New blood giv­ing a fresh ap­peal to com­mu­ni­ties

China Daily European Weekly - - Spotlight - By DENG ZHANGYU

When Ye Liqin vis­ited the vil­lage of Ping­tian for the first time four years ago, the “wel­com­ing com­mit­tee” that greeted her was de­cid­edly hos­tile — a group of bark­ing dogs.

Her next en­counter, with a group of gray-haired old peo­ple sit­ting out­side soak­ing up the sun, was a lit­tle less hos­tile, but they were not ex­actly ef­fu­sive ei­ther. Their fixed stares seemed to ask what such a young woman could be do­ing in the vil­lage, nes­tled on a moun­tain in Songyang county, Zhe­jiang province.

Ye, then 26, says she de­spaired at be­ing the only young per­son in the vil­lage, to which she had trav­eled to run sev­eral home­s­tay ho­tels and a restau­rant, at a time when the hospi­tal­ity busi­ness in ru­ral China was just be­gin­ning to thrive.

The vil­lage of about 100 in­hab­i­tants has no pub­lic trans­porta­tion con­nec­tions with the nearby county of Songyang, but in that re­gard it has much in com­mon with hun­dreds of other vil­lages in the moun­tains — vil­lages that peo­ple have aban­doned in droves, head­ing for greener pas­tures and leav­ing be­hind those rooted to their birth­place — by and large el­derly folk.

In fact, Ye her­self had left an­other vil­lage in the area to work in a cloth­ing shop in the pro­vin­cial cap­i­tal, Hangzhou, be­fore quit­ting that job to get into the hospi­tal­ity busi­ness with a friend, a Ping­tian lo­cal, who had also moved to the city.

The pair rented sev­eral va­cant houses that Ye says were run­down and un­fit for hu­man habi­ta­tion. With the help of the lo­cal govern­ment, ar­chi­tec­ture pro­fes­sors at Hong Kong Univer­sity, Ts­inghua Univer­sity and the Cen­tral Academy of Fine Arts ren­o­vated the houses, turn­ing them into home­s­tay ho­tels.

The first guests were friends of Ye from Shang­hai, she says.

With Ping­tian’s pic­turesque set­ting and its now more-than-ad­e­quate, mod­ern ac­com­mo­da­tions, it sud­denly be­came a tourist mag­net, with more and more peo­ple choos­ing to visit it and stay there.

That in­flux led to thriv­ing busi­ness for vil­lagers sell­ing lo­cal pro­duce and home­made food to the vis­i­tors, which in turn re­sulted in some of the lo­cals who had long aban­doned their vil­lage re­turn­ing to live there.

An­other two en­thu­si­as­tic en­trepreneurs then ar­rived, swelling the ranks of the vil­lage’s young peo­ple, and opened a shop sell­ing tie-dyed prod­ucts.

Ye says that be­fore she ar­rived on the scene, Ping­tian was a de­cid­edly sleepy place, with most vil­lagers go­ing to bed at 6 pm. The vil­lage now has a cof­fee shop and a com­mu­nity cen­ter built with govern­ment fund­ing that have added some modest nightlife pos­si­bil­i­ties. “The vil­lage is alive again,” Ye says. Af­ter liv­ing in the vil­lage for four years, she says, she has de­vel­oped a con­nec­tion with it and is keen to help re­store el­e­ments of its cul­ture and tra­di­tions that seem to have been lost.

Ye typ­i­fies lo­cal govern­ment ef­forts to at­tract young peo­ple back to ru­ral ar­eas to re­vi­tal­ize them as China has in­vested heav­ily in the coun­try­side in re­cent years.

Meng Xue­fen, 31, a sin­gle mother, says she de­cided to re­turn to Da­mushan tea val­ley, 27 kilo­me­ters from Ping­tian, run­ning a tea­house de­signed by Xu Tiantian, an ar­chi­tect in Bei­jing, af­ter say­ing good­bye to her life in the city, and with it a fas­ci­na­tion for lux­ury brands.

“I fell in love with the tea­house at first sight,” she says. “The en­vi­ron­ment is gor­geous.”

The tea­house is in a tea gar­den in the Da­mushan area.

Al­though most vil­lagers in the area work in the tea in­dus­try, no one had ex­plored and pro­moted lo­cal tea cul­ture. Meng be­came the first per­son to do so, us­ing the tea­house as the venue for a train­ing cen­ter in the art of tea.

She in­vited pro­fes­sors from col­leges to pro­vide train­ing cour­ses for lo­cals, some­times free for farm­ers.

The train­ing cen­ter has gained a good rep­u­ta­tion and, as a re­sult, many tea lovers trav­el­ing in the area have asked for lessons.

Last year Meng came up with the idea of re­viv­ing a lo­cal tea brand that em­ploys man­ual skills and calls for tea leaves to be picked from trees at least 20 years old. To find the best-qual­ity tea, Meng says, she has vis­ited all the vil­lages in the area, and her brand has be­come pop­u­lar among the young.

“I know some peo­ple have come back to the vil­lage to get into the tea in­dus­try and learn tra­di­tional tea pro­duc­tion skills, all of which used to be done by the old.”

It is just a mat­ter of time be­fore more young peo­ple take up res­i­dence in the vil­lage, giv­ing it yet more vi­tal­ity, she says.

Ye Guofu, 63, also be­lieves that in three to five years, young peo­ple will come back to Daitou vil­lage, lo­cated on a moun­tain at an al­ti­tude of nearly 1,000 me­ters.

Ye is one of the youngest peo­ple in the vil­lage, where most of the fewer than 100 in­hab­i­tants are in their 70s or 80s, and most of whom used to live higher up in the moun­tains.

Old peo­ple sel­dom go out of the vil­lage, the near­est county be­ing about 23 kilo­me­ters away, and there is no pub­lic trans­porta­tion.

Last year, the ter­raced rice fields at­tracted thou­sands of tourists on a sin­gle day when the vil­lage staged a farm ac­tiv­i­ties event.

In 2014, the vil­lage in­tro­duced a kind of rice suit­able for grow­ing at high al­ti­tude, and it has be­come very pop­u­lar. Each year when the rice goes on sale at har­vest time it quickly sells out, even at 40 yuan ($6.27; 5.39 eu­ros; £4.75) a kilo­gram, four times the nor­mal mar­ket price.

The pic­turesque view of the vil­lage of Ping­tian.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.