Entire Village Community in Ningxia Moved out from the Poorer Areas

ByCao Hong and Hu Dongmei June 30, 2020

Editor's note: With China set to meet its goal this year of eliminating extreme poverty before next year's 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China, this series looks at the efforts of different areas of the country to erase poverty and improve livelihoods.

Hai Fugui dreamed of buying a car so that he could take his wife and three children to see places outside of his hometown.

His dream came true in 2017. Hai bought a sedan, and his family had its first trip to several local scenic spots.

Hai, 38, and his family live in Minning, a town close to Yinchuan, capital of northwest China's Ningxia Hui Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. Their ancestral home is more than 300 km away.

Hai's family had lived in Xihaigu area in south Ningxia for generations. Xihaigu has such a chronic shortage of water and a harsh climate that the United Nations classified it as "one of the least suitable areas for human habitation in the world" in 1972. Xihaigu is one of China's most impoverished areas.

Hai's family could barely make ends meet in Xihaigu. The big family — the couple, three children and Hai's parents-in-law — moved to Minning in 2012. After doing odd jobs for two years, Hai is now a tractor driver at Minning's Lilan Winery, with a salary of 6,700 yuan ($946.7) a month.

"Now I can raise my family," Hai says with pride.

Like Hai's family, more than 60,000 residents from Xihaigu have resettled in Minning in the past two decades.

As part of a poverty alleviation scheme, the development of Minning Town started in 1997 based on the idea of Xi Jinping, who was then deputy Party chief of southeast China's Fujian Province and in charge of Fujian's efforts to assist Ningxia.

At a conference on poverty alleviation cooperation held by China's State Council in May 1996, 10 developed provinces in east China were paired with 10 less developed regions in western China. Fujian province was appointed to aid Ningxia.

The Fujian-Ningxia partnership resettlement program proposed moving entire village communities from poorer areas, such as Xihaigu, to more fertile lands near the Yellow River. Minning is one of the resettlement places.

The name of this town tells about the partnership between Fujian and Ningxia. While Min refers to Fujian, Ning stands for Ningxia.

In 1997, Xi visited Xihaigu. "The families I visited did not have enough to eat, and the drinking water — salty to the taste — was brought from afar," Xi said. The villagers did not even have the luxury of showering.

"It was my first visit to Xihaigu, and the sight of people's lives there shocked me," Xi said. "I was stunned that there was still a place with such poor and difficult conditions after so many years of reform and opening-up."

Since the mid-1990s, pairing-off cooperation between China's more developed eastern regions and less developed western regions has been a key institutional arrangement to alleviate poverty and bridge the previously widening gap of wealth disparities between these regions.

Creating New Markets

The State Council has guided and supervised cooperation strategy, and collected and shared its own and regional experiences with pairing-off cooperation. In their early years, these arrangements achieved significant results, by strengthening the capacity of western regions' poverty alleviation systems, developing agriculture and tourism resources in the west, and creating new markets through economic cooperation.

East-West cooperation has shown itself as an effective platform for advancing both economic growth as well as social stability. By developing regions that were previously left behind, cooperation increases opportunities for economic growth and expanding domestic demand, which results in common prosperity.

More equal development levels between the eastern and western regions also correspond to the national socialist agenda. Cooperation is therefore considered a common responsibility and obligation of localities throughout the country.

Most of the settlers in Minning found jobs in new businesses established with investment from Fujian, while others worked in cities. Businesses ranged from agriculture and animal husbandry to real estate, wine production, and tar and gas businesses.

The per capita yearly disposable income of residents in Minning rose from 500 yuan in 1997 to 13,970 yuan last year, according to Zhao Chao, the town's deputy Party chief.

While visiting Minning in 2016, President Xi said the area had been transformed from a desert into a paradise, and that its experience should be applied in more areas.

Poverty Elimination Plan

Xi has set 2020 as the target year to eliminate extreme poverty in China. Xi has said, "No one should be left behind on the road to a moderately prosperous society."

The local government built houses and facilities, including schools, community hospitals, and shopping malls, for the newcomers.

With strong policy support, experts and enterprises from the eastern province of Fujian came to Minning and taught farmers how to grow mushrooms, grapes and flowers. Free job training was provided to help farmers lift their families out of poverty.

