This vil­lage in­vests in it­self to beat des­ti­tu­tion, dis­abil­ity

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - By CHEN MENGWEI in Li­u­pan­shui, Guizhou

Ed­i­tor’s note: This is the fourth in a se­ries of spe­cial re­ports that China Daily is pub­lish­ing. The re­ports fo­cus on ef­forts to erad­i­cate poverty and raise liv­ing stan­dards in the coun­try’s ru­ral ar­eas, es­pe­cially among mem­bers of the na­tion’s eth­nic mi­nor­ity groups.

When he was elected head of his vil­lage six years ago, Hu Ji­hua vowed to lift ev­ery one of the 4,000 res­i­dents — many of them dis­abled — out of poverty, and ful­fill a per­sonal dream at the same time.

The 38-year-old, who stopped grow­ing at 1.4 me­ters tall as a re­sult of a rare, con­gen­i­tal spinal dis­or­der, was des­per­ate to demon­strate that “any­thing a healthy man can do, I can do bet­ter”.

He has set about prov­ing his point.

Hu’s idea was sim­ple: Gather all avail­able re­sources and fo­cus on one thing at a time. He es­tab­lished a co­op­er­a­tive for the vil­lage and in­vited ev­ery res­i­dent to in­vest land or money.

The co­op­er­a­tive op­er­ates like a reg­u­lar com­pany, but with a twist. It sells farm pro­duce and other lo­cal goods, and the vil­lagers take a cut of the prof­its. But they also re­ceive an an­nual div­i­dend based on the sum they in­vested, even if the co­op­er­a­tive loses money.

Although the con­cept sounds sim­ple, achiev­ing their goal was any­thing but easy for Hu and his peers. They live in Le­qun, a re­mote set­tle­ment tucked away in the moun­tains sur­round­ing Li­u­pan­shui in Guizhou prov­ince.

Nearly 400 vil­lagers — 10 per­cent of the res­i­dents — have phys­i­cal dis­abil­i­ties, al­most dou­ble the na­tional av­er­age. Ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial es­ti­mates, 85 mil­lion peo­ple in China have a dis­abil­ity, roughly 6 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion.

Since join­ing the co­op­er­a­tive, I do what­ever I am able to do, such as spray­ing pes­ti­cides, wa­ter­ing the plants, and weed­ing.” Cai Xingxue, share­holder and worker in the Le­qun vil­lage co­op­er­a­tive

One of the rea­sons be­hind the high dis­abil­ity rate in Le­qun is gen­er­a­tions of mar­riage be­tween close blood rel­a­tives, ac­cord­ing to Hu Ji­hua, the vil­lage head.

About 50 per­cent of the res­i­dents are mem­bers of eth­nic groups, mostly the Hui, Buyi and Yi peo­ples, said Hu, who is of Yi ori­gin. In pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions, most of the groups for­bade mar­riage with peo­ple of other eth­nic­i­ties, and although the lo­cal gov­ern­ment has tem­pered the ten­dency in re­cent years, the prob­lems are likely to re­main for some time. “What’s done is done,” Hu said, with a sigh.

An­other rea­son is a prob­lem that of­ten af­fects iso­lated vil­lages such as Le­qun, where the pri­mary ac­tiv­ity is farm­ing. About 20 years ago, the lack of other work re­sulted in younger vil­lagers, mainly men, leav­ing home and head­ing to coastal cities, where wages were about 10 times higher, in search of jobs.

Most of them ended up on un­reg­u­lated, dan­ger­ous con­struc­tion sites, and their sta­tus as mi­grant la­bor­ers pro­vided lit­tle pro­tec­tion if they be­came in­jured. Al­most in­evitably, a large num­ber of them re­turned home with per­ma­nent phys­i­cal dam­age.

