Ending Poverty In Yuangudui, China

Above photo: On January 1st, 2020, at the 2019 Yuangudui Village Enterprise Promotion and Shareholder Convention. Villagers, as shareholders of local corporations and collectives, queue for their disbursement of dividends. Xinhua, Photographer: Ma Xiping.

The Metamorphosis of Yuangudui.

Editor’s note: Qiao Collective is pleased to publish an English translation of “The Metamorphosis of Yuangudui,” a vivid, lyrical essay depicting the impact of the CPC’s poverty alleviation programs in the small village of Yuangudui, Gansu Province.

In 2020, China will fully eradicate extreme poverty for its people and by 2025, all poverty. The enormity of this feat can not be understated. This year is the culmination of decades of strong state welfare, housing, education, healthcare, labor, and numerous other welfare policies that have materially served the Chinese people. The Communist Party of China has always understood and emphasized that socialism is not just about lofty grandiose ideals—it is about providing material benefits to the people. It is about building roads and plumbing in poor villages. It is about state-funded programs to enable families send their first child to college. It is about funneling the country’s capital and resources into serving the workers and people. This is the power of socialism in action.

Xi Jinping recently said: “Communists are realistic and pragmatic about our work, and we want the people to get real benefits and improve their living standards.” Under Xi’s tenure as General Secretary of the CPC, China has embarked on a massive program of poverty reduction, with the aim of eradicating “absolute poverty”—defined as households earning a per capita annual income of under 2,300 yuan (6.3 yuan a day) at 2010 prices—by the end of 2020. This agenda has brought more than 80 million rural people out of poverty, with the proportion of rural residents living below the poverty line falling from 10.2 percent in 2012 to just 1.7 percent in 2018.

The importance of this essay—written by acclaimed novelist Qin Ling based on his time visiting Yuangudui—is that it paints in beautiful, human detail the fruits of a national poverty eradication program that is almost unimaginable in scale. These efforts are both big and small, structural and individual—from state investments in roads, trains, and solar grids to households putting up sheep as collateral to become shareholders of local agricultural corporations. As members of Qiao, this piece has deeply moved us and triggered emotional recollections and discussions on how our own families have benefitted tremendously from China’s push to improve its people’s material lives. The successful struggle of Yuangudui to climb out of poverty serves as an inspiring symbol of the Chinese people’s future. We hope the piece moves you as much as it moved us.

“Dingxi is the bitterest place under heaven,” goes an old saying.

However, perhaps only the people of Dingxi themselves know of another old saying: “Yuangudui is the bitterest place in Dingxi.” A village mired in poverty, a people living hard and laborious lives: these are the two bitter fruits of the root of poverty.

“Another year passes, but an unprecedented change begins.” Yuangudui’s stunning metamorphosis began on the 23rd of the 12th lunar month in 2013, the traditional Chinese holiday of New Year’s eve. On that day, General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, Xi Jinping, arrived at Yuangudui. There, General Secretary Xi, concerned as he is with the elimination of poverty, personally interviewed the villagers about their livelihoods, and earnestly enjoined the party cadres and villagers alike: “Let us all work harder together, and make the days to come even brighter than before.”

From here, the offensive against Yuangudui’s poverty accelerated on all fronts. After all, yuan means a new beginning, gu means from remote antiquity, and dui carries the spirit of good work.

“In the south Shibadong; in the north, Yuangudui.” [Editor’s note: Shibadong is a village known for its poverty in Hunan.] In the span of the last few years, the metamorphosis of Yuangudui resembles one of the unforgettable tunes of a Gansu folk song, informing the experiences of all China.

From “The Bitterest in Dingxi” to “A Wilted Tree Sees Spring”

The very name of Yuangudui evokes a feeling of the vast past and its abundant yet lasting appeal. Yuangudui originally used different characters to spell its name.

