Cur­ing poverty

A fresh ap­proach to a lo­cal del­i­cacy dish has re­sulted in ris­ing liv­ing stan­dards for res­i­dents of a re­mote Miao vil­lage. Cao Yin and Feng Zhi­wei re­port from Jin­sha in the Xiangxi Tu­jia and Miao au­tonomous pre­fec­ture, Hu­nan prov­ince.

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Se­ries shows how vil­lage found its way out of pri­va­tion us­ing tra­di­tional Hu­nan cured meat.

Ed­i­tor's Note: This is the fifth in a se­ries of spe­cial re­ports China Daily will pub­lish in the com­ing weeks fo­cus­ing on ef­forts to erad­i­cate poverty and raise liv­ing stan­dards in the ru­ral ar­eas, es­pe­cially among mem­bers of eth­nic groups.

As a child, Liao Yanfei’s great­est plea­sure was eat­ing meat once a month. Now, as the owner of a suc­cess­ful cured-meat fac­tory, the 34-year-old is no longer as keen.

“When I was a kid, I loved eat­ing meat, but my fam­ily was un­able to af­ford it very often. My life im­proved greatly af­ter I set up my busi­ness, but the de­sire to eat meat has waned be­cause I pack­age and sell meat prod­ucts ev­ery day,” he said.

In ad­di­tion to his busi­ness in­ter­ests, Liao, a mem­ber of the Miao eth­nic group, is head of Jin­sha vil­lage, Fenghuang county, in the Xiangxi Tu­jia and Miao au­tonomous pre­fec­ture, Hu­nan prov­ince, Cen­tral China.

His fa­ther died when Liao was 4, so he lived with his mother and el­der brother. With­out their main bread­win­ner, they were the poor­est peo­ple in the vil­lage, liv­ing in a shabby stone house on vir­tu­ally no in­come.

“My mom once picked up a piece of meat in the street. She came home, cooked it and called us to eat. I was so ex­cited to see the meat, but when I took some she sud­denly changed her mind and stopped me eat­ing it. She said it might have been rot­ting and had been thrown into the road to poi­son stray dogs,” Liao re­called, adding that the ex­pe­ri­ence left a deep im­pres­sion on him.

The fam­ily’s im­pov­er­ished sta­tus meant that his school­days were not happy.

“I was afraid to talk with the other kids be­cause I lacked con­fi­dence,” he said. “But I was ea­ger to do ev­ery­thing well, so I made the de­ci­sion to be­come the out­stand­ing per­son in my vil­lage.”

In 1999, Liao dropped out of school, and a year later he trav­eled to South China's Guang­dong prov­ince in search of work. At first, he worked in the elec­tron­ics pro­cess­ing in­dus­try, but later be­came a waiter.

He wasn’t the only vil­lager to head to the city in an at­tempt to break out of the poverty trap — even in 2014, Jin­sha was home to 84 house­holds that earned less than 2,800 yuan ($400) a year, which meant they were of­fi­cially des­ig­nated as poverty stricken.

De­spite his new, higher in­come, Liao still wasn’t sat­is­fied. “I was earn­ing 3,000 yuan a month, but that didn’t sig­nal any real im­prove­ment in my life, plus my mother was el­derly and I had to leave her on her own,” he said. “So, af­ter work­ing ‘on the out­side’ for about six years, I de­cided to re­turn home and start my own busi­ness.”

The move not only im­proved Liao’s life, but also those of many other vil­lagers.


Al­though he was de­ter­mined to start his own busi­ness, Liao didn’t know what he wanted to do un­til he re­al­ized that ev­ery fam­ily in Jin­sha pro­duced cured meat, a dish tra­di­tion­ally eaten by Miao peo­ple dur­ing the last month of the lu­nar cal­en­dar.

The cur­ing process is dis- tinct — the meat is salted and then slowly baked to re­duce mois­ture.

Liao de­cided to make the dish, but with a twist. “I wanted to pro­duce it as a kind of pack­aged snack,” he said. “The idea hit me when I sold pack­aged be­tel nuts in a store in the county. I found that pack­aged food was con­ve­nient be­cause I could eat it any­time, any­place. So I thought, ‘Why don’t I present our cured meat in the same way?’ I al­ways wanted my own busi­ness, and that was the best op­por­tu­nity.”

Start­ing the busi­ness proved prob­lem­atic, though: “I didn’t know how to ob­tain an op­er­at­ing li­cense and was unaware of the State hy­giene and san­i­tary stan­dards.”

