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From Poverty to Prosperity
A village has gone from rags to riches, creating a model for poverty alleviation efforts
By Wang Hairong | NO. 40-41 OCTOBER 5, 2017
Villa-style houses beside the cultural plaza in Tangyue Village, September 8 (WANG HAIRONG)
Zhang Fuyou was basking in the sunlight at the brick-paved cultural plaza of Tangyue Village, enjoying a moment of quietness. The plaza, surrounded by Western-villa-style houses that are mostly three stories high would be mistaken as one in a high-end urban neighborhood if not for patches of corn or vegetable fields in front of some houses.

At the top of a hill overlooking the plaza, signs holding four gigantic Chinese characters written in red read: “Poverty breeds a desire for change.” The four characters manifest Tangyue Village’s determination to shake off its poverty.

The village, located in Anshun City of Guizhou Province has a long history. Local historical records show that it was founded by expeditionary soldiers dispatched by Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) to quell rebellion in the area. Nowadays, villagers by the surname of Peng, Luo and Li are descendants of these soldiers. Nonetheless, the village had been mired in poverty until three years ago.

Dramatic change took place in June 2014, after an unprecedented flood. “Flood water came above my shoulders,” 53-year-old Zhang Fuyou told Beijing Review. He said the flood toppled many houses in the village and ruined villagers’ belongings.

The flood triggered economic reform in the village, which has so far lifted almost all locals out of poverty. Data provided by the provincial government shows that in 2013, the villagers per-capita average net annual income was only about 70 percent of the provincial average, and 600 villagers in 138 households lived under the poverty line. The village has a total population of 3,393.

From 2013 to 2016, the average per-capita net annual income increased from less than 4,000 yuan ($613) in 2013 to 10,030 yuan (1,538) in 2016. Now the village, modern and vibrant, has become an example of a moderately prosperous society to be emulated by other villages.

Desire for change 

As the village has changed, so has Zhang’s life. Two decades ago, he farmed 0.49 acres of land for a living, yet could barely make ends meet. “When I got married, I lived in a 20-square-meter stone house,” he recalled.

He and his wife now have an annual total income of 60,000 yuan ($9,199) and reside in a three-story villa. The couple has invested their farmland as stake in the village’s cooperative named Golden Earth, and in return, they are paid dividends and rent for the land leased to the cooperative. He also works for the village cooperative, planting various vegetables and making an annual salary of around 24,000 yuan ($3,680).

The rural cooperative was set up in 2015, Cao Youming, the village’s finance director told Beijing Review. After the severe flood that hit the village in 2014, the then village head Zuo Wenxue led villagers to relieve the disaster and reconstruct the village. Meanwhile, he also pondered over the village’s future development path.

Before the flood, the village’s income mainly came from farmlands and forests, said Cao. Many villagers, especially the younger generation became migrant workers in other places. Although residents had the resources to remain fed and clad, they decided to carry out reforms in order to attain a better lifestyle.

In 2014, a three-pronged reform system was piloted in the city of Liupanshui, next to Anshun in which Tangyue Village lies. The goal of the reform was to: “change resources into assets, change funds into shares, and change farmers into stockholders.”

Under this policy, farmers were encouraged to voluntarily invest their assets, money, and skills to rural cooperatives in return for dividends and rent, and a salary if they also work for the cooperatives.

Following the flood, Zhou Jiankun, the Party Secretary of Anshun City inspected Tangyue and suggested that the village should also set up a cooperative. In July 2014, a rural comprehensive reform office was established in Tangyue to steer the three-pronged reform in the village, resulting in the launch of the Golden Earth rural cooperative in 2015.

The plan falls in line with China’s goal of building a moderately prosperous society in all respects by 2020, which was set at the 18th Communist Party of China (CPC) National Congress in 2012. It also follows the Central Government’s plans to deepen comprehensive reform, which was decided in 2013 after China’s current administration took office.

By the end of 2014, China still had more than 70 million rural people living in poverty, said Liu Yongfu, Director of the State Council Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development. This means that more than 10 million people should be lifted out of poverty every year nationwide until 2020, through measures such as developing production systems, relocation, ecological compensation, education and social security methods, according to Liu.

In June 2015, President Xi Jinping visited Guizhou Province, stressing the need for making scientific plans on eliminating poverty in the next five years.

By the end of 2015, 4.93 million people in Guizhou Province still lived in poverty, according to the provincial poverty alleviation office. In 2016, the three-pronged reform was introduced in 1,016 villages of 21 counties, involving 482,000 poverty-stricken people. In that year, the province’s population of impoverished people was reduced by 1.208 million, or 24.5 percent of the total. In the next three years, Guizhou plans to lift more than 1 million people out of poverty per year, which means that it will contribute to about one tenth of the total reduction at a national level.

After the rural cooperative was launched in Tangyue, more and more residents joined by transferring their land use rights to the cooperative. By the end of 2016, all land in the village had been put into the cooperative, according to the provincial Policy Analysis Office.

The cooperative hires locals as rural workers to cultivate farms and forests. The opportunity has lured back most of the 890 villagers who worked in other places as migrant workers.

