Editor's note

One of the major goals of President Xi Jinping is eradication of poverty by 2020. To see the progress of the plan, China Daily sent six reporters to live for a month across the country ahead of the 19th National Congress of the CPC.[Read more]

Roads required to promote prosperity

For the past 20 days or so, I have been staying in Guhe, a poverty-stricken village in northwestern Anhui province.

To visit households, I have used various means of transportation, including cars, motorbikes and electric bicycles, but I have always needed to walk at least part of the journey, as the village roads remain really muddy for days after rainfall.

During my time in Guhe, I have learned from the local cadres and villagers that the hardest thing for poverty-stricken areas to do is build roads.

There are several governmental programs focused on building roads in rural areas. Some projects are fully funded by the government, while others also require villagers to raise funding.

Some village officials told me that the last thing they want to do is take money from villagers. To decide how much money each household should pay, they have considered various factors, such as how many residents and how much land a household has.

Roads improving, giving villagers path out of poverty

With the start of the wheat harvest this month, residents of a poverty-stricken village in northwest Anhui province are once again facing the possibility of big problems from the area's terrible infrastructure.

Li Zhongdao, a cadre in the village's Lishanzhai neighborhood, has been busy trying to persuade its more than 600 residents to donate money to rent heavy equipment to fix their dirt road.

Li said he is confident of winning support from the villagers.

A reliable road has put more money in farmers' pockets, he said, since it allowed them to take their own grain to market, rather than having to depend on buyers who would pay less since they had to go out to the village to get it.

Guhe is one of 11 villages in Lyuzhai township, "and it is the village with the worst roads", said Yu Haitian, head of the township government. "It's probably the poorest among Lyuzhai's four key villages that are eligible for poverty relief." It was not until late 2015 that a 4-meter-wide concrete road was built to connect the village with the town's center.

Subsidies put poor families into new homes

Jin Xiuying and her husband, a poverty-stricken couple from Guhe village in Anhui province's Linquan county, had lived in a mud-brick house for decades. But through a government subsidy they were able to hire some villagers to build a 60-square-meter house of brick, tile and cement.

"The previous house, which had a living room and bedroom, posed a safety risk," said Sun Fei, a Guhe village cadre.

After completion of the new house, Jin, 73, will get

30,000 yuan from the government, after which, she said, "I will need to spend no more money."

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Tourism begins to make a mark on the mountain

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 Huaqiao on May 1, the last day of the three-day 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.

Poverty a thing of the past

Huaqiao, in Gansu province's mountainous Kangxian county, used to be a poverty-stricken village, with 126 of its 215 households living below the poverty line.

To improve villagers' living conditions and help pull them out of poverty, local governments stepped up efforts to improve infrastructure in 2012, aiming to transform the area into a tourism destination.

The measures included building cement roads, dredging the river, renovating houses and building garbage disposal facilities.

Last year, per capita income of villagers in Huaqiao reached more than 8,000 yuan, compared with about 3,000 yuan before the village became a tourist attraction, while the number of households living below the poverty line fell to 41.

Tourism puts poor village on path to prosperity

Like many other young people in Huaqiao, in Gansu province's Kangxian county, Mao Zhanghui used to live in one of the village's mud houses and migrate each year to cities such as Shanghai to work in low-paid positions, such as on construction sites, so that his family would not starve.

However, Mao found employment in Huaqiao and returned to his home village in 2014, when the Kangxian county government began to focus on developing tourism to alleviate poverty.

With the 380,000 yuan ($55,160) he borrowed from a local bank and his friends, he built a three-story building, which houses a restaurant and was opened last year.

"We receive tourists every day, and during holidays the restaurants are always full," Mao said. "During the three-day May Day holiday this year, I made 20,000 yuan."

Of the 774 villagers living in Huaqiao, more than 300 have jobs related to tourism, such as in restaurants or hotels, or selling agricultural products.

By the end of last year, tourism had become a pillar industry for 69 villages in Kangxian, accounting for about 20 percent of the villages in the county.

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Fresh mountain air, newfound prosperity

There is an old poem that describes poverty-stricken Wulong county in days gone by. It translates: "In remote mountainous Wulong, people only eat sweet potatoes, corn and potato. Nobody eats egg noodles, except for a woman who has given birth."

Several decades ago, it took 15 days to transport goods from downtown Chongqing to Wulong - by boat to Fuling via the Yangtze River, and then on via the Wujiang River. People then carried the goods to the county's mountain villages.

For hundreds of years, farmers in impoverished Fazi village, Wulong county in Chongqing had only one water source: rain. They usually dug holes in the ground to store water, which was far from clean or safe.

