Chongqing- Throughout the history of Chengkou County, the main cause of long-standing impoverishment was the extreme isolation, which stemmed from the lofty and tightly packed mountain topography.
A limited network of poor quality roads effectively cut the local population from the outside world, making the transport of vital resources, trade, and personal travel highly impractical, while inhibiting any realistic prospect of positive development.
In the battle to eradicate poverty, it was clear that major infrastructure projects would play a critical role.
Following the principle of resolving all the sources of deprivation that have long blighted Chengkou, the government oversaw a major drive in infrastructure, public services, and rural living conditions.
In the space of just a few years since 2014, there have been 1262km of modern standard roads built to connect formerly isolated towns and villages, while a further 1485km were added to reduce travel times within the county considerably. At the time of writing, the total road network has reached 4266km within Chengkou County alone, and the road density per 100 square kilometers amounts to 130km, as opposed to 94km back in 2014.
350 million Yuan was invested in the electricity grid to bring power to 56,300 households, and now 100% of the population has access to electricity in the homes and businesses.
Additionally, 1677 telecommunication base stations were installed, which has brought 100% mobile network coverage to all the rural communities and 6892km worth of fiber optic cables, which have increased the number of online households to 61,000 from a previous 25,000.
However, one unique aspect of poverty alleviation in Chengkou County has been the drive to enrich rural communities' mentality, rather than merely focus on their material prosperity.
Referred to as spiritual or mental poverty alleviation, the program not only exemplifies households that make great strides towards prosperity but also encourages villagers to break free of the deeply engrained traits of backward thinking, mental shackles, and bad habits, intending to foster a cultured and pristine living environment for themselves and visitors alike.
To help promote this endeavor, there have been 204 New Era Civilization Point Stations built in villages and neighborhoods, where a total of over 3000 events have been held by volunteers who aim to cultivate their ambition and cultural awareness. The goal is for villagers to adopt a pro-active attitude to maintaining their homes and environment clean and tidy whilst deterring habits that undermine a civilized atmosphere.
Later, we saw the example of Xiuqi Village, where a local representative explained the finer details behind the strategy and an individual who exemplifies the goals through both action and words.
Dong’an Township retreat illustrates the great allure of Chengkou Tourism.
Located close to the eastern border, with a nearby tunnel leading to Wuxi County, Dong’s town has been transformed from poverty and geographical isolation into a highly coveted summer and winter travel destination.
Prior to the recent poverty eradication drive, the journey to Chengkou City was an arduous and often treacherous ordeal that would take the best of two days in either direction. Nowadays, the expanded network of modern roads allows people to complete the 58km journey within a mere hour and twenty minutes.
This newfound accessibility has thrust Chengkou among the list of top summer and winter destinations for regional tourism. At an elevation of over 2200 meters, tourists now flock here in summer to escape the oppressive seasonal heat and enjoy the pristine mountain environment with average temperatures a mere 22 degrees over July and August.
In addition, Dong’ an possesses a complete range of tourist facilities in the form of accommodation, entertainment, and amenities, which means out of town visitors can enjoy prolonged stays without any discomfort or inconvenience.
Conversely, tourists also love the deep snows of winter in Dong’ an, when they once again visit in droves to satisfy their yearning for a snowy wonderland close to home.
Currently, the Chengkou-Kaizhou expressway is due for completion in the year 2022, along with a high-speed rail line that will reduce the travel time between Chengkou and Chongqing Urban Area an astonishingly short journey of 90 minutes. Once these major construction projects are completed, Chengkou will be fully integrated into the national transport network and expect a further influx of tourist income.
Mr. Tang Taiyou once lived in a shanty mud-brick house on a mountainside of Xinglong Village. For generations, his family mustered a living from the cultivation of honey and kudzu root, which they would carry on their backs along dirt roads for three hours to sell in Dong’ an Village.
A government survey of his home classed the building as a D category structure, the most unsafe for habitation. As a result, he accepted a 110,000 Yuan relocation package and moved to Xingtian Village of Dong’ an Town, where he subsequently learned the potential of tourism resources on seeing the roads packed with cars from out of town in summer.
