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UPDATED: December 22, 2008 NO.52 DEC.25, 2008
Yesterday No More
How Zouping has reaped the benefits of the country's reform and opening-up policies

For convenience, the 65-year-old former village head spent more than 30,000 yuan ($4,360) on a white Shali sedan and passed his driver's license test two years ago. He said the only vehicle here three decades ago was a single bicycle, which everyone borrowed when an emergency occurred. The accumulation of wealth over the past decades has enabled almost every household in the village to buy two cars on average.

There have been huge changes not only in Beihe but also in all villages in Zouping County, which is transforming itself from an agricultural area to one with a mature industrial base, said Wang Chuanmin, head of Zouping County. Currently, the county has 380 large enterprises whose annual sales exceed 5 million yuan ($72,674). Twelve of them pay more than 100 million yuan in tax on their profits every year and five, including the world's largest cotton producer, Shandong Weiqiao Pioneering Group Co. Ltd., and Asia's largest starch sugar producer, Xiwang Sugar Holdings Co. Ltd., trade their shares on exchanges in Hong Kong, Singapore and Paris.

According to data from the Zouping County Government, two-thirds of the county's GDP is generated by industry. The total output of the sector last year reached 109 billion yuan ($15.8 billion), and it generated 10.5 billion yuan ($1.5 billion) in taxes on profits, which are, respectively, almost 2,578 and 2,456 times the amounts in 1978. Three decades ago, Zouping had no industry except for some small collectively owned workshops, Xia said.

The county's agricultural sector contributes 20 percent to its GDP. Compared with three decades ago, agricultural production in Zouping involves more technological applications. Wheat and corn are its two major grain products. Their per-hectare output totaled a little more than 750 kg in 1978, while the per-hectare output of hybrid wheat and corn exceeds 9,000 kg now.

Zouping has adopted a standard model for agricultural production and was one of the first pilot counties for standardized agricultural production, Wang said. The county government encourages farmers to transfer their small plots of land to develop large-scale farming.

The streets in the county seat are clean and neat, and stores play modern popular music. Photos and stories of model citizens are posted on bulletin boards along the streets. A highway runs through the county seat from west to east, dividing it in half. The southern part is the new seat with modern buildings, government offices, companies and new residential blocks. The old area is the commercial section and has restaurants, stores and cafes. Many eye-catching advertisements, especially for weight loss methods, are posted on the exteriors of many buildings.

It's hard to imagine that this area covered less than 3 square km in 1978 and had only a single commercial street where the only cinema was located. Going to the cinema was probably the only evening entertainment for residents at that time. During the past years, the county seat has expanded greatly and now covers 45 square km, or 15 times the original area.

Other county seats in China's rural areas have seen similar expansions over the past three decades. Some marketplaces have developed into small towns during this time. According to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, China had about 2,700 small towns under the county-level in 1984 and has more than 18,000 now.

Like other counties in China, Zouping has developed rapidly, thanks to the momentum it has gained from the implementation of the reform and opening-up policies during the past three decades. It has shared a common development path with other rural areas. After the disintegration of people's communes as grass-roots rural organizations, China adopted a system of household contract responsibility. Under the new system, farmers increased their agricultural output and began to sell surplus grain in marketplaces, after keeping enough to feed their own families. Some farmers have become wealthy and moved to towns where they have become private business owners. And the boom of township-based enterprises offer numerous job opportunities to surplus rural laborers.

Zouping is moving toward its goal of building a well-off, harmonious and eco-friendly society by 2012. By then, its GDP will reach 110 billion yuan ($16 billion) and its annual per-capita GDP will top $20,000, Wang said.

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