2021 to February 2023, Huawu Village received more than 1.4 million visitors, generating over 530 million yuan in tourism revenue. The village has also received a series of honors, being designated a National Key Village for Rural Tourism and a Home of Chinese Folk Culture and Arts. It has become known far and wide as an ecological and cultural tourism village and is working to turn itself into a national model for rural revitalization and green development. In just a few years, the average annual disposable income in the village doubled, exceeding 25,000 yuan by the end of 2022.

Ten years ago, when Yang Long returned to Huawu, he noticed that many people were operating businesses at the river dock. Seeing that his hometown had the conditions for starting a business, Yang was no longer willing to leave his home to look for a job elsewhere.

“I built two guesthouses, which bring in about 400,000 yuan a year,” Yang explained.

“Life has never been so good,” he said, his smile tinged with emotion.

With the development of local industries, the village has not only enabled its residents to remain in the village and preserve their rural roots but also filled them with hope for the revitalization of their home.

Embracing CPC heritage and green development to realize prosperity

From Mazong Ridge, one can see the closely connected villages of Gouba and Huamao.

For many years, due to its remoteness and harsh natural conditions, Gouba Village was mired in poverty.

President Xi has always expressed concern for the lives of the people in old revolutionary base areas such as this one. On multiple occasions, he has stressed that accelerating development in such areas and ensuring that the local people share in the fruits of reform and development is a responsibility that must never be forgotten and a solemn promise of the CPC.

Today, Gouba Village has become a well-known prosperous place. The village has adopted the red of the CPC’s heritage as its core color, which is complemented by the green of the natural environment, creating a cultural brand that has spurred both industry and employment. From the start of 2023 to May 1, the Labor Day holiday, Gouba Village’s cultural and tourist innovation zone for CPC heritage received a total of 648,700 tourists, with tourism revenue exceeding 60 million yuan. The village has also steadily modernized its agricultural industry, developing a demonstration base for mountain agriculture centered on a “Paddy Field Plus” model. At the same time, it has fully leveraged the advantages offered by its resources for traditional Chinese herbal medicine, gaining a reputation as the “Home of Eucommia.”

The number of Gouba residents working outside the village has fallen from over 1,700 several years ago to less than 700 today. Tourist attractions, crop cultivation bases, and entrepreneurship projects have all become important sources of local employment.

Adjacent to Gouba is Huamao Village, where I once stayed for a year. I have written a television drama and reportage literature about this village, and its residents have even appointed me as an honorary village chief.

On my tour, I visited Huamao once again.

When President Xi visited Huamao in 2015, he made two statements that are still widely quoted by villagers and have made the idea of “rural roots” a signature brand for the village: “To determine whether the CPC Central Committee’s policies are good or bad, we must see whether rural residents are happy or not.” “It is no wonder so many people visit this village because they can connect with their rural roots here.”

When I lived in the village, I could deeply sense how important the day of June 16, 2015 was in the minds of residents. For them, that was the day their journey to happiness and prosperity began. On that day, President Xi visited the village and endorsed the approach of integrating poverty alleviation efforts with the initiative to develop a beautiful countryside featuring prosperity, education, happiness, and a pleasant living environment. President Xi reassured residents that “Good days will come after hard work. Poverty is not to be feared. As long as one has confidence and determination, no difficulty is insurmountable.”


An aerial view of the autumn harvest scenery in Huamao Village, Guizhou Province. PUBLICITY DEPARTMENT OF THE CPC GUIZHOU PROVINCIAL COMMITTEE / PHOTO BY LI RENJUN

Keeping these words in mind, the residents of Huamao have resolutely pursued rural tourism and the cultivation of specialty agricultural products. This path has enabled them to earn a living from tourism and the natural environment. The village has now established an industrial cluster that integrates the production and processing of agricultural products, leisure and tourism, and the sale of specialty produce. In 2022, per capita disposable income in the village reached 23,613 yuan.

In the village fields, I had the opportunity to speak with Chen Fujun, a supervisory official from the Rural Revitalization Bureau of Zunyi City, where the village is located. Chen shared that Huamao Village had recently achieved new breakthroughs in high-quality development. Based on 2022 evaluations, a local organization, namely the Zunyi Ludong Jiufeng Vegetable Cultivation Cooperative, was awarded the status of a national ecological farm. The village operates on an integrated model that brings together companies, the CPC branch, the cooperative, and individual farmers. It has cultivated 200 hectares of vegetables in open fields and 97 hectares of green plum orchards. The cooperative has also spurred the cultivation of 2,300 hectares of vegetables in surrounding towns and villages. This progress has ensured local employment for residents within the jurisdiction.