Later, he invested nearly one million Yuan in building and furnishing the ‘Senlin Renjia’ (Woodsman) Guesthouse and courtyard, funded by his relocation package and a low-interest loan.
When asked if he felt under great pressure to repay the remaining 660,000 Yuan he owes, he answered with great assurance how the local tourism industry presents a rich source of income just waiting for them to collect. In fact, his guesthouse produced an income of 40,000 Yuan solely in the month of August this year.
Xiuqi Town drives both spiritual and material poverty alleviation.
From the main roadside, the colorful Wucai Bridge leads pedestrians on a fun crossing over the brisk Ren River into the pretty town of Xiuqi.
On entering the picturesque town, locals gleefully performed the traditional coin stick dance of Chengkou in full costume to pulsating music on the communal square, surrounded by homes painted in a dazzling array of color and mural designs. Over by the riverside, artistic sculptures adorn the outskirts as they look upon the villagers and range of modern social amenities.
A 10 million investment in cultural infrastructure, including the artistic features, performance square, and Wucai Manor, has transformed the cultural landscape in addition to the newfound material prosperity.
In the past, villagers would normally limit their activities to endless gatherings over mahjong, which inevitably caused regular conflict over gains and losses. However, a persistent effort to encourage a range of cultural activities has brought about a great transformation in town residents' mentality.
One individual singled out for special praise was Mr. Zhang Jiasheng, a local builder who managed to shake off a mahjong gambling habit to become known as the king of coin stick dancing. He has also convinced over 50 fellow villagers to join and has played an important role in propagating this example of intangible heritage from Chengkou.
Now he is around retirement age, and he also taught his skills in cement mixing to fellow residents, which has allowed over ten villagers to raise income and even set up their own business.
On a public board sign by the river road, notices detail the activities that villagers are discouraged from. The main categories are protecting the natural waterways, town cleanliness, town atmosphere, water management, and disorderly behaviors.
Waterway protection in the Ren River includes the prohibition of fishing and quarrying, whether private or commercial. There are varying degrees of financial repercussions depending on the methods, such as rods, nets, and even poisons and explosives.
Cleanliness guidelines encourage villagers to keep their homes and yards tidy and free of litter, while household waste is now separated according to categories for environmentally friendly disposal.
At the same time, they are instructed to keep livestock such as pigs and fowl in pens or on tethers, rather than allowing them to roam the neighborhood freely.
While public festivities are accepted for special occasions such as weddings, the residents are generally discouraged from organizing village parties with no specific cause for celebration. This way, the community of Xiuqi Town can enjoy the peaceful surroundings and atmosphere without unnecessary disturbances.
The village committee is also striving to raise public awareness of water management. Each household has its own water meter, and the residents are discouraged from simply drawing water from any source available.
Notices also stress the importance of water conservation. The villagers are asked to avoid wastage, such as unnecessary use or leaving taps to run unattended.
As well as paying water bills in a timely fashion, households need to care for the water infrastructure and avoid practices that result in damage or contamination to piping and taps.
The final category offers people guidance on orderly behaviors. The variety of undesirable habits include building unapproved structures, tipping waste inappropriately, blocking roads and pathways with vehicles or stalls, and any form of logging in and around the town.
Monthly inspections are held to rate each household's overall performance, who can then be listed for either praise or criticism on the town noticeboard. The specific reasons for going on the blacklist are stated, and nominal deductions from a dividend shared from the neighboring flower mushroom base serve as extra incentive to remedy the issue in question.
From the outside, this practice may seem rather invasive at first, but the sudden wave of modernization and opening up has created the need for local people to adopt more civilized ways of life and further enhance the reputation of Chengkou as a top destination in Chongqing Municipality.
As the town representative described, there has been a monumental improvement to both the appearance and atmosphere of Xiuqi, a feat which has taken a remarkably short few years to achieve.
Judging from our personal visit and interactions, the future for rural communities in Chengkou is looking bright on all levels.
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