 “It’s not that we are lacking in humor. Its’s only because those of us over 50 are largely illiterate. The character we use for yuan now shaves off the useless strokes of the character used before. You can eat a mouthful of rice in the time it takes to write the old gu properly.” After speaking with us, one elder sang to us one of the Gansu folk songs, “The Poor Man’s Song”: “I wear a ragged cloak, the lice number more than the nits. Reaching the top of the wall, a tiny sparrow builds its nest. Here in this world are many the poor, which one of them knows my plight…”

Mr. Guo Lianbing, the director of a small settlement of Yuangudui called Xiaobaike, spoke with us: “In the past, China’s poorest province [by GDP per capita] was Gansu; Gansu’s poorest prefecture-level city was Dingxi; Dingxi’s poorest county was Weiyuan; Weiyuan’s poorest township was Tianjiahe; and Tianjiahe Township’s poorest village was… ay!” Mr. Guo’s list brings an image to mind: an elder, all too well-acquainted with hard times, using a crude millstone to grind cornstarch over and over and over again. Like the final pinch of chaff remaining after all the grinding, “Yuangudui is the bitterest place in Dingxi.”

Some of the farmer families explained it to me this way:“If only Yuangudui could cast off poverty, then you could consider Dingxi as having cast off poverty. If only Dingxi could cast off poverty, then you could consider Gansu as having cast off poverty. If only Gansu could cast off poverty, then China would more or less have succeeded in truly casting off poverty.”

Yuangudui—Dingxi—Gansu—China: these few keywords constitute a long and unique chain in the history of the People’s Republic’s campaign against absolute poverty.

As a village-level administrative unit, Yuangudui is constituted of 13 settlements, totalling 447 households of 1,917 people. All of these settlements are separated from each other by loess hills, as if cut into tiny ribbons, shoved into the depths of the endless years, giving rise to the local saying: “The sky is different even 3 li over.”

At the end of 2012, Yuangudui had 151 households with 491 people as dibao households, 8 households with 9 people as wubao households, and 221 households of 1098 people specifically targeted for poverty alleviation efforts, giving the village an approximate extreme poverty rate of 57.3%. [Editor’s note: Dibao households are those who receive governmental aid because a member of the household has lost the ability to work due to injury or disease. Wubao households are those of childless elders whose food, clothing, medical care, housing, and burial expenses are guaranteed by the government. Wubao households can also be those of orphans, in which case, the government guarantees the educational expenses instead of the burial expenses.] The per capita income is only 660 RMB (93 USD) from agricultural activities, with a net per capita income of only 1465.8 RMB (207 USD) for the entire village.

“There isn’t any woman who would marry into Yuangudui.” This year, Yuangudui has only 40 bachelors.

Whether a year of plenty or a year of shortage, life simply moved on. But one year that will be remembered will be 2013, a year of shortage. One morning after a fresh snow came a man with scarcely ostentation or entourage. General Secretary Xi Jinping arrived and saw the 80-year old elder party member, the people and surroundings afflicted by poverty. He thus called for everybody to work hard together to throw off poverty, so that they may soon win better days.

Thus 13 settlements became 13 battlegrounds in the fight against absolute poverty. “If everybody gathers firewood, the flames will be even higher.” The Office of the Leading Group of Poverty Alleviation and Development of the State Council established direct liaison with Weiyuan County and directly dispatched a cadre to Yuangudui, both to lead a poverty alleviation work group to be stationed in Yuangudui as well as serve as a secretary for the village’s branch of the Communist Party. People from the provincial, prefecture-level city, county, and township level took the initiative and joined this working group. Tianjiahe Township successively dispatched 4 section-level cadres and reserve vice-section-level cadres to take on secretarial duties at the general branch of the village Communist Party, forming a new structure for poverty alleviation that took a leading role, ensured coordination between danweis, united the party cadres and the people, and performed social assistance.

“Be pragmatic in poverty alleviation work, down-to-earth in the science of casting off poverty, and the results of the war against absolute poverty will be secure.” While adhering with General Secretary Xi’s insistence on ensuring the “Three Steadies,”  the offensive against absolute poverty began with an unstoppable force: projects, programming, industry, aesthetics—the working group addressed all battlegrounds and campaigns large and small. [Not to be confused with Xi Jinping’s “Three Stricts and Three Steadies.” Here, the three Steadies are: 扶贫工作务实、脱贫过程扎实、脱贫结果真实 —the translation provided cannot replicate the mnemonic nature of the slogan.]

“The Wutong tree attracts the phoenixes”. Yuangudui’s young men no longer have to be bachelors.

Ms. Du Wenwen, the wife of a young farmer named Mr. Chen Guangming, comes from Tianshui. When she heard that I also was from Tianshui, Ms. Du said “In the very beginning, when I was to marry into a family in Yuangudui, my Tianshui family and friends were apprehensive. It was only after coming to Yuangudui that they understood all was well.”

