Fang Ruib­iao: Spring in the Moun­tains

China Pictorial (English) - - Contents - Text by Wang Shuya

Lo­ufang­ping Vil­lage, lo­cated in Lanx­ian County, Lu­liang City in the north­ern Chi­nese Prov­ince of Shanxi, is an en­chant­ing moun­tain vil­lage with typ­i­cal lo­cal char­ac­ter­is­tics. Lim­ited by spe­cial ge­o­log­i­cal and cli­mate con­di­tions, the vil­lage has been haunted by poverty for many years.

In 2015, Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping stressed the im­por­tance of poverty re­lief work on many oc­ca­sions and called for im­ple­ment­ing tar­geted and ef­fec­tive mea­sures to fight aginst poverty in ru­ral ar­eas. That year, the Or­ga­ni­za­tion De­part­ment of the Com­mu­nist Party of China (CPC) Cen­tral Com­mit­tee and sev­eral other cen­tral de­part­ments de­cided to send ex­cel­lent CPC mem­bers to serve as First Sec­re­tary to sup­port the 14 na­tional con­tigu­ous pover­tys­tricken ar­eas. Fang Ruib­iao, an out­stand­ing CPC mem­ber and in­for­ma­tion col­lec­tor from the China As­so­ci­a­tion for Science and Tech­nol­ogy (CAST) was cho­sen to be the First Sec­re­tary of Lo­ufang­ping Vil­lage and led the vil­lagers in a war against poverty.

Build­ing a Smart Vil­lage

Sur­rounded by tall moun­tains, Lo­ufang­ping Vil­lage is iso­lated at a high at­ti­tude of 2000 me­ters above the sea level with only about 95 frost-free days a year. From Oc­to­ber to April most years, the vil­lage is sealed in by heavy snow and com­pletely cut off from the out­side.

At the end of July 2015, Fang Ruib­iao ar­rived at Lo­ufang­ping to of­fi­cially as­sume of­fice with great am­bi­tions to re­ally make a dif­fer­ence for the poor. How­ever, within a month of his ar­rival, the vil­lage was al­ready blan­keted in snow and en­ter­ing the long off-sea­son. To make a liv­ing, most work­ing-age men in the vil­lage had to leave to work in the city, leav­ing the young and old be­hind. The whole vil­lage be­came more des­o­late and quiet, as if hi­ber­nat­ing.

“Born in a small vil­lage in Shan­dong Prov­ince, I lived in a ru­ral area for many years when I was young, so poor and hard liv­ing con­di­tions are not new to me,” re­vealed the new First Sec­re­tary. “But con­sid­er­ing the com­pli­cated sit­u­a­tion in each vil­lage, I think it’s more im­por­tant to get close to the vil­lagers to un­der­stand their real needs and ex­pec­ta­tions be­fore just start­ing work quickly and ran­domly.”

As an ad­min­is­tra­tive vil­lage, Lo­ufang­ping has a to­tal of 80 per­ma­nent house­holds spread­ing across two small com­mu­ni­ties with a dis­tance of five kilo­me­ters be­tween them. How­ever, no mat­ter how bru­tal the weather be­came, Fang al­ways walked to each house reg­u­larly to talk with the vil­lagers.

“Far from stand­off­ish, many were quite in­ter­ested in talk­ing with me and cu­ri­ous to know what was hap­pen­ing out­side the moun­tain—they have such lit­tle ex­po­sure to the out­side that it greatly lim­its their vi­sion and cul­tural lit­er­acy,” said Fang.

In fact, mo­bile phones are hard to use there be­cause of weak sig­nals, and the whole vil­lage has just one com­puter us­ing dial-up in­ter­net, which is also quite un­sta­ble. “The spir­i­tual poverty wor­ried me even more than the ma­te­rial poverty,” Fang sighed. “Re­duc­ing poverty must be­gin with re­duc­ing ig­no­rance.” Fang vowed to tackle the sig­nal and net­work prob­lems first no mat­ter how dif­fi­cult it turned out to be.

Dur­ing the long and cold win­ter, Fang and his col­league, the Party Branch Sec­re­tary of Lo­ufang­ping Vil­lage, went to Taiyuan, the cap­i­tal of Shanxi Prov­ince, many times to seek help and sup­port from the pro­vin­cial As­so­ci­a­tion for Science and Tech­nol­ogy and the Mo­bile Com­pany. Af­ter un­remit­ting ef­forts of sev­eral months, they fi­nally se­cured a sci­en­tific pro­mo­tion project of the CAST in Shanxi Prov­ince, named E Sta­tion for Sci­en­tific Pro­mo­tion in Ru­ral China (E Sta­tion for short). As a

sup­port­ive ser­vice of the project, in June of 2016, mo­bile broad­band was fi­nally con­nected to the vil­lage. One month later, much to the sur­prise of the vil­lagers, Fang pur­chased routers with spe­cial poverty al­le­vi­a­tion funds and cov­ered the whole vil­lage with Wifi. Peo­ple were thrilled by the huge change in the small moun­tain vil­lage. “It’s un­be­liev­able!” ex­claimed Wang Jianzhong, a lo­cal res­i­dent. “In the past, we couldn’t even make a phone call smoothly. But now we can get on the in­ter­net any­where in the whole town.”