However, the village has undergone a face-lift over the past three years thanks to China's poverty alleviation program.

When I first knew that I would be staying for a month in a poor mountain village, I was a little hesitant. I packed a lot of outdoor equipment, such as a sleeping bag, a tent and a plastic bucket, in case the living conditions there were not pleasant.

After driving for about five hours from downtown Chongqing, I arrived in Fazi. To my surprise, the village was not what I imagined it would be. It was easily accessible by a newly built road network that connects most of the houses.

I was hosted by a poor family that opened a bed-and-breakfast after receiving an interest-free loan. The guest room was simple but clean. Three rooms shared a toilet, and there was running water and a solar water heater.

Breathing fresh air on the mountain, I was glad I was able to stay for a month to see how this village is pulling itself out of poverty.

Inspired to grow peaches, farmers bid poverty adieu

Poverty-stricken Wulong, which is short on infrastructure and industry, is known for its unique karst landscape. Because of the topography, the ground is rocky, and the meager soil can hold little water.

In 1996, Shen Jianzhong, a graduate of a local agricultural college, started his peach-growing business in Fazi, a remote mountain village in Huolu town with about 2,000 residents.

In 2015, the central government pledged to adopt more policies to help lift the country's 70 million poor people above the poverty line by 2020, promising impoverished families 1,500 yuan a year in seed funds to help them earn money by selling produce.

Shen spent 10,000 yuan to rent 3.3 hectares of land on a barren hill to plant a peach orchard. Now Shen has 40 hectares of peach orchards and makes about 6 million yuan a year.

Inspired by his success, more villagers started to plant peaches and other fruit, including plums and kiwi.

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Learning lessons at the grassroots

My month in the countryside was a rare opportunity to spend an extended period observing and experiencing the lives of the residents of a remote village that is home to people from the Miao ethnic group.

Before I arrived in Shibadong, in Huayuan, Hunan province, I was expecting to find a stereotypical ramshackle village. At least, that's what my knowledge and impressions of villages in other poor, mountainous regions had led me to believe.

However, during my interviews with villagers,I learned that Shibadong was indeed once run-down,but thatwas several years ago.

Present-day Shibadong is totally different, and it offered surprises from the beginning of my trip to the end.

The road to the village is a well-built blacktop which zigzags along the mountainside and overlooks a valley. The village is clean and tidy, and the traditional-style wooden houses are well maintained. Located at the top of the mountain, the superb views, lush greenery and clean air make the village a popular destination for tourists.

Ethnic villagers' fortunes rise as they cooperate in kiwi cultivation

When President Xi Jinping paid a visit to Shibadong village in 2013, the village was poor and isolated.

During Xi's visit, the president stressed the importance of precision in eradicating poverty, saying that poverty alleviation should be based on real situations, must be targeted on the right people and industries and must use the right tools.

Afterward, the Huayuan county government sent work teams to villages where incomes were below the poverty line to guide poverty alleviation efforts.

In 2015, the poverty work team in the village persuaded villagers to pool the relief funds provided by the government-about 6,000 yuan per person-and some of their own money to form partnership with an agricultural company to start a kiwi plantation.

The kiwi trees will start bearing fruit this year. The plantation is expected to eventually bring in nearly 10,000 yuan annually for each villager.

Pig farming fattens up family's income

Purchasing a sow and a boar with her 8,000 yuan in savings, 44-year-old Long Yingzu started a farm in her old house in the remote mountainous county of Huayuan, in Xiangxi Tujia and Miao autonomous prefecture, Hunan province.

By the end of 2003, she was able to bring in more than 70,000 yuan from selling piglets and providing artificial insemination services to local farmers. Her business gradually expanded to nearby counties as her skills continued to improve.

Now the farm earns about 800,000 yuan annually. Long's younger sister joined to help as the business grew bigger.

The sisters have also received help from the county government, especially technical assistance from the department of animal husbandry.

With the help of a local government policy to help farmers enhance their educations, Long Yingzu is attending a junior college, where she studies agricultural science. She will graduate this year.

"Using traditional experience is good for raising a few pigs, but it takes knowledge and science to manage such a large number of them," Long said.

Now the Long sisters are planning to further upgrade their industry by turning the slope around their farm into an intercropping farm, where pigs destined for pork dishes can be raised organically. They expect that will attract tourists, as the village aims to boost tourism with its natural resources, including its karst caves.

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Fighting poverty with resilience and hope

After spending a month in Gufang,
a village in Huichang county, Jiangxi
province, I am now well acquainted
with fish farming, greenhouse gardening
and raising pigs - things I had no idea
about before.

