Xi Story: A Tibetan village's old friend

(Xinhua) 08:01, March 29, 2022

Aerial photo taken on June 4, 2021 shows a night view of Nyingchi City of southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region. (Photo by Dong Zhixiong/Xinhua)

BEIJING, March 28 (Xinhua) -- As spring buds begin to bloom, Nyingchi, a city in Tibet perched at an average altitude of about 3,000 meters, prepares for the annual influx of visitors that flock to this city, high above the clouds.

The attractiveness of this area of the autonomous region in southwest China is in no small part thanks to improved infrastructure, such as trains. Today, it takes just three and a half hours on a bullet train to travel the 435 km from Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, to Nyingchi, along the region's first electrified railway line.

Not so long ago, without a railway, the same journey took President Xi Jinping a whole day.

The year was 1998, when Xi was vice Party chief of Fujian Province in east China, and he was in Nyingchi sending a group of officials assigned to assist in Tibet's development. During this trip, he visited the small, rural village of Bagyi.

When he met the community, the villagers were eager to share how their lives had tremendously changed over the past decades since the democratic reform in Tibet had abolished the practice of feudal serfdom.

The Bagyi in the old Tibet was unrecognizable to the community that greeted Xi in the late 1990s. At that time, the village's more than 100 households of serfs had lived in misery under the oppression of three feudal landlords. The village Party chief Daglung recalled that his father lost an eye due to the brutal abuse of his serf owner, another woman's father had one of his hands chopped off.

In old Tibet, the average life expectancy across the region was just 35.5 years old, and over 95 percent of the population were illiterate. All this began to change in 1959 when around one million people were liberated from the barbarous exploitations by the serf owners under the life-changing social overhaul known as democratic reform.

It is no surprise, therefore, that the people of Bagyi had so much to share with their guest. Some spoke in Mandarin Chinese and others in Tibetan, all keen to tell Xi about the changes they had lived through. Xi listened, talked with them attentively, and encouraged the villagers to continue striving for even better lives with the support of favorable government policies.

The small village did not let Xi down. When Xi made his second visit to the village in 2011, he was impressed by more exquisite dwellings and clean roads, showcasing another leap toward prosperity.

Xi visited the home of villager Kelsang Wangchug, who got well-off with a logistics job. Xi walked in the family's newly built house, had a look at their kitchen, picked up a piece of cheese and tasted it, and sat with the family. Over cups of steaming, traditional buttered tea, Kelsang Wangchug answered Xi's many questions about his family.

"One thing he stressed was that the kids should get a sound education; this has always stayed with me," Kelsang Wangchug said.

Four years later, Kelsang Wangchug was among 13 delegates representing ethnic unity received by Xi, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. His former guest recognized him immediately. "Here you are, Kelsang Wangchug from Nyingchi," Xi said, asking about how he was doing.

"I stood up excitedly and said our lives continued to improve every day," Kelsang Wangchug recalled.

Kelsang Wangchug's comments should not be conflated with hometown pride; with each passing day, month, and year, Bagyi is indeed transforming. By 2020, the average annual income per capita had increased to more than 34,000 yuan (about 5,334 U.S. dollars).

Today, the former rural backwater is home to thriving logistics and construction industries. Members of the community receive annual subsidies to help with education and elderly care. Many villagers found jobs in tourism. Bagyi gradually won itself a reputation of "village of affluence."

More than a decade after his last visit to Bagyi, the fortunes of Tibet remain a priority for Xi. At a central symposium on the region in 2020, while lauding the achievements in Tibet, Xi said that ground gained should not be lost, and energies should be channeled into further improvements under the rural revitalization drive.

Kelsang Wangchug said his fellow villagers cherish respect and love for their special guest. "We will never forget the words of the general secretary, and will follow the leadership of the Party to create an even better and happier life together," he said. 

(Web editor: Xia Peiyao, Liang Jun)


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