Dazhai, a mountainous village in north China's Shanxi Province, was an example of China's rural development model under the highly centralized, planned economy in the 1960s-70s. It slid into a lackluster period in the early 1980s after the market economy began to gain ground in China. The resurgence is painstaking but remarkable amid local people's unremitting efforts to develop industry and tourism. The village is now at a moderate development level among counterparts nationwide, according to official statistics.
Beijing Review reporter Lan Xinzhen spoke to village head Guo Fenglian on Dazhai's current situation and future plans.
Beijing Review: Forty years ago, because villagers in Dazhai had high grain production under tough conditions, it became an example for the entire country. Do the villagers still plant crops?
Guo Fenglian: They still plant crops, as agriculture is the root of China, but they plant much less than before. In the past, we had a 53-hectare farmland but now only half remains for this purpose. To avoid soil erosion, residents in some areas plant trees, while others build factories. Currently, fewer than one third of the villagers still farm while many are engaged in non-agricultural businesses.
Does that mean Dazhai has changed its economic mode, not relying only on agriculture?
Dazhai started its reform in 1992. In that year, we set up an economic agency and established eight enterprises including a cement plant, brewery, walnut juice factory, wool sweater factory and clothing company. All bear the name Dazhai as the trademark and market their products accordingly. The factories employ 700 people, even including some from neighboring villages. Tourism has also developed very quickly, because Dazhai's reputation attracts many people who want to know the village's history and understand it better. So far, Dazhai has received more than 10 million tourists. In the village's gross economic income, agriculture only accounts for 0.3 percent, while industry contributes 56 percent, commerce, 10 percent and tourism, 30 percent.
We can see from Dazhai's economic structure that farming is not the main pillar of its economy. As the whole country is carrying out a move toward narrowing the divide between cities and the countryside, what is your view on boosting the rural economy?
We started to grope for an all-inclusive development before the Central Government made the initiative of building a new countryside. We are not making money from the farmland and we cannot rely solely on the farmland to prosper the countryside, to be frank. As we don't enjoy favorable natural conditions, no matter how high our grain output is, it will only be enough to feed the farmers, far from enough to boost development. I know that in China actually there are many more villages that may have even worse natural conditions than us, so building the new countryside must change the economic structure, such as setting up some factories for processing farm products, while developing advanced agricultural techniques.
How do you picture China's new countryside?
Well, it should have a clean and beautiful environment, green mountains and pure water. Farmers should enjoy favorable living conditions, and a sound social security system should be set up, especially with regard to medical care and education. The cultural aspect should be more developed as well. Some of the centuries-old habits have to be changed to keep up with the times.
What do you mean by habits?
For example, an improved awareness of health matters, such as people and cattle living together, the non-treatment of rubbish, which is scattered about, infrequent bathing in the case of some farmers, and spitting. All of these are things that should be changed in the process of rural modernization.
Has Dazhai made any plans for building a new countryside?
First of all, we made plans for economic development, taking a mode that is mainly supported by manufacturing industries, animal breeding, tourism and the service industry. Our biggest enterprise produces walnut juice and we also have a large scale farm that raises 60,000 pigs.