In 2016, at the Second “Beautiful Gansu” Event , Yuangudui was named as one of Gansu’s 10 most beautiful villages.

“Our Yuangudui’s wilted tree has finally met spring! This is thanks to the offensive against absolute poverty,” a villager Mr. Yang Shu said.

In the six years since 2013, Yuangudui was successful in crossing the goalpost of the offensive against absolute poverty: the two basic needs and the three guarantees. [The basic needs of secure food and secure clothing, the three guarantees of education, medical coverage, and safe housing.] The relocated elementary school of Yuangudui not only added a kindergarten, but also 1210 square meters of new teaching and office space. School enrollment reached 100%, with 111 students from Yuangudui’s households. An office for medical and health work covering 60 square meters was newly constructed, and the rate of enrollment for the “one person, one policy” initiative reached 100%. [“One person one policy” is a Gansu provincial initiative that targeted those households and persons identified as being in severe poverty. It required establishing communications with the households and persons, conducting door-to-door visits by doctors, the establishment of Wechat groups for easier communications, and coordination between health and family planning departments, medical institutions, and doctor’s associations.] The households targeted for poverty alleviation now enjoy a yearly net income per capita of 3500 RMB (494.25 USD), annual disposable income per capita of 6970 RMB (984.3 USD), and the yearly disposable income per capita of the entire village has risen to 10,085 RMB (1424.2 USD), six times the amount from six years ago.

That is to say, the entire village of Yuangudui realized their goal of throwing off absolute poverty two years early.

This propels Yuangudui to new heights, leaping into place as one of the brightest examples of the offensive against absolute poverty for the whole country.

“Haven’t you heard of what they say of Yuangudui?” A villager teased me.

“In the south, Shibadong; in the north, Yuangudui.” I responded immediately. Shibadong Village is in Huayuan County of Xiangxi Tujia and Miao Autonomous Prefecture in Hunan Province. In November of 2013, as General Secretary Xi was visiting and inspecting Shibadong, he spoke for the first time of the need to “take targeted measures in poverty alleviation.” In terms of the steps taken and results achieved from this framework of “precise poverty alleviation,” Yuangudui and Shibadong have both startling resemblances as well as laudable distinctions.

On March 7th, 2019, General Secretary Xi participated in a deliberation with the Gansu delegation during the Second Session of the 13th National People’s Congress. The first to deliver a statement was indeed Mr. Tang Xiaoming, Secretary of the Dingxi Municipal Party Commission. He reported to General Secretary Xi that Yuangudui had comprehensively cast off absolute poverty in the preceding year, and that the second phase of the Tao River Aqueduct Project was being accelerated.

This shows that Yuangudui was indeed a place that the General Secretary took concern with.

These two villages of the People’s Republic, Yuangudui and Shibadong, one in the loess plateaus of Longzhong, one in the riverlands of West Hunan, one in the north and one in the south—it is almost like a tune reaching across the myriad rivers and mountains, a common chorus of people far away.

Treading the Uneven Road into a Large Avenue

A road is something one must tread on. Feet are those that need shoes.

There is no mistaking it: mentioning Yuangudui’s old roads to the people of Yuangudui is to remind them of the days when shoes were made of cowhide.

Take a piece of cowhide, a square with 50 centimeters sides, and soak it in warm water until it is soft. Punch a hole along its side and place your foot inside. Take the four sides and fold it against the ankle to create a “lair.” Next, take a small hemp thread and perforate the cowhide, carefully enclosing the four corners, before stuffing the “lair” with oat grass until the oat grass fills all available space between the foot and the cowhide. Again take the hemp thread and carefully draw it through the cowhide and leave an opening where the ankle is. From this, a person’s foot becomes a giant “cow hoof,” so called by the local villagers.

The “cow hoof” was widespread not just because the people were poor, but because the roads of Yuangudui “kick up dust on a clear day, slog into mire on a rainy day, and ice all over in the winter.”

In one particular settlement of Yuangudui, a girl suffered from acute meningitis. Her family and neighbors, burning with anxiety, sent the child to Huichuan Town for treatment, but the handcart used for transport got stuck in heavy mud. The child ultimately lost the window of opportunity for optimal treatment and ended up with a lifelong disability.

The weather can change adversely in the blink of an eye. Yuangudui’s Chinese angelica, dangshen, huangqi, and other materials used in traditional medicine cannot be transported out, while commodities from the outside also cannot manage to be transported in.

