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Chinese village on a cliff descends out of poverty

Xinhua, July 11, 2017 Adjust font size:

Wang Yong's ancestors moved to a precipitous cliff at an altitude of 1,600 meters in west China from south more than 300 years ago.

Named Shengli (Victory), the cliff village by the roaring Dadu River in Sichuan Province was a fabled land of peace. Such was its isolation that the village avoided involvement in many wars, but similarly avoided much involvement in commerce and fell into poverty.

With the Chinese government determined to end poverty by 2020, Shengli villagers have packed up and descended the mountain.

SHOULDERING RESPONSIBILITIES AND PIGS

Chinese farmers can call anywhere home as long as they have land to grow something.

In the Kangxi period of the Qing Dynasty (1616-1912), Sichuan's population had been reduced to 600,000, mainly due to war. The Kangxi government called on people, mainly from Hubei and Guangxi, to re-inhabit Sichuan's empty spaces.

Wang's ancestors came from Guangxi. "Perhaps they trekked for a long time without finding a suitable place, so when they saw a flat piece of land halfway up a mountain, they decided to stay," said Wang, 43, Party secretary of Shengli Village.

For hundreds of years, they provided for themselves by growing corn and sweet potatoes. Rice was a rare luxury for villagers only to be eaten during important festivals.

Poultry farming helped a little, but the problem was carrying things down the mountain.

At least two villagers were needed to carry a single pig to market on their right shoulders because the cliff was on their left.

"If the pig struggled, it would sometimes fall into the valley; otherwise the pig might win the struggle and throw us in," recalled Wang Anyou, Wang Yong's father.

"Even monkeys need to wear hiking boots in this mountain," he joked.

Villagers had to carry everything up the cliff from chopsticks to televisions.

Wang, 71, was a man of unusual strength when he was young. His old house on the cliff is still home to a table weighing around 80 kilograms which he carried up the cliff more than 20 years ago.

In addition to treacherous journeys up and down the mountain, villagers had to fight off wildlife which frequently damaged their crops.

Young villagers watched for monkeys in the daytime and chased away bears at night. "Once a time, more than 100 crows ate up our corn very quickly. We were unable to do anything," said Wang.

ECO-VILLAGE RESORT

For those living in poverty in mountainous areas in Sichuan, Guizhou, Yunnan provinces and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, improving their situation is complicated. It means building roads and bridges, raising poultry and livestock, planting fruit and herbs, or relocating.

Since 2004, local government has relocated 72 families from the cliff in Daduhe Canyon, often considered China's most beautiful. Wang Anyou was one of the first. "My children wanted to leave the cliff," said Wang, who was given 4,000 yuan (around 600 U.S. dollars) resettlement fees.

In Shengli's case, relocation is the only viable choice but no easy job. Once relocated, people still need to find jobs.

Wang Yong left Shengli Village for Guilin, a top tourist destination in Guangxi, more than ten years ago. He became a jade wholesaler and married a woman there.

But his cousin, then Party secretary of Shengli Village, invited him to return and help expand tourism in the village.

The scenery offers a wide choice to tourists, not just Daduhe Canyon, but primeval forest and panda habitat.

"Sightseeing attracts visitors. The longer they stay in our village, the more they consume here," said Wang.

Wang purchased peach tree saplings from Sichuan's provincial capital Chengdu and encouraged villagers to plant them on the steep slopes. He also plans to build a glass skywalk on a mountain top.

MORE THAN TOURISM

In addition to tourism, Shengli Village is working on green agriculture.

Villagers have planted 200 hectares of Laoying or eagle tea and more than 13 hectares of Sichuan pepper, which was royal tribute in the past. Last year, the output value of Laoying tea reached 270,000 yuan.

Wang Anyou raises bamboo rats, a popular local delicacy. His family earned 60,000 yuan from the animal last year.

In 2016, the average Shengli villager's annual income rose to 8,650 yuan, far above the country's poverty line of 2,300 yuan per capita.

By the end of 2017, the remaining 16 poor households in the village will be free from poverty.

Official statistics show that mountainous Sichuan, with many ethnic groups, had 7.5 million people living in poverty in 2012. The figure was reduced to 2.72 million last year.

Wang Yong wants to expand the cultivated area of tea and pepper on the "abandoned" old cliff village.

"But we need a better road," said Wang. "Currently everything is still carried down the mountain in baskets."