In Huamao Village, I also had the pleasure of meeting Wang Jia, a young rural entrepreneurship mentor. Wang is a native of Gouba Village and an alumnus of Guizhou University. He launched an agricultural venture by leasing 20 hectares of land in Huamao to grow organic rice. He also practices the local specialties of Paddy-fish and -duck farming, allowing him to put his fields and waters to multiple uses, producing several yields each season, and promoting harmonious agriculture.

Wang said, “During peak season, we can provide employment for nearly one hundred people from nearby villages. Workers engaged in tasks such as weeding and desilting earn 15 yuan per hour, while skilled technicians who manage the heavy machinery receive 30 yuan per hour. These wages are exclusive of incomes from land-leasing fees and profit-sharing arrangements.”

At present, the village has dedicated 200 hectares of land to distinctive mountain agriculture and aquaculture. Wang noted, “Many in Huamao Village are now engaged in this sector; I would not even say that I am the largest of them.”

Wandering through the spring fields, I am greeted by a vibrant tapestry—the landscape awash with the golden yellow of rapeseed flowers, the pink of peach blossoms, and the pure white of pear blossoms. A gentle morning breeze drifts through the valley, carrying a sweet fragrance through the air.

The arrival of talent and a new look for an ancient village

In Qianxinan Buyi and Miao Autonomous Prefecture, an ancient village resided by the Buyi ethnic group with a history of over 200 years stands on the banks of the Huangni River. A section of the ancient tea horse trail between Guizhou and Yunnan provinces has been preserved in the village—the trail is named for the ancient trade of tea carried on horseback. The village consists of stone steps connecting its roads and alleys, earning it the name Puti Village, or the “Village of Steps.”

Puti is a natural village brimming with rare wonders. Scattered throughout the village are numerous large-scale ancient houses, whose golden yellow facades stand out against the green backdrop of the mountains, creating a striking landscape.

The mountainous village is home to more than 1,400 ancient Zelkova serrata trees, a national Grade II protected species. The village is also a Grade I protected drinking water source.

Having once served on a geological team, I am particularly fascinated by this locale because it sits at the heart of the Xingyi National Geopark, which is famous for fossils from the Keichousaurus, an aquatic reptile from the Triassic period, which is locally known as the Guizhou dragon. Within the bounds of Wusha Town, we can find China’s earliest Triassic marine reptile fossils. They are not only widespread and abundant but also boast a rich diversity of species and are remarkably well-preserved, offering immense value for scientific research.

Puti truly is a precious ancient village. It is home to six ancient cultural treasures: paleontological fossils, village walls and architecture with unique ethnic features, the ancient tea horse trail, ancient Zelkova serrata trees, and natural ancient bridges and wells.

Treasures abound both above and below ground. For residents, felling several Zelkova serrata trees or excavating a number of fossils could potentially earn them enough income for several years.

However, Guo Chenglin, secretary of the village CPC branch, explained, “No one cuts down trees or excavates fossils for money here. The treasures above and below ground have been left behind by our ancestors. We have always been taught to respect the mountains, waters, and forests. Whether it’s something above or below ground, it should not be touched.”

There is a saying that the key to village prosperity lies in the CPC branch, and the strength of the branch hinges on its leader. In Puti Village, Guo Chenglin has been the torchbearer leading the villagers toward affluence. Over a decade ago, Guo was the first to taste prosperity when he set up a bus transport business. But this didn’t mean he forgot about his fellow villagers. He led them in planting peach orchards, building roads, and setting up a cooperative.

In recent years, the once dilapidated ancient residences and the long-overlooked Buyi ethnic culture have become new resources driving all-around rural revitalization.

Leveraging the area’s natural resources, the village CPC branch and committee have renovated the village based on the principles of comprehensive planning, industrial guidance, and cultural protection and conservation. Embracing the strategy of developing one distinctive product per village, Puti has crafted policies tailored to its circumstances and developed a cultural brand featuring the six abovementioned ancient cultural treasures. This approach has reinvented the place as an ethnic culture village with distinctive charm. Dilapidated homes have been renovated, ancient walls restored, and high-quality homestays established. Residents have not only witnessed the renewal of their residences but also earned rental income and share dividends.

It was at a courtyard meeting that I discovered that the village’s brand featuring six ancient cultural treasures was thanks to “new farmers” who had settled in the village.