At the home of the elder branch secretary Mr. Liu Haidong, I saw a photo of him accompanying General Secretary Xi during the General Secretary’s inspection of Yuangudui. Liu said, “It wasn’t long after General Secretary Xi left Yuangudui that we sounded the beginning of our campaign to repair our roads.”

84-year old Ms. Zhu Guiying said: “When we were repairing the roads, the village used some of my home’s cultivated farmlands. I will tell my descendants, my children: we don’t need any monetary compensation at all. We just need good roads.”

“My fighting brothers in arms, let us march to positions side-by-side as one.” However, the cadre stationed as the village branch secretary that year Ms. Wu Haijuan introduced me to a pair of “siblings in arms”: Liangshang Community Chief Ms. Bai Haihong  and her daughter Ms. Bai Yue’e.

56-year old Ms. Bai Haihong is an old party member of Yuangudui and longtime Chief of the community. While repairing and building the main thoroughfares of Liangshang Community, Ms. Bai Haihong developed recurring pneumonia due to overexertion and was successively sent to Huichuan Town four times for treatment. Once, when she heard the road project faced obstruction due to its usage of a villager’s cultivated farmland and related compensation problem, she left the hospital on the second day of treatment and swiftly returned to action, held up by her daughter Ms. Bai Yue’e and her trusty cane. When Ms. Bai Haihong labored to speak, Ms. Bai Yue’e would speak for and support her.

“Our offensive against absolute poverty is reaching a critical point, and thus we must have ever stronger conviction and determined resolution. We must expend all and go out to fight, welcome adversity and rise to the top.” General Secretary Xi’s words inspire many.

“Treading the uneven road into a large avenue.” In less than three years, Yuangudui completed the construction of 13.5 kilometers of thoroughfares through the village, and completed 16.99 kilometers of alleyways and roads within communities, achieving full coverage of the village by functional roads.

Tall and slender trees shooting straight upwards separate the two sides of the roads. When the light breeze comes, the leaves dance lightly, as if to a pleasant tune. A single lone driver has a proud expression brimming on his copper-skinned face. One can clearly see he is a person of Yuangudui. Now the entire village has 90 sedans of all sorts, and 43 minivans. The road ahead leads to distances only previously dreamed of.

At the entrance to the village is a pretty passenger station for long-distance travel, built from the ground up.

“Our village now has a station.” In the eyes of the people of Yuangudui, this is the return of dignity. 

On the Topic of Water

Water is the source of life.

Yuangudui is in Weiyuan County, so-called since it is at source of the Wei River. The Wei River, however, only brushes past Yuangudui. While Yuangudui finds itself in the drainage basin of the Tao River, it is only in the remote area of the basin. Although the surrounding Suoyelin mountains, including the Jiawa slope, are full of water, the mineral substance of the water is complex and thus not all of the water can be converted into drinkable water.

The village doctor Mr. Zhang Guifeng said, “Formerly the people of Yuangudui have had lots of problems with drinkable water. The entire village has had incidences of Iodine deficiency, Kashin-Beck disease, Keshan disease, and other regional diseases. 30 years ago a survey revealed that 50 plus people suffered from local diseases. There are still 10 people like that nowadays.”

One year, a certain farmer’s family in one of the settlements was hosting a marriage banquet. Several relatives from faraway opted to carry barrels of water to the event. One of the relatives was climbing up a slope when he came face to face with a donkey. The donkey brushed past him before suddenly soaring high in the sky and kicking the relative, causing a chaotic scene as the relatives and their barrels of water slid down the hill. The relatives ended up bleeding from the heads; the barrels were ruined and strewn all around.

“Good thing help came along, or this auspicious event would have turned into a funerary one.” Even when the villager spoke of this incident, it was clear he still felt apprehension.

A pan of water is said to have four uses: (1) cleaning vegetables and let the water settle after; (2) cleaning dishes, before letting the water settle again; (3) cleaning one’s face, and then once again letting the water settle; (4) give the water to the donkey, after which there is no more water.

Water shortage is a source of poverty. Managing poverty requires channeling water.

In the vast Long Plains of three thousand li, there won’t be anybody who is not familiar with the Tao River Aqueduct project.

In 1958, construction began on the Tao River Aqueduct. Limited by the time’s technological capabilities and economic conditions, the project was forced to a halt in 1961.