Lack­ing busi­ness ex­pe­ri­ence and cap­i­tal, Liao and his wife, Wang Yin­hua, were lucky to meet Tian Yun­guang, thendi­rec­tor of the county’s qual­ity su­per­vi­sion bureau, who en­cour­aged the young cou­ple to con­cen­trate on their busi­ness and es­cape the poverty trap.

“Tian helped me a lot by ex­plain­ing how things worked and the gov­ern­ment poli­cies that ap­plied to the food busi­ness,” Liao said. “With his help, I got a busi­ness li­cense and en­sured that hy­giene was a top pri­or­ity.”

One day, while sell­ing their home-cured meat in Fenghuang, a tourism hot spot, a visit­ing businessman ex­pressed an in­ter­est in the prod­uct.

“Luck­ily, he was will­ing to loan us 100,000 yuan to ex­pand our busi­ness,” Liao said. That loan, plus some sav­ings do­nated by Wang’s fam­ily, saw the cou­ple of­fi­cially open their fac­tory in 2010.

A bet­ter Life

“Pro­duc­ing cured meat in pack­ets was an ex­per­i­ment, and I never thought it would be as suc­cess­ful as it has been. Now, my fac­tory can brings us about 8 mil­lion yuan a year,” Liao said

A sales as­sis­tant at a food store in the county con­firmed the soar­ing sales. “In the past two years, pack­aged meat snacks have be­come very pop­u­lar. Al­most ev­ery day, the tourists come to us to buy two or three pack­ets each,” she said.

Even bet­ter, Liao’s fac­tory also pro­vides work for more than 30 vil­lagers, help­ing them to climb out of poverty too.

Liu Xiaodong, an of­fi­cial at the civil af­fairs depart­ment in Fenghuang, praised Liao’s ini­tia­tive, say­ing peo­ple should not rely solely on gov­ern­ment sub­si­dies to im­prove their cir­cum­stances: “In­stead, real poverty al­le­vi­a­tion is find­ing a way to be­come richer and free our minds from poverty.”

A guide to wealth

As a re­sult of the fac­tory’s grow­ing rev­enue and im­por­tance, Liao was elected head of Jin­sha vil­lage. “We wanted him to show us how to be­come rich,” said vil­lager Liu Menkao, whose son works at the fac­tory.

“Liao has a good busi­ness brain. He is young and finds it easy to learn new things. The eco­nomic bur­den on my fam­ily has been al­le­vi­ated now my son earns about 2,000 yuan a month in Liao’s fac­tory.”

Ma Xiaoy­ing, 46, has worked at the fac­tory since 2013. “In the past, our in­come de­pended on whether our land was fruit­ful. We were at the mercy of na­ture, but now we rely on our own la­bor,” she said.

“I can earn more than 1,000 yuan ev­ery month. Added to my hus­band’s in­come from building houses, we can feed our two chil­dren and pay for their ed­u­ca­tion, while the short dis­tance be­tween the fac­tory and my home is con­ve­nient be­cause it al­lows me to look af­ter my 80-year-old mother.”

Liu said Liao’s ef­forts have ben­e­fit­ted ev­ery res­i­dent of Jin­sha. Last year, 20 house­holds were lifted out of poverty, and by June, the en­tire vil­lage was liv­ing above the na­tional poverty line.

One of eight coun­ties in the pre­fec­ture, Fenghuang had a pop­u­la­tion of about 420,000 in 2012. Last year, just 23 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion was still clas­si­fied as of­fi­cially poor, he added.

“Un­der a se­ries of pover­tyre­lief poli­cies and thanks to Liao’s fac­tory a fur­ther 10 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion has es­caped the poverty trap,” Liu said. He es­ti­mated that the pre­fec­ture will achieve the gov­ern­ment’s goal of erad­i­cat­ing poverty by 2020 by the end of next year.

Liao is keen to see his fel­low vil­lagers suc­ceed on their own terms. “One man’s poverty al­le­vi­a­tion doesn’t equate to real poverty relief — our lives will only be turned around for the bet­ter if all of us be­come rich,” he said.


A night view of Fenghuang, a tourist hot spot in Hu­nan prov­ince that is dom­i­nated by the cul­ture of the Miao eth­nic group.

See more by scan­ning the code.


Left: Liao Yanfei stands on a street, where he and his fel­low vil­lagers sell their prod­ucts. Right: Liao fries cured meat in the fac­tory he owns in Jin­sha vil­lage.

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