Ding Yimu (R) introduces Hehong to foreign businessmen. (zj.people.cn/Hu Yuzao)
Ding Yimu, born in 1963, is a French man who has lived in the village of Hehong in Ninghai County, Zhejiang province for 16 years. Ding, recognizable by his omnipresent glasses, is now an entrepreneur and village official.
Ding got his MBA degree in the U.S., and then stayed to earn his fortune on Wall Street. He then quit his job and spent two years traveling around the world. Eventually, Ding settled down in Ninghai, his wife's hometown, where the couple started their own stationery and household appliance business. At present, Ding's two companies have an annual output value of about 100 million RMB.
On Feb. 29, 2016, Ding became one of the village leaders, taking the position of assistant to the village head. Since beginning the job, Ding has injected fresh blood into the village's governance. In order to protect several pieces of ancient architecture, he borrowed a strategy that has found success in France and proposed a new regulation: villagers can either build new houses or else redecorate their old residences without damaging the external structure. He is now planning to develop tourism in the village and receive foreigners who are interested in Chinese village life.
Ding talks with locals in Hehong, Zhejiang provice. (zj.people.cn/Chen Jinlian)
Ding believes that ideas are worth little if they are not put into practice. On Feb. 16, 2017, he created a sensation when he brought a group of businessmen from the U.S. and Japan to look at possible investment opportunities in the village. The neat cobblestone roads and well-preserved ancient residences received praise from the visitors, and some indicated real interest in investing.
Ding's own hometown is a small village near Provence in southern France. He grew up in a 400-year-old house, of which he has fond memories.
"My parents, brother, sister and I repaired the house with our own hands," he recalled.
Ding has been to many places in China including Shunde, Kunshan and Shanghai. Over the years, he has seen many high-rise buildings replace old houses. But he is happy to see that in recent years, more and more Chinese people are choosing to protect valuable ancient structures.
Ding loves ancient houses. (zj.people.cn/Chen Jinlian)
"Ancient houses can be regarded as 'living fossils,' which are part of our cultural memory. We have to protect and keep the memory for future generations," Ding commented while standing in an abandoned courtyard house. He hopes to transform it into a Western-style bar and hotel.
According to Ding, backpacker culture is very popular in France.
"I think we can develop more ordinary [bed and breakfast hotels] in the village, run by locals, to make it more convenient for young people and backpackers to travel through villages."