In July 2017, the E Sta­tion for Sci­en­tific Pro­mo­tion in Ru­ral China of­fi­cially opened to the pub­lic in Lo­ufang­ping Vil­lage, mak­ing it the first wired vil­lage in the con­tigu­ous poverty-stricken ar­eas of the Lu­liang Moun­tain re­gion. “As an in­for­ma­tion plat­form, the E sta­tion pro­vides all kinds of agri­cul­tural mes­sages, sci­en­tific knowl­edge and on­line-ex­pert ser­vices, greatly im­prov­ing the sci­en­tific and cul­tural qual­ity of life in Lo­ufang­ping and neigh­bor­ing vil­lages,” Fang ex­plained. “The E sta­tion also fea­tures an e-com­merce plat­form, which has been very con­ve­nient for farm­ers to buy agri­cul­tural tools and other ma­te­ri­als.”

Op­ti­miz­ing Ad­van­ta­geous In­dus­tries

Lo­ufang­ping Vil­lage has fer­tile land and abun­dant wa­ter, but be­cause of the cold weather and high al­ti­tude, few crops can be grown there ex­cept pota­toes. In re­cent years, farm­ers were mostly plant­ing com­mer­cial pota­toes, which didn’t sell well. To in­crease vil­lagers’ in­comes and ad­just the tra­di­tional plant­ing struc­ture, Fang used the poverty al­le­vi­a­tion funds from CAST to es­tab­lish a 660-mu (44-hectare) plant­ing base for seed pota­toes, which are more prof­itable than the com­mer­cial crops.

“Our vil­lage has a high yield of pota- toes,” ex­plained Fang. “How­ever, har­vest sea­son co­in­cides with peak sup­ply time na­tion­wide, es­pe­cially for com­mer­cial va­ri­eties, which only sell for a very low price. So even if we in­creased pro­duc­tion vol­ume, the vil­lagers still wouldn’t earn a hand­some in­come.” Thus, af­ter es­tab­lish­ing the plant­ing base for seed pota­toes, Fang con­tin­ued to brain­storm how to avoid peak sea­son and sell the pota­toes at a higher price.

With sup­port of CAST, Fang called on the Potato Plant­ing Co­op­er­a­tive in the Lo­ufang­ping Vil­lage to es­tab­lish 28 cel­lars. “When the cel­lars were ready, we stored pota­toes in them un­til the win­ter. In win­ter, the pota­toes can sell for a dou­bled price per kilo­gram, so the planters dou­bled their in­comes,” Fang beamed.

In ad­di­tion to im­prov­ing tra­di­tional plant­ing in­dus­tries, Fang also tried to de­velop new ones. One day, Fang met a young lo­cal man who had been plant­ing mushrooms in north­east­ern China dur­ing the off-sea­son for ten years. “While chat­ting with the guy, I re­al­ized Lo­ufang­ping Vil­lage has a sim­i­lar cli­mate to north­east­ern China, so I thought de­vel­op­ing off-sea­son mush­room cul­ti­va­tion could work here,” said Fang. He per­suaded the young man to stay and co­op­er­ate with a lo­cal en­tre­pre­neur to launch an off-sea­son mush­room cul­ti­va­tion base in the vil­lage, in­clud­ing eight green­houses. To raise lo­cal in­comes, work at the base-from mak­ing mush­room- cul­ti­va­tion sticks to wa­ter­ing, har­vest­ing, dry­ing and pack­ag­ing the mushrooms-was all per­formed with lo­cal la­bor and pro­duced a daily in­come of 80 to 120 yuan (US$12 to 18).

In 2017, con­sid­er­ing the suc­cess­ful at­tempt of the first year, Fang led the vil­lagers to es­tab­lish another 10 green­houses us­ing poverty al­le­vi­a­tion funds of about 300,000 yuan (US$45,177). This time, the own­er­ship of the new base be­longs to the whole vil­lage, so ev­ery house­hold can en­joy the ben­e­fits.

Sleepy Vil­lage Awak­ens

With Fang Ruib­iao’s lead, by the end of 2016, just one year af­ter his ar­rival, Lo­ufang­ping Vil­lage had al­ready shaken off poverty, with its res­i­dents’ an­nual per capita in­come ex­ceed­ing 4000 yuan (US$ 604). It com­pletely trans­formed from a gloomy and stag­nant place into a vig­or­ous and dy­namic draw.

Grad­u­ally, more and more young lo­cals saw the boom­ing de­vel­op­ment and promis­ing out­look of the vil­lage and de­cided to re­turn from the cities. Some got in­volved in mod­ern breed­ing and plant­ing in­dus­tries and oth­ers launched gro­cery stores, or­chards and farm­house re­sorts, as in­creas­ing num­bers of vis­i­tors be­gan trick­ling into the vil­lage.

“I wor­ried that vil­lagers might re­ject new stuff, but I was to­tally wrong,” Fang said. “Now, al­most all of them have bought smart phones and learned how to use Wechat. Some even post short videos and pho­tos on Wechat to pro­mote fam­i­lypro­duced green agri­cul­tural prod­ucts.”

How­ever, Fang is most proud of teach­ing the el­derly in the vil­lage to use video call­ing on Wechat so they can “see and talk” with their mi­grant chil­dren when they miss them, which greatly re­duced their lone­li­ness.

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