A good vil­lage leader moves from the out­side in

China Daily (Canada) - - LIFE - By DAQIONG and PALDEN NY­IMA in Ne­dong, Ti­bet

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 palden_ny­ima@chi­nadaily.com.cn and daqiong@chi­nadaily.com.cn.

DAQIONG / CHINA DAILY

Zhang Xiaobo (left) teaches tomato-plant­ing skills to a vil­lager.

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