In November of 2006, construction on the aqueduct begun anew once more.

In 2013, while inspecting the construction of the aqueduct in Weiyuan County, Dingxi City, General Secretary Xi stressed: “The people’s livelihood is most important, and managing water is vital. One must be scientific in approach, carefully decide on policies, and meticulously carry out work, in order to ensure this project will fulfill the dream of benefitting millions of people in Gansu province. Projects of people’s livelihoods must absolutely be done well in order to allow the people to soon drink the clean and sweet waters of the Tao River.”

By 2014, when all lines of the Tao River Aqueduct were officially opened, Yuangudui’s people had already had access to drinkable water for a whole year.

Since clean water started entering the village and into the homes, the people of Yuangudui described feeling relief in both mind and body.

“Water rouses the six domestic animals.” The 500 heads of large livestock scattered around Yuangudui’s agricultural families, including pian niu [the offspring of a bull and a female yak], mules, and donkeys, can now move past the long history of drinking unclean water.

In the southern mountains, the green scenery abounds, the clouds and haze fly and float away. 38,000 chickens finish their feasting on the insects and enjoy the green grass before going down to the river to drink. From a distance away, one can see a mass of chickens covering the meadows of the mountains descending towards water, like the glittering bright scales of a dragon.

“Water invigorates all professions.” Yuangudui is now host to five cooperatives, including the Baihe Agricultural Professional Cooperative, the Zhongzhi Agricultural Professional Cooperative, and the Xingyuanmiao Nursery Professional Cooperative. These cooperatives allow the vigorous development of both primary and secondary industries, their livelihoods, growth, and prosperity made possible by availability of clean water.

One afternoon, I was at the home of a farmer enjoying a sip. The branding: Yuangudui.

“How is the wine?” The farmer asked me.

“It is good wine.”

“The water is good, so the wine is good.”

Wine, using water as medium; water, using wine for prosperity. One sip of Yuangudui’s wine and there won’t be another better flavor in remembrance.

Ensuring Comfortable Housing for All

“My uncle sees mother calling for sister, my mother is playing ignorant behind the mountain.” It is one thing to feign ignorance. When one no longer can, the tears come. Under the reed eaves, over the broken kang made of adobe, in the end there is no space for the child’s uncle.

Before 2013, Yuangudui had 115 households in C-level hazardous housing and 223 households in D-level hazardous housing. The rate of residents of the village living in hazardous housing was 69.1%. The scale of the hazardous housing problem was rare even for Weiyuan County at that time. [C-level hazardous housing is defined as “partially hazardous”; D-level hazardous housing is defined as “entirely hazardous” on the basis of hazardous environments and structural integrity.]

“Let us achieve the dream of secure housing together.” In 2013, the campaign for safe housing in Yuangudui began.

“This project is truly at the very center of focused poverty alleviation work. It is also the great test we face as we look forward towards the year 2020,” Mr. Huang Manqiang, then Yuangudui Village Branch Secretary and Tianjiahe Township cadre, said.

While Yuangudui was accelerating the construction in three concentrated areas designated for housing, the Jiuquan Iron and Steel Group was investing 1.45 million RMB (204,500 USD) towards the sites for the repairing of houses into pitched-roof single family homes, the construction of 130 new houses, and the construction for each household of a 52 square meter livestock pen, along with the construction of 62 greenhouses, all to help the villagers develop their sheep husbandry industries.

Yuangudui residents got accustomed to calling the 130 attractive houses the “New Village.”

In the midst of all this front of the campaign against absolute poverty, a total of 338 households had new housing built for them or their existing housing repaired to meet safety standards. The eight households of wubao elders [childless elders] also received new housing close together.

Then Village Branch Secretary and Tianjiahe Township cadre Mr. Jia Yuanping told me: “Once a working team had to visit a certain agricultural household no less than 50, 60 times while performing ideological work in Xiatanxia Community.” He continued, “The obstructions are not limited to these, but we can always think of solutions, come what may.”

In the exhibition hall for Yuangudui’s history, there were several displays showing the before and after of Yuangudui’s hazardous housing. The comparisons were like night and day.

On June 23rd, 2017, General Secretary Xi held a conference discussing the campaign against absolute poverty in deeply poverty-stricken areas in Taiyuan, Shanxi. There, Secretary of the Dingxi Municipal Party Commission Mr. Tang Xiaoming was the 11th person to give a statement. He remarked that the General Secretary was very detailed to have shown concern over Yuangudui.

