t was 5:30 am on a summer morning when Qian Zhengcang, 51, climbed a mountain slope to survey his 0.13 hectares of cornfields in Dongsi village, Yunxi county, Hubei province. His heart sank when he saw patches of dried corn straws and realized the summer drought had destroyed most of his crops.
Qian’s parents, both in their mid-70s, have chronic illnesses, and he has lost some of his motor skills after a stroke so he can no longer undertake heavy farm work.
The biggest blow to the family came last year when Qian Dayan, 30, Qian Zhengcang’s son and the family’s sole provider, quit his job as a security guard in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region because of health issues. The family’s status fell from “struggling” to “abject poverty” in a heartbeat.
“All is not well,” said Qian Zhengcang, with a sigh. “There’s little I can do.”
Qian’s story is justoneamong the142,000Yunxiresidentsclassified as “impoverished”, and who live below the province’s povertyline of 4,100yuan($613) a year. Illness, lack of employment skills and low funding are the main causes of poverty in thecounty, according toareport published last year by Yunxi’s poverty alleviation office.
The elimination of rural poverty is one of the top priorities in China’s 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20), and at this year’s Business 20 Summit in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, President Xi Jinping pledged to lift 57 million people out of poverty, as defined by current standards, by 2020.
Yunxi is the home of The Cowherd and the Weaving Maid, a famous folktale in which ill-starred lovers were banished to opposite sides of the heavens, meeting just once a year across theMilkyWay via a bridge of sparrows. The tale has become the symbol of the pilot program.
“The government is the ‘Sparrow Bridge’ connecting rural workers and companies,” said Cha Fangzheng, Yunxi’s