Tourism be­gins to make a mark on the mountain

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - CHINA -

HUBEI HU­NAN

He­fei Wuhan JIANGXI JIANGSU Nan­jing Shang­hai

ZHE­JIANG FU­JIAN

Be­fore I ar­rived in Kangx­ian, one of the poor­est coun­ties in North­west China’s Gansu prov­ince, I thought many of the vil­lages in the moun­tain­ous re­gion would be dilapidated, with rows of half-bro­ken houses, bumpy mud roads and live­stock roam­ing ev­ery­where. I aban­doned that im­pres­sion in the first few days af­ter my ar­rival.

I ar­rived in Huaqio on May 1, the last day of the three­day May Day hol­i­day, when the vil­lage was crowded with tourists. Sit­ting at the foot of moun­tains, a new tar­mac road con­nects the vil­lage to a high­way about 10 kilo­me­ters away.

In the vil­lage, paved roads are lined with var­i­ous kinds of trees and flow­ers, and a sus­pen­sion bridge and a stone bridge strad­dle the river. Houses, two or three sto­ries high and with spe­cially de­signed curved roofs, are dot­ted be­hind trees or green mead­ows.

The place, which looks more like a large gar­den than a vil­lage, was cer­ti­fied as a na­tional 4A tourist site, the sec­ond-high­est level, by the Gansu pro­vin­cial tourism au­thor­i­ties at the end of last year.

Lo­cal of­fi­cials told me that Kangx­ian has been fo­cus­ing on im­prov­ing the liv­ing en­vi­ron­ment and de­vel­op­ing tourism to help the vil­lagers erad­i­cate poverty. The ease of ac­cess meant Huaqiao was one of the first places to be trans­formed into a “beau­ti­ful vil­lage”.

A lack of suit­able farm­land and poor trans­porta­tion links made it dif­fi­cult for many peo­ple in Kangx­ian to beat poverty. By the end of last year about 15 per­cent of the county’s pop­u­la­tion still lived be­low the lo­cal per capita poverty line of 3,500 yuan ($515) a year.

A mag­ni­tude 8 earth­quake that hit neigh­bor­ing Sichuan prov­ince in 2008 dealt a heavy blow to Huaqiao and many other vil­lages nearby, caus­ing many mud houses to col­lapse, ac­cord­ing to res­i­dents.

Fol­low­ing the earth­quake, the lo­cal govern­ment pro­vided each house­hold in the vil­lages, in­clud­ing Huaqiao, with a sub­sidy of 20,000 yuan and a 20,000 yuan in­ter­est-free loan to help them re­build their houses. Most of the vil­lagers took the op­por­tu­nity to build new bricks-and-mor­tar houses to re­place their mud dwellings.

In re­cent years, poverty al­le­vi­a­tion has been the top task of the county govern­ment. De­vel­op­ing public fa­cil­i­ties and im­prov­ing the liv­ing en­vi­ron­ment — in­clud­ing re­pair­ing and build­ing new roads, dredg­ing rivers and ren­o­vat­ing houses — were the first steps.

The govern­ment hopes that beau­ti­fy­ing the vil­lages will at­tract more tourists from nearby cities so the vil­lagers will ben­e­fit by de­vel­op­ing tourism-re­lated busi­nesses, such as restau­rants and pro­vid­ing rooms for vis­i­tors.

Ac­cord­ing to the lo­cal govern­ment, more than 260 of the county’s 350 vil­lages have seen en­vi­ron­men­tal im­prove­ments, and a few, such as Huaqiao, have be­come hot tourist des­ti­na­tions.

In ad­di­tion to tourism, peo­ple in Kangx­ian have em­ployed a range of meth­ods to erad­i­cate poverty, such as de­vel­op­ing lo­cal agri­cul­tural prod­ucts like herbs, wal­nuts and tea. Some vil­lages are even build­ing small en­ter­tain­ment parks in the hope of at­tract­ing tourists with chil­dren.

Some vil­lages are pro­mot­ing their tra­di­tional cul­tures, such as the art of sto­ry­telling and lo­cal mu­si­cal in­stru­ments, by or­ga­niz­ing per­for­mances in other ar­eas.

Al­though the de­vel­op­ment of tourism has ben­e­fited many vil­lagers, some are un­cer­tain about the fu­ture. Yang Yongqiang, who opened a restau­rant in Huaqiao to cater to tourists, said busi­ness is good dur­ing the hol­i­days and in sum­mer, but there are few vis­i­tors in win­ter, so she may have to grow herbs to supplement her in­come.

A res­i­dent of Gui­huazhuang, another vil­lage be­ing de­vel­oped as a tourist site, said he was con­cerned that the num­ber of vis­i­tors will fall as Huaqiao be­comes more pop­u­lar.

Al­though Kangx­ian’s res­i­dents are gen­er­ally liv­ing bet­ter lives, some are still strug­gling. Xu Yinx­i­ang, a 37-year-old res­i­dent of Er­p­ing vil­lage, sup­ports his wife and two chil­dren by work­ing seven days a week at a nearby cop­per mine.

Xu makes about 3,000 yuan a month, but he has al­most no sav­ings af­ter pay­ing tu­ition fees for his chil­dren, who at­tend a pri­mary school in nearby Yangba town­ship. Xu’s wife rents a room in the town to care for the chil­dren.

Last year, one of his chil­dren con­tracted pneu­mo­nia. The hos­pi­tal treat­ment cost Xu more than 20,000 yuan, even af­ter he was re­im­bursed by his health in­surer. Now, Xu is con­sid­er­ing ways of pay­ing back money he has bor­rowed.

Zhang Wanxue, a 38-yearold Er­p­ing res­i­dent who has Parkin­son’s dis­ease, had hoped to em­u­late his peers and work in a big city to make money to re­pay 40,000 yuan he bor­rowed in 2015 to build a one story, four-room home, but his poor health has pre­vented him from do­ing so. Med­i­cal ex­penses are also a big headache for Zhang, so he is re­luc­tant to go to the hos­pi­tal, and he wishes the re­im­burse­ment rate was higher.

Con­tact the writer at wangx­i­aodong@ chi­nadaily.com.cn

HU FENG / FOR CHINA DAILY

Wang Xiaodong chats with a res­i­dent of Huaqiao vil­lage, Gansu prov­ince.

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