During that conference, General Secretary Xi stressed: “Relieving poverty in the areas most stricken by severe poverty is the most formidable of tasks. We must diligently seek to understand the difficulty, importance, and the urgency of finishing the offensive against absolute poverty on schedule in those most severely impoverished areas. We must concentrate more our available support, implement more the most effective measures, and be more vigilant in our work, so that we can thoroughly wage this campaign against absolute poverty in the most severely impoverished areas of the country.

“One ought to approach the highest summit”. The high altitude Yuangudui has a mountain ridge on its east side, offering a spectacular view on its observation deck.

This observation deck is not far from the 300 kilowatts photovoltaic power station, its eaves like outstretched wings, panels like upturned fins, surface like a colorful pavilion; welcoming the sunrise, and greeting the rosy evening clouds. Every time I ascend onto the observation deck, I want to cast my gaze onto Yuangudui.

From this view, the vantage of Yuangudui’s own scenery most catches the eye: a most comforting white hue are the walls of houses, a warm swatch of red the roofs. The newly cultivated aesthetic trees and flowers adds sharp contrast to the red and white painting, creating a most luxuriant portrait.

Entering the courtyard of the house of the villager Mr. Wang Huanping, the first thing that caught my eye was in fact a tall and large white peony. This sort of “encounter with a beauty” was most unexpected.

The mother said: “In fact we once had a black peony. When the two blossomed, half the village would be fragrant.”

I hid my surprise and asked, “And what of the black peony?”

The mother became gloomy, “It was already dug up twenty years ago. They built two adobe houses where it once was. If only I had known there would be good courtyards and good houses like we do now, I would have done more to allow the black peony to stay.”

In the end, the black peony was dug up because of the houses, as much as housing was responsible for the protection of the white peony.

 “We are all Shareholders”

“Are any among you shareholders in an enterprise?”

I decided to ask this on whim one evening while I was talking with a few of the villagers around a fire.

“We are all shareholders,” responded several voices.

Afterwards, I watched a recording of the spectacular scene that was the 2018 Yuangudui Industry Promotion and Shareholder Convention. They were people lining up in Wenhua Square, some waiting for their share of dividends, some confirming contracts, and some receiving cash. The table in the middle of the square had banknotes all tidy and ordered that it resembled a miniature Great Wall.

The shareholders here are all Yuangudui residents. That shareholder convention had a total of seven enterprises, with 444 agricultural households receiving dividends from the cooperatives, totaling 517,000 RMB (73,000 USD).

2013 was the transformational year for the people of Yuangudui. There are some who jest, “That year, we nearly changed our name from Yuangudui to Yuangudong [Yuan Shareholders].”

Upon mentioning shareholders and their circumstances, Mr. Guo Chunhui, of Xiatanshang Community and a target for poverty alleviation, still remembers the events as now. At that time, Ms. Zhang Wanting, Mr. Zhang Junping, Mr. Huang Manqiang, and other party cadres both local and stationed in the village were going door to door with Mr. Liu Haidong to discuss policies. They were trying to encourage the villagers to take the initiative and become shareholders of enterprises in the village, but they initially were not receptive. “At that time I was a bit ignorant. Getting us villagers to be shareholders was actually a policy with poverty alleviation in mind.”

Mr. Guo Chunhui has since taken out 3000 RMB (423 USD) in savings, worried that he was putting all his eggs in one basket. He invested 500 RMB (70.5 USD) in minerals, 500 RMB (70.5 USD) in the quarry, and 2000 RMB (282 USD) into the Shengyuan Company.

“As you can see now, I have too few stocks. People can’t see into the future, so if there’s an opportunity, I will acquire more stocks.”

Mr. Huang Yuchun from Xiatanxia Community took out 2000 RMB (282 USD) and invested in the quarry and minerals.

Mr. Wang Xijun from Tuchengmen Community took out 2000 RMB (282 USD) and invested in the quarry, minerals, and mineral water processing.

Mr. Zhang Yuncai from Yuanwu Community took out 700 RMB (99 USD) and invested in mineral water processing as well as the local morel mushroom cultivation base.

The investments go on and on.

Yuangudui’s residents call this method of becoming shareholders the “company + agricultural household + cash opt-in” model. That is to say, the companies create an economic structure and attract the people into investing into developing advantageous industries.

