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Shabby life in rural village turns around

By Liu Xiangrui in Huayuan, Hunan | China Daily | Updated: 2017-06-28 07:34

Editor's note: In the run-up to the 19th Communist Party of China National Congress, China Daily sent six reporters to live for a month in poor villages to see how China's poverty eradication plan is improving people's lives.

Positive changes in his village over the past few years have helped Shi Quanyou find his Miss Right, and given hope to other villagers.

Shi, 45, was one of 38 single men over 40 in Shibadong, Hunan province, which has a population of about 1,000. In poor mountainous areas like Shibadong, many single men have difficulty finding a spouse because of poverty and the harsh environment.

"My family was too poor in the past. I was over 40 and I didn't dare to dream about being married," Shi said.

As a migrant worker in Zhejiang province, Shi could only save about 500 yuan ($73) a month.

In 2012, Shi invited a close female acquaintance, Kong Mingying, a native of neighboring Chongqing, to his home village for Spring Festival. But Kong, shocked by the poor conditions in the village, including Shi's home - a dilapidated traditional wooden house that leaked heavily during rainstorms - worried about the future and was reluctant to agree to marriage.

"I grew up in a rural area, too, and I can do all kinds of farm work," said Kong, 36. "But when I first saw the conditions here, I wasn't sure how we could live. Even if I were willing to become a farmer, there isn't enough arable land."

She decided to return to work in Guangdong province; Shi returned to Zhejiang. But the two kept in touch.

The situation changed after President Xi Jinping visited the village in 2013. Thanks to poverty alleviation efforts by the local government, Shibadong has seen great improvements.

Kong was contacted by Shi, who excitedly told her about the president's visit to his house and the series of positive changes in the village.

He invited her again - this time to start a restaurant together, because many tourists had started coming to Shibadong, tracing the president's visit or simply to appreciate the beautiful natural environment.

"I was thinking that even if we couldn't be a couple eventually, we could perhaps still be good business partners," Shi said.

Kong, who used to work in a restaurant in Guangzhou and is good at cooking, eventually agreed to come, and the couple opened a restaurant in Shibadong in 2014.

After struggling initially, the business started to go in the right direction. Occupying a spot with a good lookout view, the restaurant is a favorite dining place for tourists.

"There are more customers now, and we can barely take in all of them," Shi said, adding that the family can earn more than 10,000 yuan a month from the business.

Shi and Kong married in November 2014.

The village is now looking to boost tourism by developing a few nearby karst caves.

"I'm satisfied with my current life. We will try our best to run the restaurant well, and if tourism develops well in the future, we might also open a rural inn to welcome more guests," Shi said.

He has been a good example for the many other villagers who are still single. Some of them, such as Shi Liujin, have also started their own home restaurants or other small businesses.

"I think we are more confident," Shi Liujin said. "We can improve our economic conditions through hard work. Our village is not a place that ladies would shun anymore."

The village is now helping people like Shi find wives. A group blind date was organized in 2015 by the village committee for some single men in the village. The event attracted many local women.

In the past couple of years, several of the single men have successfully found marriage partners, and a large group wedding ceremony was held for them last year.

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