Chen Xiaojing relocated from Shanghai to her hometown Yantan, in Yongjia County, in East China's Zhejiang Province, in 2017, in answer to the province's call for people to take part in rural revitalization. That year, Chen was elected head of the village committee of Yuantou, a village in Yantan Town. She has since led the improvement of the village's environment, and she has helped transform Yuantou from a dirty, poor-conditioned village into a clean and beautiful village. Chen's husband, Dai Yunfei, supports her work. The couple's family was selected a National Most Beautiful Family in May 2022.
100 Days of Hard Work
Chen and Dai used to have a clothing business. They worked in Guangzhou and Shanghai, and they earned a good income. Six years ago, village cadres from Yuantou visited Chen and encouraged her to be a candidate during the election of the village committee chair. Chen discussed the idea with her husband, and the couple eventually closed their business and returned to Chen's hometown.
After Chen became head of Yuantou, her first task was to improve the village's environment. She tried to persuade villagers to remove small rooms, which they built, but which occupied much of the village's public space. Chen started by removing a room owned by her brother.
Within five days, 132 such rooms had been removed. During three months of hard work, Chen led the villagers in building a cultural center, to highlight the history of boatmen. They also built the village's dock.
Chen did not take any time off during her first 100 days on the job. Her blood pressure stayed quite high, so she was urged to receive necessary treatment in hospital. But she cared too much about the environmental project. She refused to stop working, and said, "Thanks to the support I received from my husband and son, I was able to hold on."
Dai is head of the saxophone players' association in Yongjia County. If Chen is facing difficulties and becomes depressed, Dai plays his saxophone to help ease his wife's pressure. "No matter how many years you will be serving as our village head, I will play the saxophone just for you," Dai tells his wife.
While Chen is busy with her work, Dai takes good care of their family. He often cooks meals before Chen returns home. "I will support whatever decision she makes," Dai says. Chen is grateful. "He is also my private driver, secretary, housekeeper; and, most importantly, he is the 'pillar' of our family," she says.
Chen and the villagers spent one year improving the environment of the village. In particular, Chen led village cadres as they built "zero-polluted" gardens, opened "zero-polluted" shops, and nominated environmentally friendly local households. Nowadays, Yuantou is known in Zhejiang Province as a rural revitalization model village, a popular tourism village, and an environmentally friendly village.
As Yuantou has become known by more and more people, the villagers have been willing to run businesses in their homes. For example, "Mei's wonton" is a home-based restaurant opened by a couple (both over age 50) who are good at cooking dumpling soup. "We have established a rural women's team, the members of whom have increased from around 10 to more than 280," Chen adds proudly. "The women manage local snack shops, beds and breakfast, and other catering-service spots that are popular on the Internet."
Chen gives another example: "We have a member of the women's team who owns a wheat-cake shop. She had worked away from our hometown before. I suggested she return to our village, and I helped her sell her wheat cakes via livestreams on Douyin. Now, she has customers who live in other places, and who order wheat cakes online. She can sell more than 300 cakes a day." Chen is glad to see the wheat-cake shop's owner has earned enough money, and has built a new house, to enjoy a happy life with her family.
Chen registered a brand, "Yuantou Chen Xiaojing," in 2019. Under her brand, she sells agricultural products made in Yuantou; in this way, she helps her fellow villagers increase their earnings and live better lives.
During the past six years, Chen has encountered many difficulties. "Almost everyone in my village has noticed that my skin has turned darker. Someone has told me that I look 10 years older than my actual age. But, as I look at the beautiful village I am living in, I believe my hard work has been worthwhile," Chen says.
When Chen's family was named a Most Beautiful Family of Zhejiang Province, in 2019, she and her husband attended the award ceremony via video link. Even though they did not go to the ceremony in person, Chen wore a formal dress, which Dai had bought for her. The couple lives in harmony — all of the time. What's more, they often encourage their family members to lend a helping hand to their villagers, whenever the villagers are in need.
Photos Supplied by Interviewees
(Source: The Department of Family and Children's Affairs of the All-China Women's Federation/Women of China English Monthly February 2023 issue)
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