Village Woman Starts Business, Contributes to Society

June 19, 2014
By Fan WenjunEditor: Frank Zhao
Shen Xiuli and a senior citizen [Women of China English Monthly]

Nearly two decades of grunt labor finally paid off for Shen Xiuli. With hard work and her never-say-die spirit, the one-time tailor from the Huangtu Plateau (The Loess Plateau), in the northern region of Shaanxi and Shanxi provinces, progressed from a common laborer to a successful — and relatively wealthy — entrepreneur. Shen no longer runs a one-dimensional business; now out of tailoring, she is involved fish breeding, pig farming and catering. Shen also runs the first nongovernmental nursing home in Yulin, a city in Shaanxi.

First Step        

In 1974, Shen was born in Xiaohe, a poor, backward village in Jingbian County, Yulin, on the Huangtu Plateau. She married Shen Haibin in 1993. Shortly after they wed, Shen Xiuli became frustrated with her life; her parents-in-law were chronically ill (her father-in-law suffered from stomach cancer, while her mother-in-law suffered from emphysema) and the newlyweds lived in a dilapidated cave (a kind of residence in Northwest China) and tried to make a living farming in abysmal (soil erosion near the water) conditions. "No matter how depressed I was, I had to come down to earth. I was not willing to live a poor life. I was always thinking about how I could change my life," Shen Xiuli recalls.

She used 3,000 yuan (US $492), her dowry, and 20,000 yuan (US $3,279) borrowed from relatives to buy a motorized farm tricycle, so her husband could start a local delivery business. In addition to doing the farm chores herself, Shen Xiuli learned how to sew and make clothes, which she sold at the county fair. "I made trousers for the villagers, and I only earned one or two yuan (20-30 US cents) per pair. I saved money, one yuan by one yuan, to start my business," says Shen Xiuli.

But, as is sometimes the case, it was one step forward and two backward; in March 1995, Shen Haibin was involved in a costly — paying the compensation left the family in debt — traffic accident. While he was transporting petroleum products from Jingbian Petrifaction Factory, in Jingbian County, to Yinchuan, a city in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, Shen Haibin overturned and demolished the tricycle. The Shens had to pay the factory more than 100,000 yuan (US $16,393), most of which they borrowed, as compensation for the spilled petroleum products. It was a heavy blow for the couple, especially as they had not repaid the loan to buy the cart. "It was a vast sum of money … It was difficult for us to support the family, let alone pay off the debt. How could we feel confident about starting a business?" asks Shen Xiuli.

But she remained strong-willed, and she refused to feel sorry for herself. On the advice of relatives and friends, Shen Xiuli borrowed 500 yuan (US $82), which she used to open a snack counter at the county fair. She not only made clothes, to earn extra money, she also organized a sewing class, to teach women in the village how to make clothes. That was Shen Xiuli's first step toward business success.

Fish Farming

Inspired by stories in the media about successful fish farmers, Shen Xiuli in 1996 decided to keep fish in a reservoir. She and her husband signed a contract with Zhangjiagou Village Committee to acquire the right to raise fish in the previously unused Zhangjiagou Reservoir. After years of disuse and neglect, the main section of the dam collapsed, which meant the water level was lower than the standard for raising fish. Shen Xiuli's family worked night and day; they carried soil and other materials to the reservoir, and then they rebuilt the damaged section of the dam. It took nearly six months, but they managed to repair the dam — and the road leading to the reservoir.

Shen Xiuli in 1997 borrowed 80,000 yuan (US $13,115), which she used to purchase nearly 150,000 fish to stock the reservoir. She soon realized that fish feed was expensive; to cut costs, she began raising pigs near the dam, and she used the pig manure to feed the fish. Within two years, she was selling more than 600 pigs and 150,000 kilograms of fish annually.

Many others would have been content with the business' development, but Shen Xiuli felt she could do better, and she decided to expand her business. She signed a contract, with Julang Village Committee, to acquire the right to use Huangpan Reservoir, to raise fish. "Given the larger area, the deeper water and the better lighting, Huangpan Reservoir is more suitable for raising fish on a large scale," she says.

