The re­turnee with grow­ing am­bi­tions

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - CHINA - By SUN XIAOCHEN

Sit­ting atop a ridge, sur­rounded by green moun­tains and boast­ing an ex­ten­sive view of ter­raced or­chards, Shiz­izhai, a ru­ral set­tle­ment in Gaopai vil­lage, Huichang county, has all the nat­u­ral el­e­ments re­quired for a ma­jor eco­tourism at­trac­tion.

That po­ten­tial is what prompted Huichang na­tive Rao Rong­sheng, a mem­ber of the Hakka eth­nic group, to aban­don his ur­ban life­style and a lu­cra­tive ca­reer in the min­ing in­dus­try in Guang­dong prov­ince in 2013, and re­turn to his home in south­ern Jiangxi prov­ince, East China.

“When I made the de­ci­sion, my older brother asked ‘Are you out of your mind?’” the 45-year-old said.

“He couldn’t un­der­stand why I had re­turned to a place I had been so des­per­ate to leave more than 20 years ago. How­ever, in the city I worked for other peo­ple and I just wanted to de­velop some­thing of my own.”

In 1990, beaten down by a life of chop­ping and sell­ing fire­wood, and earn­ing just enough to pre­vent the fam­ily from starv­ing, Rao de­cided to seek work in Meizhou, a city in north­east­ern Guang­dong. When he left Shiz­izhai, he had just 30 yuan ($4.30) in his pocket.

“When I set out, I was skinny and only about 1.5-me­ters tall. My brother said the only pos­si­ble way for me to sur­vive would be to beg for food in the street. I was an­noyed, but also mo­ti­vated, by his words,” he said.

Boast­ing courage and a sharp mind, the hard-work­ing Rao soon mas­tered the blast­ing and ex­ca­va­tion tech­niques that are of prime im­por­tance in the min­ing in­dus­try, and by the late 1990s he had started mak­ing a de­cent liv­ing as a con­trac­tor.

How­ever, when con­di­tions im­proved in Huichang as a re­sult of the bur­geon­ing fruit-cul­ti­va­tion busi­ness, Rao de­cided to re­turn and act on his am­bi­tion to de­velop eco­tourism around the or­chard in which his fam­ily grows navel or­anges.

Since May 2013, Rao has in­vested his sav­ings of 800,000 yuan to ex­pand the or­chard to 250 mu (16.7 hectares) grow­ing a range of fruits, in­clud­ing ki­wis and waxber­ries, which ripen for pick­ing in all sea­sons.

He has also of­fered jobs to the vil­lagers, such as prun­ing trees, pick­ing fruit and fer­til­iz­ing his “four-sea­son” or­chard, which gen­er­ates an­nual in­come of about 1 mil­lion yuan.

How­ever, his plans to build a moun­tain villa to ac­com­mo­date tourists and to di­ver­sify his busi­ness op­er­a­tions by build­ing fish­ing ponds, sight­see­ing paths and an or­ganic veg­etable farm — which would re­quire the use of land owned by rel­a­tives and neigh­bors — have ex­pe­ri­enced a num­ber of set­backs.

“Land means life to some

In the city I worked for other peo­ple and I just wanted to de­velop some­thing of my own. Rao Rong­sheng,

con­ser­va­tive el­ders in the vil­lage. To gain ap­proval for the use of their land, even though the eco­nomic re­turns would be great, is as dif­fi­cult as ap­ply­ing for a loan from the lo­cal bank to build the villa,” he said.

De­spite the lack of funds and land, Rao re­mains up­beat be­cause he be­lieves the lo­cal gov­ern­ment is on his side, en­cour­ag­ing and sup­port­ing pri­vate busi­nesses based on lo­cal spe­cial­ties.

Last year, the gov­ern­ment laid a con­crete road to con­nect the area of moun­tain­side around the pro­posed villa with the high­way, and has also in­cluded Rao’s eco­tourism busi­ness in a list of projects that will be el­i­gi­ble for tax breaks in the fu­ture.

“Be­fore I re­turned, I only thought about de­vel­op­ing my own or­chard, but now I feel a greater re­spon­si­bil­ity to help the en­tire pop­u­la­tion of Shiz­izhai be­come rich,” he said.

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