A good village leader moves from the outside in
Villagers in a remote settlement in the Tibet autonomous region have come to rely on one man — Zhang Xiaobo.
Zhang is an outsider who has become central to the community. Still, the ethnic Han from Gansu province was recently re-elected as Party chief of the ethnically and culturally Tibetan Khesum village in the farfl Yarlung valley, where he has led local affairs since 2008.
Tears fall down Tsering Drolma’s face as she says: “Zhang is my only crutch. He gave me the confidence and power to face despair and illness during my darkest days.”
The mother of a 5-year-old daughter recalls he helped the family when she was seriously sick.
He worked with the village committee to apply for advances totaling 50,000 yuan ($8,176) for Tsering Drolma’s medical costs and took her to the hospital in Lhasa for treatment. She eventually recovered.
Zhang also helped her family get rice, flour, quilts and new clothes.
The village chief was offered a promotion as a town-level official after his three-year village chief tenure ended in 2011. But he turned down the opportunity and works part-time at both levels.
Zhang stumbled into the job through a national program in which university graduates work as the heads of impoverished villages for a time.
But Zhang recalls encountering initial difficulties communicating with locals due to linguistic differences. But speaking with them is now the foundation of his life and work.
Central to this has been his mission to bring local prosperity — a goal he has cultivated through introducing greenhouse technology.
“I was born a farmer,” Zhang explains.
“So, I have a great affection for the villagers. I’d feel ashamed if I didn’t help them. I feel my work is meaningful.”
The greenhouses he set up in Tsethang township with the support of the local agriculture and husbandry bureau have expanded from 43 in 2010 to 103. A natural vegetable base and 69 greenhouses were built in Khesum village in the final months of 2010.
Produce from these entered the market in March 2011. The products’ quality won acclaim, and they’re now sold to supermarkets — including the two largest in Lhoka prefecture — and government canteens. Villagers say demand has outstripped supply this year.
Zhang has also planted the seeds of education in local youth. He helps children continue their studies through school vacations. The Party chief plays, sings and shares stories with the kids.
Village official Basang says: “Young people all want to make friends with Zhang. He’s a role model in our hearts. All the villagers want to keep him in the village forever.” Contact the writers at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
Zhang Xiaobo (left) teaches tomato-planting skills to a villager.