A representative of the new farmers, Zeng Fuguo, established the Laiwutouwan brand. In the adjacent Lache Village, Zeng converted disused houses into a high-standard rural resort that offers a blend of dining, leisure, entertainment, conference facilities, and social activities. The resort attracts guests from near and far with its array of local specialties, which include traditional stewed chicken soup, roasted bacon from black pigs, traditional stone-ground tofu, glutinous rice cakes, and tea brewed in traditional earthen pots, along with the unique ethnic customs of the southwestern Guizhou region.

When I met Zeng, he eagerly took out his phone to share a photo with me. It showed the couplet that adorns the door of his resort, stating: “Rural revitalization raises Lache up and secures a life of prosperity for all.” Above the doorway, the horizontal scroll reads: “Remember to return home for dinner.”

I quipped to Zeng that he must have amassed a tidy sum.

Dismissing the notion with a wave, he responded, “It’s not just me. We all have a stake in this. We’ve now established a rural resort in the village. All of us are partners, and good fortune is sure to come calling when everyone is united.”

I am reminded of the words of President Xi Jinping. He noted, “Rural revitalization requires efforts to promote the industrial development of green resources and the greening of industries. We must continue to strengthen and expand industries such as organic agricultural production, rural tourism, and leisure agriculture. We should properly preserve our intangible cultural heritage, and both effectively consolidate and build on achievements in poverty alleviation and advance all-around rural revitalization.” Judging from the vibrant practices in Puti Village, it’s clear that President Xi has pinpointed the essence of rural revitalization.

Well-organized relocation and multifaceted revitalization

One magnificent achievement in China’s battle against poverty has been the organized relocation of the entire Sanbao Yi Ethnic Township in Qinglong County of Qianxinan Buyi and Miao Autonomous Prefecture to establish a subdistrict in suburban Qinglong County.

I have lived in Qinglong County intermittently for a total of three years and have an intimate knowledge of Sanbao Township. Once extremely impoverished, the whole township has been relocated to a centralized resettlement community. The once-impoverished inhabitants of Sanbao now live in new houses in the county seat. They have received financial compensation for their old dwellings and have secured full employment, realizing significant improvements in their lives. These achievements are the results of the concerted efforts of the entire province and have deeply touched the people of Guizhou.

Following the relocation, I have visited Sanbao many times. During my visits in recent years, I witnessed the rollout of a scheme to guarantee employment for at least one person in every household in the subdistrict of Sanbao. In pursuit of this aim, the place has built industrial parks and entrepreneurial parks for small and micro businesses and created new public service jobs, thus ensuring employment and entrepreneurial opportunities through multiple avenues. At the same time, it has also implemented training programs for one member of each household to nurture the development of new urban citizens. These measures have been instrumental in lifting families out of poverty.

Despite it being over a year since my last visit to Sanbao, the words of an official from the Rural Revitalization Bureau still resonate with me. He said that following the relocation and resettlement of people from inhospitable areas, it is crucial that they have the ability to pursue prosperity.

The basis for relocation and resettlement is employment.

When I returned to Ameiqituo Town in Sanbao Subdistrict in 2023, I was greeted by a charming cluster of houses with brown walls and gray tiles, ornate windows, and intricately carved railings. The paved streets were meticulously swept, and the greenery lush and vibrant. The town is a rapidly rising place that has already achieved the status of a AAAA-rated national tourist attraction. Designed to reflect the styles of the Miao and Yi ethnic groups, the town aims to revive the traditional Yi dance that it is named for: the Ameiqituo dance, which is a wonderful advertisement as a national intangible cultural heritage. This dance has helped residents boost their incomes and build a beautiful home.

A subdistrict official told me that Sanbao is now focusing on providing training for its entire workforce. They have implemented an integrated training model incorporating a human resources and social security center, labor services company, and enterprises. Training is tailored to meet individual needs, and policies are applied on a categorized basis. A variety of channels have been harnessed to guarantee employment and entrepreneurial opportunities for residents, including providing universal training, offering labor services outside of Sanbao, promoting the integration of culture and tourism, driving industrial development, developing industrial parks, and generating public welfare jobs. To date, Sanbao Subdistrict has an active labor force of 7,570 individuals, with 7,189 of them in stable employment—an employment rate of about 95%. Employment has been provided for more than one family member in every household.

The foundation of prosperity is industry.

