He Guopan (CHEN RAN)
On August 26, 2006, He Guopan, then head of the Hongsipu Development Zone in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, became vice head of the Leading Group Office for the Ningdong Energy and Chemical Industrial Base. His 26-year career in rural work had come to an end.
Born in Zhenyuan County, Gansu Province in 1955, He and his family moved to southern Ningxia in the early 1960s. In February 1976, after finishing high school, He joined the army; he did not return to Ningxia until 1980. Prior to his current position, he served as a teacher, township officer, township head, county head and vice mayor.
"Officials must always rely on people who lay solid foundations for them. A clear mind and a smart manner are also crucial for leadership," He told Beijing Review. "I always believe in what the late Deng Xiaoping said, 'Development is of overriding importance.'"
In 1980, He was head of Xiaocha Commune in Guyuan County, southern Ningxia. The social system at the time was collective: Officials farmed together with peasants for work points, which would then be converted into money.
Peasants became more active in farming after a new system--contracting output quotas to household--was implemented throughout the county in the second half of 1981. The core of the reform, according to He, was that a household contractor who did more in the field would be rewarded with higher income.
The transition was smooth at first, but problems began to emerge as reforms went deeper. "Trivial things such as drawing land dividing lines would trigger tiffs between neighbors," He recalled.
"I knew exactly what peasants were concerned about, because I was born to a peasant family and helped my family do farm work in my teens. As a head, I wouldn't handle the problem hastily without knowing the real situation. For example, a department head would pass a public suggestion to the routine meeting for open discussion before the final solution was decided," said He.
"We tried our best to better meet peasants' needs, which meant spending more time and energy on rural work," he added.
In 1983, He left his position as township head and entered the faculty of agriculture at Ningxia Agricultural College for further education. After graduating in 1985, he went to work for the county government in agriculture.
In 1997, He was appointed head of Yanchi County, an undeveloped mountain area in eastern Ningxia that borders Shaanxi and Gansu provinces and Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. "The priority of rural work in the early 1980s was to ensure peasants had adequate food and clothing," said He. "Now, development comes first as the previous priority is no longer a problem."
He and his team launched different development themes each year: addressing the shortage of food in 1997, promoting compulsory education in 1998, pushing forward urbanization in 1999, city construction in 2000, ecology in 2001 and industrial development in 2002.
Total investment in the county's urban infrastructure facilities from 1997 to 2003, according to He, reached 730 million yuan ($98 million). The area for countryside-turned-city expanded to 5.7 square km from 2.28; the daily water supply increased to 10,000 tons from 2,000; loess roads were replaced by asphalt ones; new sewer systems were put into operation. In 2000, the county's GDP hit 321 million yuan ($45 million), 13.3 times higher than the figure in 1978; peasants' net income was 1,135 yuan ($167) per capita, 7.5 times higher than in 1978.
In December 2003, He was transferred to Hongsipu in Wuzhong City, a pilot area for mass immigration that was under construction. The former wasteland did not draw new residents until the government diverted water from the Yellow River to irrigate the land; more than 100,000 people subsequently moved in from remote mountain areas.
He and his team passed the development project for Taiyangshan Town to the city government in 2004. The development project later became part of the Ningdong Energy and Chemical Industrial Base, a national-level energy zone.
"To be honest, it would have been helpful for local fiscal revenue if the Taiyangshan project had stayed in our hands," He said. "But the level of development would be affected given our limited conditions.
"There was no better choice than this if we look back on the decision, because it proved to be good for Ningxia's development," he added.
An innovative concept
The rural area has been He's workplace for the past 26 years, whether he was in charge of farming or urban planning. The people, in his eyes, were the major force behind the country's urbanization. "Besides national policy support, locals work hard and rely on themselves under the guidance of the government," he said. "To some extent, officials' creativity plays an important role in pushing forward urbanization."
In the late 1990s, He initiated a controversial proposal on education in Yanchi County. His idea was to invite companies to finance school construction on one hand, and the government to finance teachers on the other hand.
"I thought it would be a win-win solution--companies might gain fame through this charitable activity and the real problems in local education, such as lack of basic facilities, would be addressed. I though it was good for local students," he said. "But many people thought I was crazy. They said the government was responsible for construction, and they worried that students would go to 'their' school, not 'ours.'
"The fact was that the government could not afford the multimillion-yuan project. More importantly, there was no difference between 'their' students and 'ours'--they were all locals whose access to normal schooling should be equal and guaranteed," he continued.
"It is not new to encounter problems or hear objections to innovative ideas. All you need to do is to show your bravery and courage," he added.
He and his team in Hongsipu used the proposal to build a new kindergarten, benefiting more than 800 children.
He would set goals each time he transferred jobs and review them before leaving. Fortunately, his efforts paid off as most of them were realized.
"During my previous visits to peasants, it made me feel great if they told me they had a harvest year and their lives were getting better," he said. "At the moment, I am doing my best to help the construction of the Ningdong Base."
(Reporting from Yinchuan, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region)