Resident Ms. Yan Xialiang invested not through cash, but by contributing her own sheep. In her shareholder’s agreement, written in black ink: For every sheep contributed, annual dividends shall be 160 RMB (22.50 USD). Every year, dividends are disbursed on 20% of the shares owned.

The villagers have a name for this method of opting into shareholder status as well: the “company + agricultural household + sheep opt-in” model. Through this model, 172 households have already invested 472 heads of sheep. The enterprise has distributed 83,500 RMB (11,783 USD) in dividends to the people. Of this, 40 households were designated as being in severe poverty. Every year, these households receive 1,000 RMB (141 USD) in dividends.

The villagers call this way of profiting “The Sheep Way Forward” [羊关大道, a homonym of the idiom 阳关大道, roughly translated as the “bright future”].

One can even become a shareholder by contributing houses. When Ms. Ma Qinfang invested some 400,000 RMB (56,445 USD) to set up “Happy Farmer’s Family”, an agritourism initiative, she selected three houses whose surrounding environments were most suitable. Under her initiative, the three owning households warmly accepted the venture. After “Happy Farmer’s Family” opened for business, Ms. Ma Qinfang gives the each of the three owning households 5000 RMB (705.5 USD) in dividends every year.

The people of Yuangudui can even contribute livestock pens to become shareholders.

To contribute livestock pens, one must first see the Village Branch Vice Secretary Mr. Dong Jianxin. Under his direction, the unused livestock pens of 62 agricultural households became the capital of the Yuangudui Fine Sheep Breeding Collective. From this collective, the livestock pens were utilized and became profitable. “Livestock Pen Opt-in” produces 37,200 RMB (5250 USD) in dividends to agricultural households every year, with each of the 62 households receiving an average of 600 RMB (84.67 USD) in dividends.

These livestock pens were finally revitalized and made profitable again. This is the “Livestock Pen Opt-in” method.

As for land, the villagers have become yet another sort of stockholder, this model being called “the company invests + the agricultural households opt-in with land”. Up until the end of 2018, the amount of Yuangudui’s unused and uncultivated land reached 300 mu (20 hectares). In the end, 128 agricultural households contributed land as investment to the Gansu Land and Agricultural Technology Company.

“To be a shareholder just means to be an owner of this here land,” a villager told me.

The Expedient Washroom Reform

In November of 2017, General Secretary Xi once again submitted a report on the “Public Washroom Revolution”: resolutely and without slack push the “washroom revolution”, work hard to remedy and order this shortcoming that greatly affects the people’s quality of life.

Although Yuangudui’s own “washroom reform” could be called “expedient – quick and easy.” They only needed five months time before they declared victory.

In prior times, where one relieved oneself could be called “the three reeds”: among the reeds, in a latrine of reeds, or in a reed outhouse.

It didn’t matter whether there was a hole or not, or an outhouse or not, it was all called the reeds.

Many of the agricultural households had pigsties in reed outhouses. People went face-to-face, eye-to-eye with the pigs.

“In the daytime, squat over a reed latrine. At night, kick the chamber pot.” The smell of one room.

Talk was too easy: to turn a reed latrine into a washroom!

At the beginning of the “washroom revolution”, many people of Yuangudui could scarcely believe their ears: “The washrooms that the city folks use?”

There were even those who staunchly opposed the washrooms.

“The Fengshui master said, one must find an auspicious day to move the reed latrine away.”

“I’ll miss a good latrine of manure when the washroom comes. I need the manure for my crops.”

In fact, by the time Yuangudui was no longer considered in absolute poverty, it had already established five agricultural professional collectives. Among them, two were involved in animal husbandry and three in agriculture proper, focused especially on the production of materials needed for Chinese medicine, chief among them Chinese angelica, dangshen, and huangqi. This allowed for an efficient circulation of land within the collectives. Other than that, the “washroom reform” was not implemented in a one size fits all manner, but rather proceeded according to the needs of some agricultural households for the gathering of manure. In addition, any costs for the “washroom reform” had a governmental subsidy, although in the end some people were still not willing to leave behind the traditional thoughts and habits.

Eventually the majority of the villagers came around to the “washroom reform”, and the work team struck when the iron was hot, quickly speeding to work. Every new washroom constructed was just like a model washroom and could be shown to the approving villagers.

I went into the homes of some twenty families in my time in Yuangudui. They all had the modern bathrooms.

