Picturesque village

Helping Yunnan Village Thrive, Teacher Learns Vital Life Lessons

By LI LEI in Beijing and LI YINGQING in Kunming | China Daily | Update: 2021-10-11 09:22

Li works with village officials during a field visit to Nujiang Prefecture in Yunnan. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Lack of modern equipment will not hold back the villagers

2014 was a pivotal year in Professor Li Xiaoyun’s research on poverty reduction.

That winter, he traveled with a team of researchers from Beijing to Hebian Village in Yunnan Province.

The picturesque Yao ethnic community, home to 58 families, sits on the edge of a subtropical forest.

Bordering Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam, Yunnan is known for its vibrant ethnic communities. For decades, it was also known to be underdeveloped and backward, and home to one of the most intractable forms of poverty in China.

What initially was to be a months-long field study of the poverty-stricken community turned into a multi-year involvement. By the end of 2017, Li and his team had helped transform Hebian into a successful tourist destination, featuring bamboo hotels, 4G internet access, nightclubs, a network of paved roads and a immersive cultural experience that attracts visitors from all over the country. .

A rural development expert at the China Agricultural University, Li said he had been involved in similar projects before Hebian, but most had been short-term and many had encountered funding problems.

Hebian offered the professor a laboratory at a time when poverty reduction was an official priority, so he seized the opportunity, gathered resources and was finally able to help break the cycle of village poverty once and for all. all.

“I’m best known as a college professor,” the 60-year-old said, “but I actually wear a number of different hats, especially as a practitioner.”

Li began his career as a rural policy researcher at the secretariat of the Communist Party of China Central Committee in 1987.

In 1994, he began teaching at the CAU and became dean of its rural development school four years later.

After decades of experience in the field, he has adopted an approach that is developmental in nature and emphasizes sustainability.

His success at Hebian is a testament to this approach, and he has helped hundreds of Yao ethnic groups escape misery by building a closed-loop industry that created jobs, not by handing out cash donations.

Hebian’s transformation has helped solidify Li’s position as a leader in China’s recent anti-poverty campaign.

Distinguished by its tailored approach, the campaign, which ran from 2012 to last year, eradicated absolute poverty from mainland China and represented an improvement in the nation’s decade-long attempt. to help inland regions stricken by poverty.

In 2012, the CCP decided at a rally in Beijing to make China a “moderately prosperous society in all respects” by this year to mark the Party’s centenary.

Absolute poverty, like that which afflicts Hebian, is in the crosshairs of the authorities.

When Li arrived in the village in 2014, poverty was rife. Children were running barefoot in front of dilapidated houses. Cattle lived alongside people in traditional bamboo buildings, and the dirt roads became muddy in the freezing rain. Without savings and without certified doctors, few inhabitants spoke Mandarin or ventured much outside the village because the change was stigmatized.

“People who sought to leave would be laughed at because they didn’t know their place,” Li said. “But in fact, seeking change is a form of progress.”

For generations, locals have managed to get by on minimal profits by cultivating sugar cane and rubber trees.

Livelihoods were often at the mercy of fluctuating demand and, due to the isolation of the village, incomes were diminished by increasing transport costs.

Li realized that the time and energy required to remake Hebian would be gigantic, and as a result, he decided to move in.

He made a diagnosis, as well as a cure. Villagers were poor because they lacked assets capable of generating sustainable income. Worse yet, they lacked the knowledge to monetize such assets that they owned. But Hebian definitely had some advantages. For example, its bamboo buildings were embodiments of Yao culture, and it overlooked stunning views of rolling tropical forests.

Li and his team decided to turn the village into a resort area that could also be used as a conference center.

Clockwise from left: Stations at Prof. Li Xiaoyun’s Xiaoyun Poverty Assistance Center in Hebian Village in Xishuangbanna, Yunnan Province. A cafe that Li helped develop in the village. Li poses with a woman and her child during a field survey in Zhaotong, Yunnan. [Photos provided to China Daily]

He started a charity, the Xiaoyun Poverty Aid Center, to channel fast-growing public and corporate donations.

With only three full-time employees (Li, as an executive, driver, and accountant), the center was run by volunteers, many of whom were colleagues and students from Beijing. They included professional designers and architects who helped transform the village’s traditional houses into tourist guesthouses, which now bring in quarterly incomes of between 20,000 and 50,000 yuan ($ 3,094 to $ 7,736).

In addition, Li developed an e-commerce hub to sell farm products, including organic eggs and grapefruits, as he did not believe in relying on just one source of income.

So far, the center has invested around 3 million yuan, and the government has contributed an additional 15 million yuan.

The local government has also helped by providing loans and grants to farmers looking to build new homes or run farms.

Li is known to have transformed Hebian, but he says Hebian transformed him as well.

“The most inspiring part of my years there was that I realized that people weren’t poor because they were lazy,” he said in an interview with the department. Guanvideo online video, referencing a perception that has taken deep root since China embraced the market orientation. reforms in 1978. “Quite the contrary, many of the poor are exceptionally diligent.

Li attributed the source of the village’s impoverishment to its earlier lack of modernity in the form of an industrialized way of life and production.

Specifically, Hebian had been poor because it lacked access to an appropriate supply chain, a pool of skilled labor, and the education that underpins all progress.

“Poverty is not just a question of materials, it is also a question of perception,” he said.

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