At the former site of Sanbao, the Sanbao Yi Ethnic Group Poverty Alleviation Platform Co., Ltd. was founded to oversee the compensated transfer of land for relocated residents and put the land under corporate and project-based operation. Companies such as Guizhou Tianchenhe Agriculture and Forestry Development Co., Ltd., and Qinglong County Grassland Animal Husbandry Development Co., Ltd. were attracted to the area. Within the township, projects, such as raising beef cattle, planting medicinal herb Gastrodia elata, and cultivating state reserve forests, have been implemented on lands left behind by relocated residents, enabling them to earn income from their former homes.

At the new site, Sanbao Industrial Park has been built. So far, the provincial-level Sanbao Startup Incubation Base has attracted 14 companies spanning the electric vehicle manufacturing, apparel, footwear and headwear production, and home improvement and building materials sectors. As a result, more than 1,000 individuals have transitioned from agricultural work to manufacturing jobs. Additionally, Sanbao has developed a street dedicated to cultural heritage experiences and the vending of goods produced by home-based workers. This move has enabled people to transform their embroidery talents into viable income streams. Consequently, 55 new urban individual entrepreneurs have achieved stable income growth, and 157 people have leveraged their embroidery expertise to secure home-based employment.

On my recent visit to Sanbao Subdistrict, I witnessed many budding industrial projects.

The subdistrict is currently developing the second phase of the Sanbao Industrial Park. Upon completion, the park is expected to generate 4,600 jobs. Efforts are being made to develop an industrial park focusing on labor-intensive industries with an annual output value of 1 billion yuan.

The specialist apparel company Qinglong Longfa Garment Co., Ltd. employs over 500 newly relocated residents.

Ameiqituo Town also now features a modern Holiday Inn Express, thanks to its efforts to invite investment. Notably, 90% of the hotel’s non-management staff comprises relocated residents. The hotel has provided a direct boost to the local economy by helping to keep tourists in Sanbao.


Yi ethnic group members and tourists celebrate the torch festival in Ameiqituo Town, evening of August 10, 2023. PUBLICITY DEPARTMENT OF THE CPC GUIZHOU PROVINCIAL COMMITTEE / PHOTO BY CHEN YALIN

To ensure that relocated residents enjoy the same rights and benefits as urban residents, Sanbao Subdistrict implemented a series of support measures, with a focus on issues such as basic living needs, household registration management, and housing rights. Newly relocated residents were enrolled in schemes for basic medical insurance, serious disease insurance, and medical assistance, with the participation rate among people living in poverty reaching 100%. Currently, the process of transitioning from a rural to an urban subsistence allowance scheme is under way, and all new urban residents have received residence permits.

As night falls, the lights of Ameiqituo Town flicker to life. Dressed in traditional attire, Yi women gather around a bonfire in the square to perform the Ameiqituo dance. Their feet move in time to the drumbeat, as laughter and cheers fill the night sky.

In just a few years, the residents of Sanbao have achieved their intention of relocating, settling down, and realizing prosperity.

On the ride back to the city, I came across a remark by President Xi on my phone. He noted that in promoting industrial revitalization, people in each locality must seriously consider the meaning of “local specialty products.” “Local” refers to harnessing local resources that are distinctive to a particular area. “Specialty” emphasizes the importance of highlighting regional characteristics and reflecting local customs. “Products” means truly developing production industries and creating clusters. Relying on distinctive agricultural and rural resources, localities should create benefits by developing the various functions of agriculture, tapping into the diverse value of the countryside, and promoting the integrated development of the primary, secondary, and tertiary industries. By strengthening leading enterprises, shoring up industry chains, fostering forms of business, and establishing brands, we can upgrade entire rural industry chains, making them more competitive and more capable of sustainable development.

As I traveled through the mountains and valleys of Guizhou, these words felt incredibly apposite and enlightening. On my journey, I visited many villages that have thought deeply about and diligently applied the concept of “local specialty products.” I witnessed many new practices that have developed new functions for agriculture and tapped new ecological value in rural areas. The path charted by President Xi has become the grand vision that many villages in the vast mountains of Guizhou are striving to bring to life.

Having traveled through Guizhou, I’ve come to deeply appreciate the vitality and strength of countless villagers. These qualities reflect the new dream for a better life embraced by the people since shaking off poverty.

I am fully convinced that the magnitude of being free from poverty is fully grasped only by those who have escaped it, and the promise of the future is only truly appreciated by those who have exerted great effort.

Ouyang Qiansen is Member of the presidium of the China Writers Association and Chairman of both the Guizhou Federation of Literary and Art Circles and the Guizhou Writers Association.

(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No. 1, 2024)