The Bank of Dashitou River

The Dashitou River flowing through Yuangudui has become a picturesque scene of the village.

Mr. Dong Jianxin said, “General Secretary Xi once said, ‘Lucid waters and lush mountains are also invaluable assets.’ We have resolutely maintained the comprehensive governance of natural beauty, the fields, the forests, the roads, and the flora. We have invested 1.32 million RMB (186,268 USD) into a comprehensive management project of the water and soil of Yuangudui’s drainage area; into the replanting of 5900 mu (393.3 hectares) of forests, and the replanting of 750 mu (50 hectares) of arbor trees. We also returned 1194.3 mu (79.62 hectares) of cultivated land into forests, and built 10 kilometers of fencing to protect forestry areas. Nowadays, the mountains are lush, the waters are lucid. In such circumstances, the Dashitou River resembles more a river…

In prior times, trash was strewn all around the bank of the Dashitou River, every shape and size of old plastic bags on the ground, mulch film on the walls, and litter was thrown around carelessly. All of these became things of the past after the implementation of the “Beautiful Village Program of Yuangudui Village”.

A woman told me that she saw a couple of egrets by the riverbank when she was walking her dog one morning. The egrets were beautiful, with long legs, white figures, and long, sharp yellow beaks. She immediately stopped so as to not scare the egrets. Her dog surprisingly ended up sitting quietly as well.

In July of 2019, the banks of the Dashitou River welcomed a thunderous competition of the entire country—the marathon.

On that day, 1000 long-distance runners from England, Beijing, Guangdong, Fujian, Shandong, Sichuan, Hubei, and other places gathered at Yuangudui, accompanied by the songs of Wang Lianlian, a folk singer from Tupai Village, Xiacheng Township, Weiyuan County.

Yuangudui was the starting point of the marathon. It also was the finishing line.

Once every lantern was lit, the banks of the Dashitou River turned into a nightless city, the Yuangudui dance team began dancing lightly.

“You are my little little apple, please don’t complain of how much I love you…..” These were the scenes of jumping, dancing, moving, singing, enjoying, and laughing.

This nimble dance has a special appeal because it conveys the experience of the great land surrounding Yuangudui; the dancing hands are particularly graceful, a lingering fragrance of the flora of the area; smiling faces are made more down-to-earth, more charming, and more brilliant, informed by the long days of blowing wind and bright sun.

“Everything is difficult in the beginning.” In 2016, Mr. An Xiaodong and other village cadres decided to entrust the Yuangudui Women’s Coalition to form a performative dancing group in Yuangudui. [These are the groups that Westerners may know as people dancing in public squares and parks for exercise and recreation.] In the end, not a single person signed up. Although the Director of the Women’s Coalition Ms. Wang Diaoxiang anticipated a low turnout, she did not expect that even her own close friend would be shy about it. She went from door to door performing ideological work, even faced constant door-slamming, and the reasons for refusal were of all sorts.

“City women dance. What do us villagers have anything to do with it?”

“We are farmers. Us dancing would be too unsightly.”

Eventually three cadres stationed in the village, Ms. Guan Jiaojiao, Ms. Lu Wenxia, and Ms. Bian Yaqin, became the bellwethers of the group and were the first to dance.

The women of the village eventually came around to the idea, at first merely expressing curiosity and watching. Finally, Qiao Shuqin from Xiatanxia Community began dancing, then Qi Xueqin from Xiatanshang Community… 30, 40… eventually 5 groups were created, the Yinwa Group, Yuanyi Group, Yuan’er Group,, Yuansan Group, and the Yuansi Group.

The village committee also reformed three groups dedicated to traditional festivities and included them in the scope of poverty alleviation efforts. Now every year the village can host a lively and large cultural festival.

Yuangudui is embarking on a new epoch!

General Secretary Xi pointed out, “The struggle against absolute poverty, a problem that has existed in our nation for millennia, is now nearing its historic resolution at the hands of our generation. This is a grand accomplishment of our lives.” “If victory is not complete, we will not retreat!”

The Dashitou River gurgles as always, as the dream of the people takes new flight like the colorful butterfly……

Qin Ling 秦岭 (He Yanjie 何彦杰), Chairman of the Literary and Arts Association of Heping District, Tianjin. Originally published in Qiushi, June 1st 2020. Translated by Sean Haoqin Kang, member of Qiao Collective