I made friends with a number of villagers
and formed a unique bond with a kind
family who accommodated me for the
whole month.

Life in rural China has suddenly become
so much easier for me to relate to. And the unprecedented poverty alleviation campaign
taking place in the village is no longer a vague concept, but real people making real efforts
and carrying out a range of measures to lead
the country into an increasingly prosperous

What touched me most were the people, with
their resilience in the face of hardships and

their strong will to strive for better lives through hard work.

Village renewal began with new crops

Driving through Gufang village on its 6-meter-wide asphalt road, one will notice solar street lamps, brand-new houses and orchards lining both sides of the road.

These have all arrived in the past two years, since the village, part of Huichang county in southern Jiangxi province, launched a poverty alleviation campaign.

Local authorities decided that modern agriculture is the key to eradicating poverty, and an agricultural cooperative was formed in April last year. To draft an industrial outlook for the village, the 12-member

cooperative council spent days and nights researching and brainstorming.

Devoted husband reaps rewards from gardening

In 2007, when Zou Yongcun's wife was diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus, Zou gave up his career in Guanzhou and accompanied his wife back to their home village Gufang, as the hospitals in Guangzhou were too expensive for the couple.

They were in debt and struggled financially for many years.

At the end of 2014, they were registered as a family living below the poverty line, which meant they were eligible to receive financial support from the local

government. That year marked the beginning of a poverty alleviation campaign in the village.

Local officials did more than just support them financially. Last year, they invited Zou to join an agricultural cooperative and assigned him the role of greenhouse manager, as part of a plan to develop rural industries, including growing fruits and vegetables, and fish farming.

He was sent to Jiangsu province to learn how to cultivate crops without the use of soil, and greenhouse gardening. After 10 days, he returned with advanced knowledge of soilless culture and helped set up 11 greenhouses in the village.

With a monthly wage of 2,000 yuan, Zou had pulled his family out of poverty by the end of last year, and he expects to see returns grow in the coming years having invested 300,000 yuan in the cooperative using bank loans.

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Medical refunds give hope to impoverished rural households

When I entered Zheng Liangshui's house, I could hardly believe the 50-year-old farmer has been severely ill with cancer. That was because his well-furnished three-story home, containing a tricycle-trailer, a motorcycle and electrical appliances, indicated a decent standard of living for a rural resident.

Appearances can be deceptive, though. In truth, Zheng's family, in Macheng, a city in Central China's Hubei province, is desperately poor.

The family once made a good living by running their own pig farm, but in 2014, Zheng's wife, Tao Congxiang, 49, was diagnosed with sepsis.

The family spent about 100,000 yuan ($14,700) on treatment, but the medical refund system reimbursed less than half the sum.

In June last year, Zheng was diagnosed with stomach cancer, which was a huge blow, both physically and financially.

Things began to change in October, when "precision" poverty alleviation measures were introduced to ensure that every impoverished household in Huanggang, the city which oversees Macheng, has access to a new preferential medical policy.

The new policy offers impoverished families refunds of up to 90 percent of their fees in designated hospitals

in Hubei. The entire fee is reimbursed if the patient is an orphan or a senior with no family support.

As a result, when he had another two sessions of chemotherapy, Zheng paid less than 1,000 yuan, about one-third the cost of previous sessions.

Escaping poverty with hard work and a helping hand

Although suffering from frequent broken bones and fractures while growing up, as a result of brittle bone disease, an iron-willed sister and brother in Hubei province are now able to support themselves as teachers after studying hard and graduating from university.

Cheng Shuangjia and his elder sister Cheng Xiangxi grew up in a village in the mountains of Macheng county of Huanggang, Hubei. Their parents gave them home schooling at first because the sick children had to lie on the bed most of the time.

"We were eventually diagnosed with osteogenesis imperfecta in 1998," said 27-year-old Cheng Shuangjia.

The children's medical fees increased the economic pressures on the family, which struggled to survive on the crops and peanuts the mother grew on 0.66 acres of land and the father's humble wages.

The family's harsh life only made the brother and sister even more determined and both were eventually admitted to universities.

Then their mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and their grandfather died in a fire which destroyed the family's house.

In the latter half of 2015, when a targeted poverty relief move was conducted in Hongxing community, Cheng's family, through a democratic election in the village, was included into the poverty-stricken households list recognized by the central government

According to Macheng county's poverty relief policies, Cheng's family was given a house free of charge to ensure that they have a place to live. They can also apply for reimbursement of 90 percent of their medical fees to ensure the family does not slip back into poverty.

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Published: July, 2017

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