Every family that moved from Xihaigu to Minning was given a 54-square-meter house with electricity, tap water and a solar water heater. It has a courtyard too.

Liu Li and her family decided to move to Minning from Xihaigu in August 2013.

"Minning is an entirely different world," Liu said.

"We lived in an adobe house (made from earth and organic materials) in Xihaigu where farming was at the mercy of weather."

When the weather was favorable, Liu's family could reap a harvest that was just enough to feed all the stomachs.

But the climate was always harsh. In April and May when the crops needed water, there was a spell of dry weather. In autumn, when wheat was harvested, it rained heavily.

"People say 'no pain, no gain'. In Xihaigu, we worked painstakingly but had nothing," Liu said. "We felt hopeless there."

After moving to Minning, Liu had daily pay jobs at several construction sites. Sometimes she was jobless.

In July 2014, Liu started working at Lilan Winery. It was her first regular job.

"I started with pulling weed in the vineyard, and my diligence and conscientiousness was appreciated by the boss," she said.

One year later, Liu ended up in the brewing workshop, cleaning rooms and oak barrels and filling wine into bottles. In 2015, she got a promotion. She was made in charge of the workshop.

Liu's husband, Liu Faming, was also employed by the winery in 2016. He learned how to grow grapes and brew. Now he takes care of the maintenance of a 60-hectare vineyard.

"Now I am a regular worker here and have a monthly salary. I'm so happy with my life in Minning," she said.

The Lius are grateful for the relocation project that has changed their life.

The couple together earn a monthly salary of 10,000 yuan.

Their son, Liu Haodong, is 13 years old and in his first year of high school. Liu junior loves Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC), the first dynasty of Imperial China, and wants to be an archaeologist.

The boy has such a dream, thanks to the family's resettlement in Minning and better living conditions. He can visit bookstores often and buy the history books he wants.

"I believe that knowledge is the key to success, and I hope my son will have that key to a fantastic life," Liu Li said.

Zhang Jun, born in 1986, was a fourth grader when his family moved to Minning. The first school in the town he went to was 7 km from his home. In 1998, he was transferred to a new school that was only 3 km away.

The school, which was built on the sands of Gobi Desert, had only 60 students. The school, which comprised two single-story houses, had no playground.

"When we had physical education classes, we ran on barren land," Zhang recalled.

The Minning Middle School, where Zhang attended, was in the middle of a desert. He had to ride a bicycle at 6:30 am to the school, which was 12 km away.

"It was difficult to ride a bicycle on a graveled road, and it was always windy in the desert," Zhang said.

Many students dropped out because of the distance and their families' financial constraints.

The concrete open space in front of the local government building was the ground where Zhang and his peers played basketball.

Zhang joined the Ningxia University in 2006, majoring in physical education. After his graduation, he got a job in a company in Yinchuan.

Watching a basketball match between students of a primary school in Yinchuan and those from Minning in 2014, Zhang's heart was broken.

The students from Minning wore cloth shoes, while their peers from Yinchuan wore basketball shoes. It was not surprising that Minning kids lost the game.

The Minning boys reminded Zhang of the hard life during his childhood. He decided to return to Minning to help the children.

He became a physical education teacher at a primary school in Minning in 2016 and formed a basketball team, which became the champion of the Yao Foundation Hope Primary School Season 2017.

The basketball season was started in 2012 as a public welfare program, which aims to enhance both the mental and physical health of teenagers living in China's underdeveloped areas. The program teaches children key team-building skills using basketball as a tool.

Building Self-Confidence

The program is believed to help young people from poorer regions to build self-confidence, and acquire social and sporting skills that are crucial for their future development.

"Winning the trophy, the Minning kids became confident and they want to be better," Zhang said.

The primary school is also improving, with a new playground, synthetic racetrack and courts for basketball, football and pingpong. The classrooms are equipped with visual reality facilities. Sands around the school are now covered with grass, trees and flowers.

"I grew up in Minning Town, and I'm one of those who has gained large benefits from the town's development," Zhang said. "People of Minning are deeply grateful for the policies that have made its growth possible."

 

(Source: China Daily)

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