The village has also set up a transportation fleet, a construction team and a workshop for women, which makes use of the surplus labor force in the village. An electronics plant is also under construction there. Zhang Deqin, a woman in her 50s who operates a food stand by the village cultural plaza, told Beijing Review that her nephew has made more than 1 million yuan ($153,318) working in transportation and construction.

Now, the village is clean, beautiful and vibrant. Fruit trees such as walnut, plum, and pomegranate cover the mountains surrounding the village, while a wide variety of vegetables and flowers flourish in the fields. Before the rural cooperative was set up, 30 percent of land in the village was fallowed because so many people had left the village to work in other places. Now the fields are all cultivated.

Women in Tangyue Village work in the field on September 9 (ZHOU LIN) 

Secret to success 

Now, Tangyue’s success story has been widely reported in media. Wang Hongjia, a well-known writer, has even documented the change in a book titled Tangyue’s Road after conducting in-depth on-site study of the village.

Guizhou Province’s Policy Analysis Office has analyzed Tangyue’s case and credited its success to reform of the rural property system that encourages the transfer of land use rights, profit sharing with farmers under a joint stock operation model and rural governance reform.

After the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, in China’s rural areas, land is collectively owned and used to be collectively farmed by members of people’s communes. In the late 1970s, after the reform and opening-up policies were introduced and people’s communes were abolished, land was contracted to individual farming households. This arrangement was believed to empower farmers and has effectively increased agricultural production efficiency. Yet in recent years, it is questioned for constraining further improvement of economic efficiency because it hampers productions of scale.

At the Tangyue cooperative, a profit-sharing model splits dividends according to a 3:3:4 ratio. This means that 30 percent goes to the village to cover public spending, 30 percent goes to the rural cooperative to expand production, and the remaining 40 percent is shared by farmers.

Governance reform has also been introduced in the village. The village has made a “red nine-point rule” governing villagers’ conduct. Villagers are forbidden to host extravagant celebrations to prevent the squandering of money. Village leaders' performance are evaluated, rated, and pegged with their remuneration, with good performers being praised and rewarded, while bad ones criticized and punished, said Wang Lu, a village cadre.

Tangyue’s change took place in tandem with other external development-spurring factors in Guizhou, such as improvements in transportation including the development of high-speed railways and highways, construction of water-conserving facilities such as reservoirs and water cellars, as well as the development of e-commerce, Ma Yonggang, Deputy Director of the publicity office of Anshun City told Beijing Review. These factors have provided a favorite external environment for Tangyue’s development.

The past five years have been a period of rapid transportation development in Guizhou. All of the province's counties are now accessible by highways and all nine of its prefectural level administrative units are accessible by air transport, according to the local Guizhou Metropolitan Paper. Moreover, an express railway running between Guiyang, capital of Guizhou, to Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong Province, was put into operation, cutting the 20-plus-hour journey to little more than four hours.

The region has also seen progress in terms of water conservation efforts. Although Guizhou has plenty of precipitation, due to its Karst topography, the soil is thin and has poor water holding capacity, rendering the region vulnerable to drought. In recent years, reservoirs and water cellars have been built to store water for drinking and production use.

In addition, e-commerce has also boosted Guizhou’s development. In 2016, the province’s e-commerce transaction volume grew by 34.74 percent, directly and indirectly moving nearly 10,000 people out of poverty, according to Guizhou Provincial Department of Commerce.

A woman and her granddaughter at home in Tangyue Village on September 9. Her husband, son and daughter-in-law all work at a construction site in the village, making more money than in cities before (DONG FANG) 

More importantly, better transportation and more communication with the outside world have changed local people’s mindset, Ma said. Now people have learned from the development experience of more economically advanced coastal regions and realized that there are many development opportunities for them to explore.

In the past, locals thought they could do little to change their condition. Guizhou is dominated by hills inhospitable to traditional crop planting. Farmers did not know how to produce more lucrative agricultural products. Now they have learned how to produce more lucrative products such as toadstool and kiwifruit. Villagers in Tangyue have learned vegetable planting skills from experts from other provinces including Taiwan and introduced some varieties of rice from Thailand, said Zhang Fuyou.

With the opening of the Lvyefangtian Company, a large state-owned farm produce distribution center in January 2017, Tangyue’s Golden Earth rural cooperative has gained a new sales channel. The company purchases farm produce from rural cooperatives in nearby villages, washes, sorts and packs vegetables in terms of quality, and sells them to government departments, schools, hotels, restaurants and even prisons.

The company regularly collects information from customers and partner cooperatives and tries to match them up. The company’s data show that so far it has signed agreements with 120 rural cooperatives, benefiting 6,758 poor people in 2,640 households.

Tangyue’s success lies in the fact that it has successfully carried out the three-pronged reform, and its experience should be popularized, stated a report of the provincial Policy Analysis office. Today, Tangyue’s success has drawn visitors to the village to learn about its experience.

Although Tangyue’s experience is duplicable, yet its success should not be copied blindly, the provincial Policy Analysis Office warned. The office encourages differentiated and diversified development suitable to local conditions.

Copyedited by Bryan Michael Galvan 

Comments to wanghairong@bjreview.com 

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