New homes have been built for the residents of Changkou village, Sanming, Fujian province. (PHOTO / XINHUA)
As it flows through Fujian province's village of Changkou, in Sanming, the Jinxi River shimmers under the blue sky.
On one side stands a mountain covered with thick pine forests. Well-spaced, attractive, new residential buildings of two or three stories complement the area's natural beauty.
Zhang Linshun, 53, has spent his entire life in the village. He and his peers adhere to the proverb, "If you live near the mountain, ask it for your livelihood."
But Zhang, the village Party secretary, stressed that natural resources have never been exploited wastefully there.
He said the concepts that "Lucid waters and lush mountains are priceless assets" and "Resources should be used sustainably for the benefit of future generations" have become part of the rules that all residents constantly bear in mind.
Last year, per capita income reached 23,600 yuan (US$3,615), more than 10 times the figure at the turn of the century
For more than 20 years, the residents have insisted on green development, based on the resources provided by the mountain, water and farmland. To that end, they have used the area's environmental advantages wisely in their quest for growth.
Ecotourism and environmentally aware agriculture have seen life in the village improve greatly.
Last year, per capita income reached 23,600 yuan (US$3,615), more than 10 times the figure at the turn of the century.
"For us, the dramatic changes in the village are the result of good policy support from the government and people's hard work," Zhang said.
"More important, we have followed the right development path, with an emphasis on ecological conservation."
Changkou is a good example of a settlement that combines rural revitalization with the nation's environmental conservation efforts, all based on President Xi Jinping's governance philosophy of building an ecological civilization in which sustainable development is key.
In essence, it aims to create a fruitful balance between economic development and environmental protection, and to forge harmony between humans and nature.
More than 20 years ago, things were very different in Changkou.
The villagers struggled to escape poverty, there were no paved paths or streetlights and many of the houses were dilapidated, Zhang said.
"In 1997, our combined income was just 30,000 yuan," he said, adding that last year the figure reached 1.22 million yuan, 40 times higher.
For poverty-stricken farmers, the mountain's natural pine forests were seen as a good resource for raising incomes. In the 1990s, some villagers proposed selling the wood from the local forests.
A local chopstick manufacturer approached the village and offered to pay 200,000 yuan for more than 130 hectares of natural forest, according to Zhang.
"The sum was really attractive to us at the time because the money would have helped us solve a lot of problems," he said.
"However, if the trees were felled, the rocky mountain would be left barren and it would have been very difficult to plant trees and grow a planned forest."
On April 11, 1997, Xi－then deputy secretary of the Communist Party of China Fujian Provincial Committee－made an inspection tour of the village, which alerted Changkou's farmers that their home's environmental advantages could deliver more benefits than they had ever imagined.
Zhang's predecessor, Gao Falu, who served as village Party chief from 1995 to 2012, said he remembered Xi's visit as if it had happened yesterday.
As village head, Gao accompanied Xi during his inspection tour. "He spoke with my fellow residents, learning about their lives, jobs, incomes and children's education," the 59-year-old recalled.
"Before leaving, he looked at the Jinxi River and the mountain across the river, and said 'Lucid waters and lush mountains are priceless assets.' He asked us to strengthen environmental protection and devise viable plans to explore the resources on the mountain, river and farmland."
Local officials said that while Xi worked in Fujian between 1985 and 2002, he attached great importance to environmental protection.
In 2002, during an inspection tour of Sanming city in his capacity as Fujian's governor, Xi told officials at a meeting that green mountains and clear waters seemed of little value for the time being, but in the long term, they would be priceless assets.
He urged the officials to strive to transform methods of economic growth and to avoid damaging the environment while pursuing development.
Xi's instruction turned out to be a game changer for Changkou.
Led by Gao, the village decided not to sell the mountain and trees, but rather to use the environmental advantages to attract investment that would create jobs and raise farmers' incomes, laying the emphasis on ecotourism and sustainable agriculture.
In 1999, the village formulated its first general plan for environmental development, which was revised in 2012, 2018 and last year.
Taking advantage of the river, the village introduced a rafting project with investment of 30 million yuan.
The village holds a 10 percent share in the project, which became operational in 2013 and has generated regular revenue while creating jobs for local farmers.
More than 10,000 tourists use the rafting facilities every year.
Because her home lies on the road that leads to the tourist site, Zhong Yuying opened a grocery store in 2017. She said she has benefited greatly from ecotourism.
"During the busy season, I can earn more than 1,000 yuan per day from my store," she said.
Last year, Xu Lianghui, a native of Fuzhou, Jiangxi province, invested more than 8 million yuan in the village to build a 53-hectare base for the cultivation of navel oranges.
"The water and the soil in the village have been tested and shown to be of good quality for planting the oranges," Xu said, adding that the area's many environmental advantages have helped the development of his agribusiness.
Speaking of Changkou's development over the past 20 years, Zhang, the village head, said: "If we had sold the trees on the mountain long ago, we might have lost the cash cow that has delivered long-term benefits to the villagers. Future generations would have regarded us as sinners."
Changkou has become a success story in Sanming, and even Fujian, by sticking to green development as China advances Xi's vision of building an ecological civilization as part of the national development strategy.
The vision was written into the Party Constitution at the 18th Communist Party of China National Congress in 2012.
Xi's concept calls for conservation and protection to be prioritized to ensure harmony between humans and nature, and for adherence to innovative, coordinated, green, open and shared development. It also sees a sound environment as the most inclusive benefit to people's well-being.
Under the guidance of this philosophy, the nation has started undertaking central environmental inspections, introduced guidelines to control air, water and soil pollution, and published its own plans to realize the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It is also implementing a national plan to tackle climate change.
Sanming provides a good example of China's ambition. It has been transformed into a green city from a major industrial base for iron, coke, carbides, chemical fertilizers, cement and plastic products.
In recent years, more than 170 mines have been closed and a law enforcement team has been established to crack down on illegal mining.
Green industries such as tourism and healthcare are being developed in the city, while traditional industries are switching to clean production methods.
During the National Day holiday from Oct 1 to 8, Sanming received 4.22 million tourists, which generated revenue of 2.5 billion yuan.
With China's economy transitioning from high-speed growth to high-quality development, construction of the ecological civilization has entered a critical phase.
It's one in which authorities strive to meet people's growing demand for a beautiful environment at a time when China is capable of addressing such prominent issues, observers said.
Zhang, the village head, said: "For the people of Changkou, putting the environmental good first has become a principle that must be upheld during our high-quality development. We are confident we will live better lives and follow the right path."
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