The ‘ brother and sis­ter’ who have cul­ti­vated suc­cess

China Daily (Canada) - - XINJIANG - By ED ZHANG and CUI JIA

The value of an old name is dif­fi­cult to mea­sure. TheXin­jiang Pro­duc­tion and Con­struc­tion Corps may sound like a quaint setup to out­siders, but in the Xin­jiang Uygur au­ton­o­mous re­gion, the nick­name “Bing­tuan” is heard al­most ev­ery­where, ev­ery day.

Many fam­i­lies in the re­gion are sec­ond- or third-gen­er­a­tion Bing­tuan work­ers, as be­fits a pro­vin­cial-level or­ga­ni­za­tion with a history of 61 years. The corps is cur­rently com­posed of 14 di­vi­sions and 176 reg­i­ments, lo­cated across Xin­jiang, and its 2.7 mil­lion mem­bers ac­count for nearly 12 per­cent of the re­gional pop­u­la­tion.

The very word “Bing­tuan” rep­re­sents a wealth of sto­ries, es­pe­cially for its thou­sands of work­ers and their fam­i­lies who mi­grated to China’s west­ern­mostre­gion. Somesto­ries tell of hard­ship, the “eat­ing bit­ter­ness” the pi­o­neer builders en­dured as they strug­gled to trans­form the Gobi Desert into fer­tile farm­land. Oth­ers speak of the pro­duc­tion of foods that are rarely seen else­where in China; few peo­ple re­al­ize that the toma­toes used in 70 per­cent of the tomato sauces sold in the Europe are grown in the vast fields of Xin­jiang. There are also tales of the corps’ suc­cess in re­ju­ve­nat­ing it­self and ex­ploit­ing newop­por­tu­ni­ties.

How­ever, the most pop­u­lar sto­ries re­volve around the strong ties forged over time by the Bing­tuan peo­ple and the Xin­jiang lo­cals.

YouLiangy­ing­man­age­sacot­ton plan­ta­tion in the Bing­tuan’s 1st Di­vi­sion, which is set­tled on the north­west­ern edge of the Tak­li­makan, theworld’ssec­ond­largest desert. Ev­ery year for the past decade, You has vis­ited Meme­tur­opMusak at his home in Pis­han county, Hotan, a pre­fec­ture that borders the south­ern fringes of the desert.

“It’s a sis­ter’s duty to check on her brother’s fam­ily to see how they have been do­ing,” You said, sit­ting with­Meme­turop and his fam­ily at the din­ner ta­ble on an early Septem­ber.

The “brother” and “sis­ter”, as they call them­selves, met in 2005 when You re­cruited Meme­turop as a tem­po­rary cot­ton picker and pa­tiently


in taught him how to pick the crop with both hands in­stead of just one so he could earn more money. When the harvest sea­son ended andMeme­turop left the farm, You thought she would never hear from him wrong.

In Jan­uary 2006, You re­ceived a call from Meme­turop, who asked her for help be­cause he didn’t have enough money to pay for the surgery



was his wife needed badly. De­spite ob­jec­tions from her rel­a­tives, You wired 10,000 yuan ($1,570) — one-third of the fam­ily’s an­nual in­come at the time — to her for­mer em­ployee’s bank ac­count.

Three months later Meme­turop in­vited You to his home to ex­press his ap­pre­ci­a­tion. She was shocked to dis­cover that the fam­ily lived in a house made from the branches of po­plar trees. Af­ter learn­ing that Meme­turop had bor­rowed meat, which he nor­mally couldn’t af­ford, from his neigh­bors, she de­ter­mined to help the fam­ily im­prove its stan­dard of liv­ing.

She in­vit­edMeme­turop and his fam­ily to stay with her so she could teach him how to man­age a cot­ton plan­ta­tion, and use the skills on his own field in Pis­han, mak­ing the move from picker to pro­ducer. She also bought new­cook­ware so the fam­ily could cook halal foods dur­ing their visit.

While Meme­turop learned agri­cul­tural skills from You, he be­gan teach­ing her the Uygur lan­guage. You proved a dili­gent stu­dent and within a few months, she was proud to be able to com­mu­ni­cate in ba­sic Uygur.

In 2011, You sug­gested that Meme­turop should plant date trees. She loaned him the money to cover his startup costs and be­gan to un­der­take an­nual vis­its to lend a hand and teach Meme­turop how to care for the trees. In 2014, Meme­turop made a profit of more than 300,000 yuan by selling cot­ton and dates, so he traded his old house for a new one equipped with new fur­ni­ture, a fridge, an­daTV.

Meme­turop now re­gards You as his “sis­ter”. For her part, You will con­tinue to help her “brother” inthe fu­ture, de­spite the re­cent dra­matic im­prove­ments in his life. “I’m so glad my chil­dren and his have be­come good friends too. It’s the way to be,” she said.

Con­tact the writ­ers through cui­jia@chi­

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