However, bad luck — again — befell the Shens. It rained heavily on July 16, 2000, and Shen Xiuli was worried that the resulting flood damaged the dam. She and her husband traveled by motorcycle to examine the dam; along the way, they slid in some mud and the motorcycle skidded off the road. The Shens fell into a gully. "His head was badly injured … he had several fractures … and he remained unconscious. I also got hurt. At that time, I even felt that the world was going to end," Shen Xiuli recalls.

Although Shen Haibin's injuries were not life-threatening, he required much time to recover and, even after a lengthy convalescence, he still had difficulty walking. Shen Xiuli was not defeated; instead, she kept a positive attitude and shouldered the family's burdens. She performed all of the household chores, and she tended the fish and pigs by herself.

After her husband's physical condition improved, Shen Xiuli traveled to central China's Hubei Province — several times — to learn how to keep fish in a scientific way. She borrowed 1.6 million yuan (US $262,295), which she used to open a fish farm. At the same time, to both increase profits and reduce the risks that come with raising fish and pigs, Shen Xiuli opened a fish restaurant, near the fish farm and she sold the excess fish to buyers in other cities, especially in the Ningxia Hui and Inner Mongolia autonomous regions.

Shen Xiuli established Haibin Fishery and Farming Corporation in 2008. She also taught the locals how to raise fish and pigs. She helped 150 families get into pig farming, and she helped other villagers stock the other reservoirs in Jingbian County with fish. With Shen Xiuli's help, many of the villagers have become rich.

For the Elderly

After she became rich, Shen Xiuli not only wanted to earn more money, she also wanted to contribute to society. Given the increase in the number of "empty nest" elderly people in recent years, Shen Xiuli decided to open the first nongovernmental nursing home in Yulin. After three years of work, the facility opened on May 17, 2013.

Why did she open a nursing home? "I had little time to look after my parents-in-law, because I was busy with the business, and they died of illness … my husband and I decided that if we ever had enough money, we would open a loving nursing home. Elderly people who were poor, or who lived alone, would be able to live in the nursing home for free," says Shen Xiuli.

"Some elderly people helped me a lot when I encountered difficulties, so I wanted to provide a family, and happiness, to elderly people who did not have family … On the other side, the nursing home would provide jobs to unemployed people," she adds.

"To date, we have invested more than 32 million yuan (US $5 million) in Jingbian Loving Nursing Home. The nursing home provides more than 40 jobs … and it can hold 320 elderly people. Now, 160 elderly people live in the nursing home," Shen Xiuli says.

The nursing home's residents have washrooms in their rooms, and they have access to computers, television and the telephone. They also have access to a library, infirmary, chess and card room, and the physiotherapy and fitness rooms. Management ensures the residents live comfortable lives and have access to convenient services and caring service providers.

Common Prosperity

Shen Xiuli says her husband has helped her achieve business success. "He is not only my husband, but also my partner. We share happiness and sorrow. My husband never went to school, but he is clever, and he is able to solve things … Most important, he is able to accept my suggestions, unlike most of the men in the northern region of Shaanxi Province," she says.

The Shens have a son and a daughter. Shen Yuyu, 19, their son, is a junior at Chongqing College of Politics and Law. Shen Miaomiao, 18, is in her first year at Northwest University of Politics and Law. Shen Xiuli never worries about her children's future. "I hope they will have steady jobs, and make contributions to the development of our country. If they are not willing to work in another city, they can come back and help me run the nursing home," she says.

Shen Xiuli has been named — several times — a pioneer of starting business and becoming rich by local government and women's federation. "I am not satisfied after I receive such an honor. I regard such honors as a new beginning … I will not only run the fish farm well, but I will also run the nursing home well," says Shen Xiuli.

"Xiaohe Village … is a place in which Chairman Mao once lived, and from where he directed the revolution, before the People's Republic of China was established. I want to develop red tourism, with the locals, and I want to achieve … common prosperity."

(Source: Women of China English Monthly January 2014 Issue)

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