Fang Ji­ap­ing is one of them. As a re­sult of a work in­jury, the 47-year-old’s left leg has withered to the ex­tent that the mus­cles are barely vis­i­ble. Wear­ing a flat cap and clutch­ing a hand­made pipe, Fang had to lean against a wall for sup­port as he spoke.

Nearly 20 years ago, Fang headed to Guiyang, the cap­i­tal of Guizhou, to do odd jobs. His in­jury oc­curred when he fell off scaf­fold­ing while work­ing at a con­struc­tion site, leav­ing him with a crip­pled leg and five toes he is un­able to flex. He said pain is the only thing he has felt in his lower limb for nearly two decades.

Fang, a Han, is mar­ried to a woman from the Buyi group. They have a 19-year-old son, who has fol­lowed his fa­ther’s ex­am­ple and left to work in Zhe­jiang prov­ince, de­spite a se­ri­ous skin con­di­tion that is ex­ac­er­bated by the hu­mid­ity in the coastal prov­ince.

“He lives on his own money. We don’t ex­pect him to give us any­thing. We’re happy as long as he doesn’t come back to ask us for money.” Fang said, with a hum­ble smile that re­vealed sev­eral yel­low teeth.

The fam­ily has three mu (0.2 hectares) of land. Be­fore Hu was elected as the vil­lage head, the fam­ily was de­pen­dent on Fang’s wife, who raises chick­ens, cat­tle and pigs in ad­di­tion to farm work, to make ends meet.

Hu’s plan has raised the fam­ily above the na­tional poverty line of 2,600 yuan per per­son per year. Fang acts as a ca­sual la­borer at the com­pany, pack­ing bags with grain, earn­ing 90 yuan ($13) a day. He has also in­vested 5,000 yuan in the co­op­er­a­tive to be­come a share­holder, which has given him a rare taste of how it feels to make money with money. Even bet­ter, even when the co­op­er­a­tive fails to make a profit, Fang can still get his 5,000 yuan back when­ever he wants.

Cai Xingxue’s uri­nary sys­tem was dam­aged in a farm­ing ac­ci­dent, so the 52-year-old has to wear a di­a­per in bed. His wife has a se­ri­ous spinal con­di­tion which pre­vents her from work­ing, de­spite the fact that the cou­ple has three daugh­ters and a young son to sup­port. Be­fore Hu es­tab­lished the co­op­er­a­tive, a fam­ily such as Cai’s would have been re­liant on lim­ited gov­ern­ment sub­si­dies.

“Since join­ing the co­op­er­a­tive, I do what­ever I am able to do, such as spray­ing pes­ti­cides, wa­ter­ing the plants, and weed­ing. Ev­ery year, I work for five or six months and earn about 10,000 yuan,” he said.

Vil­lagers whose land falls within Hu’s area of ac­tiv­ity have an ex­tra op­tion. They can in­vest their land in ex­change for shares in the co­op­er­a­tive, and ev­ery mu they al­low it to use brings them a fixed sum of 600 yuan a year.

Hu is proud that his idea has im­proved the peo­ples’ lives: “We give them cash be­fore the seeds are planted, and as long as the plot of land is ac­cu­rately mea­sured, the di­men­sions are made pub­lic and no one dis­agrees, I trans­fer the money to their bank ac­counts, so they have a guar­an­teed in­come. For now, at least, in­vest­ing their land brings them 200 yuan (per mu) more than farm­ing it would.”


Hu Ji­hua, head of Le­qun vil­lage, sur­veys the land worked by mem­bers of the lo­cal co­op­er­a­tive. This year, the vil­lage has lost tens of thou­sands of yuan‘s worth of crops as a re­sult of dis­ease and ab­nor­mally hot weather.

In the re­mote vil­lage of Le­qun, hid­den in a moun­tain­ous cor­ner of Li­u­pan­shui city, Guizhou prov­ince, nearly 400 vil­lagers — 10 per­cent of the res­i­dents — have phys­i­cal dis­abil­i­ties, al­most dou­ble the na­tional av­er­age.

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