|Hou Xiuzhen and primary students who visit Nanniwan|
Hou Xiuzhen, an elderly woman, lives in Nanniwan, a village in the town of Nanniwan, in Baota District of Yan'an, in Northwest China's Shaanxi Province. Hou and her family members keep precious photos recording the history of the great production campaign (which began in the 1940s) in Nanniwan. Hou tells stories about Nanniwan to visitors to her home. The spirit of the great production campaign in Nanniwan is like a "flame," which has been inherited by members of three generations of Hou's family.
A famous Chinese song, Nanniwan, depicts the significant changes that have occurred in Nanniwan since the great production campaign was launched in the 1940s.
"According to my father-in-law, Liu Baozhai, when the Chinese soldiers were dispatched to Nanniwan to reclaim wastelands and develop agricultural production, they picked up wild plants and fruits to cook and eat. They cut trees and grass to make shelters, in which they lived. They organized contests to compete among peers to improve the efficiency of opening up wastelands," Hou recalls, based on the old stories she has heard from her father-in-law.
Liu was born in 1897 in Shenqiu, a county in Central China's Henan Province. He joined the revolution when he was 16, and he was later recruited into the Chinese Red Army. He was once a deputy company commander, who served in the 359 brigade. The brigade was dispatched to Nanniwan to participate in the great production campaign. In three years, the diligent and hardworking Chinese soldiers turned Nanniwan from abandoned wastelands into fertile farmlands, on which cattle and sheep were raised, and on which small workshops and plants were established.
Hou was born in Henan in 1946. When she was a teenager, she headed to Nanniwan with her family. Like Hou's family, a dozen households from Henan relocated to Nanniwan, to work with people, such as Liu, who had come from the same hometown. "Although I did not take part in the well-known great production campaign, I had heard stories about soldiers in Nanniwan when I was a little girl. I was encouraged and determined to learn from those soldiers," Hou said. The spirit of "relying on oneself and working hard" gradually took root in her heart.
After the People's Republic of China was founded, in 1949, Liu chose to stay in Nanniwan to continue protecting the land. He told the history of the place to countless visitors. He believed it was important to pass on the great revolutionary spirit. Liu passed away in 1984. Hou decided to take on her father-in-law's dedication to sharing the stories of Nanniwan.
Serving the People
Hou has kept one of her father-in-law's old tools, which he used to hoe the land during the great production campaign. She cherishes it because it is the "family's treasure," which reminds her of the spirit of "relying on oneself and working hard." Hou clearly understands she shoulders a responsibility, which has been passed down from the generation of the pioneers, who were the same age as her father-in-law.
"I must keep my heart and hands 'clean,' by serving our people well and taking practical measures to improve their lives. Only in this way, I can continue fulfilling the mission passed from my father-in-law," Hou says.
She has held various positions — including women's director, head of the villagers' team, director of the village committee, and secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) branch of Nanniwan Village — in the village throughout the years.
From paving a road to establishing a school, and from leading villagers in creating wealth to solving disputes in the neighborhood, Hou has considered the village's issues as if they were her family's issues. She served the villagers wholeheartedly, as if they were her family members. Her dedication to Nanniwan won her the trust and praise of the villagers.
In the past, Nanniwan did not have a primary school. The local children had to cross a small river and walk to a neighboring village, Yangwan, to attend school. To solve the problem, Hou called on the villagers to construct a school. They spent more than one month working, day and night. In 1979, Nanniwan finally had its primary school.
In 1999, Hou, other CPC members and village cadres answered the country's call to plant trees and improve the ecological environment. "Since our country called us to return farmlands to forests, people of our generation must plant trees and ensure the ecological environment of our village will no longer be damaged," Hou recalls.
Year after year, Hou and the other villagers planted trees on the mountains. "I still remember the first group of trees we planted were pagoda trees. The trees grew quickly, and new saplings sprang up, continuously. Many people have asked me, 'Hou, how many trees have you planted in total?' I couldn't tell them the exact number. I have planted trees on too many hills and mountains." Hou says the trees now growing on the mountains are preventing floods. Villagers have received subsidies because they have returned farmlands to forests. They have been receiving extra income to support their children, so they can receive a better education. Some of the children have entered universities and become undergraduates and postgraduates. Some have even gained Ph.D. degrees.
Nanniwan now has mountains covered by trees and plants, and the areas at the bases of the mountains are covered with boundless flowers, beautiful and vigorous ponds and rice fields. Wild animals, which were rarely seen before, have reappeared on the mountains and in the forests, and the ecological environment has been greatly improved. "In the past, we reclaimed wastelands to develop agricultural production, so we would have more food to eat. Now, we plant trees to live a better life. CPC members of my age and of my father-in-law's age have stuck to our aspirations, and we have fulfilled our missions on different historical stages," Hou says.
Promoting Nanniwan Spirit
Since Liu passed away, Hou has told stories about Nanniwan to countless visitors. "It has not been easy to gain the good life we have today. People from older generations sacrificed a lot, including their lives, to ensure their offspring, us, have such a good life. We must remember them," she can often be heard telling visitors. "As a person living in Nanniwan, and the daughter-in-law of an old soldier who served in the Chinese Red Army, I am so proud. The biggest influence I have received from my father-in-law is the spirit of Nanniwan, which urges us to rely on ourselves and work hard."
After Hou retired in 2001, her daughter, Zhang Fengqin, suggested she move to the downtown area, so she could live a more comfortable life. However, Hou insisted on staying in the village, because she believed she had an important task. "Many of the children of 359 brigade's soldiers have died. If I don't stay to tell visitors the history of the people who used to work hard here, who else will help promote Nanniwan's story and spirit? If I am too old to tell others those stories, I will ask my daughter, son-in-law and grandson to continue telling the stories," Hou says.
For more than three decades, Hou has told Nanniwan's stories to students, journalists, tourists and employees of enterprises and various institutions. Every time Hou recalls the old days, when soldiers were reclaiming wastelands in Nanniwan, she is full of emotions. People who listen to the stories are moved by the soldiers' dedication to Nanniwan.
"According to my understanding, serving the people means enduring hardships first and enjoying fruitful results after others, to solve difficulties by ourselves and make life easier for others," Hou says. Her father-in-law often said those words when he was alive. Hou wrote those words in the letter she submitted with her application to join the CPC. She tells the younger generations, "Now, we are living in a new era. But, we should not forget what we have today are the fruits of the people of older generations, who worked hard under the leadership of our Party. We should inherit the spirit of serving the people, and learn from the older generations to work hard, so our motherland will become stronger."
|Hou Xiuzhen and her family members|
With support from her children and grandchildren, Hou established an exhibition hall, in which photos and items recording the history of the great production campaign in Nanniwan are on display. She believes telling the Nanniwan spirit, and the village's stories, is the best present her family will give the Party to commemorate the centennial of CPC's founding.
Photos Supplied by Hou Xiuzhen
(Women of China English Monthly April 2021 issue)
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