China’s well-trodden path to rural revitalization and poverty alleviation in Xinjiang

By Luke Witzaney (People's Daily Online) 16:25, July 22, 2021

China accomplished its stated goal of eliminating absolute poverty 10 years ahead of the ambitious poverty reduction target set by the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, lifting over 770 million people out of extreme poverty in the astonishingly short time span of 40 years.

Rural revitalization and poverty alleviation is now a well-trodden path in China and has brought hope to countless families in search of a viable means to improve their lot while ensuring a better livelihood for younger and older generations alike. This roadmap for shaking off poverty and building common prosperity has also been widely adopted throughout the country and has encompassed all of its inhabitants, with northwestern China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region no exception.

In the suburbs of Kashgar City, an impoverished rural community has been transformed into a national-level key village for rural tourism after witnessing major improvements in infrastructure and living conditions, with the villagers having harnessed the township’s natural environment for its abundant water resources to sustainably cultivate rice, wheat and raise livestock, in Yuqarqi Qaqulla Village, Pahteklik Township, northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. (People’s Daily Online/Luke Witzaney)

In the southwest suburbs of Kashgar City in Yuqarqi Qaqulla Village , Pahteklik Township , 3 kilometers from the city center, a family of five sit around a wooden dinner table resting on a well-shaded terrace outside their home, the tabletop overflowing with pyramid-like stacks of traditional Uyghur deep-fried dough ‘sangza ’ twists and heaps of ‘nang ’ flatbread, accompanied by porcelain bowls of black tea and a colorful assortment of nuts, fruits, and cakes.

As his youngest son munched on a chunk of dried fruit and nut ‘sokmak ’ nougat, Memetjan, who has lived in the township his whole life, reminisced about his own younger years living in what was then a destitute village: “Many years ago, the living conditions weren’t that great, but now we feel happy and our house is bright and spacious.”

The Uyghur couple and their three children took up residence in the family home, a spacious two-story dwelling overlooking a vegetable garden, several years ago after a government-backed initiative to reconstruct residential buildings in the community in keeping with local building codes, along with the extensive upgrading of essential infrastructure and public utilities in a drive to significantly improve the township’s physical surroundings.

Located on the banks of the Kirzlesu (Kashgar) River, the locality – also known as the “township of rice and village of springs” – is rich in water resources and serves as an important water conservation and eco-function zone, primarily engaging in the sustainable cultivation of rice and wheat in addition to raising livestock.

Today, the township embodies the country’s vision for building an ecological civilization based on the traditional virtue of harmonious co-existence between humankind and the natural world, advancing a circular and sustainable mode of socio-economic development that recognizes that human welfare is ultimately derived from preserving a sound natural environment.

The township, at a total area of 29 square kilometers, is home to 17,114 people in 4,227 households, having 9 villages under its administrative jurisdiction, with Yuqarqi Qaqulla Village having been selected by China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism to join its second list of national-level key villages for rural tourism as announced in 2020.

By promoting rural revitalization and the integrated development of a diverse range of rural industries aimed at upgrading and modernizing agricultural production, different channels can be continually expanded in order to further enrich farmers’ incomes, thoroughly reforming the conditions under which the rural poor can, once and for all, escape from long-standing poverty.

In just over eighteen months of operation, the agritourist area attracted some 100 thousand tourists from eastern China and other regions of the country, providing employment for 186 people, including 45 positions for individuals living in poverty, while generating more than 2.8 million yuan (430 thousand USD) in combined revenues from its dining hall, shops, e-commerce center and other businesses.

According to a Dec. 2020 report by Xinjiang Daily , only five years ago the village was still classified as a severely impoverished district, with many of its residents eking out a subsistence living on a mere 1.4 mu (or less than 1/10 a hectare) of farmland per person. Since then, the locality’s substandard living environment has been transformed with the construction of well-lit paved roadways, improved sanitation facilities and the expanded provision of basic public utilities.

A local family has seen their prospects improve as the physical surroundings in their rural community underwent significant upgrading and reconstruction over the past years in Yuqarqi Qaqulla Village, Pahteklik Township, northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. (People’s Daily Online/Kou Jie)

“Before we burned coal or firewood, but now our kitchen has running water and sewage as well as a gas stove, so our living conditions have gotten better ,” explained Memetjan. “Now we don’t have to leave the kitchen to cook a meal. Before we had to go out and collect firewood and so cooking was really a hassle, but now we can cook three meals a day without ever leaving the kitchen .”

In 2020, the 311 households in the village pooled together their 775 mu (51 hectares) and subcontracted the farmland out to a major agribusiness company, with the villagers able to earn between 800-1200 yuan (123-185 USD) per mu annually while freeing their hand to take up other endeavors. Other than bolstering incomes in the village, including those of 179 households registered in the national poverty alleviation system, the new modernized ecological park also provides direct employment to members of 40 poverty-stricken families living in the area, who can earn an average of 2,700 yuan (417 USD) each month in additional wages. Memetjan’s wife, Amangul, is herself employed as a server at the local dining hall catering to the growing influx of agritourists.

“Thirty years ago, because of my family’s conservative mentality, I gave up my studies and from middle school I could only rely on repairing electrical appliances for a living ,” the father recalled. “So I hope my children can go make the most of it. I want my children to be able to get somewhere in life and go out and see the world. I want them to be able to make something of themselves and contribute to society and the country .”

Like other households living in the area, the family’s children are able to benefit from the government-funded “Two Frees and One Subsidy ” program supporting universal access to nine years of compulsory education. Targeting impoverished rural households since its initiation in 2001 and expanded to include urban households in 2017, the program fully covers the costs of tuition and miscellaneous fees for both rural and urban families with children enrolled in public elementary and middle schools, while providing textbooks and school materials to rural households free of charge in addition to supporting poverty-stricken rural households with financial aid subsidizing the living expenses of resident students at boarding schools.

While her father expressed his wish that she might take up medicine for further studies, his 17-year-old daughter said that she aspires instead to become a lawyer, having already racked up some experience mediating between her quarrelsome younger brothers. The senior high school student, who from Mondays to Fridays boards at a school located many kilometers away on the opposite side of Kashgar, spends her evenings gleefully studying and reviewing for her classes in high hopes for her future. “Knowledge,” the young woman asserted, “can change one’s fortunes .” 

(Web editor: Hongyu, Liang Jun)


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