Zhang Guifang, 24, Party secretary and director of Sanjia village, her hometown in Hebi, Henan province. (PHOTO / CHINA DAILY)
Editor's note: As China accelerates the promotion of rural vitalization, more young people are contributing to the development of agriculture and rural affairs, while also benefiting from grassroots work. China Daily interviewed three people born after 1995, who shared their stories of "young power" driving rural development.
BEIJING/CHENGDU – Zhang Guifang, 24, was surprised to be elected Party secretary and director of Sanjia village, her hometown in Hebi, Henan province, as she had no experience of doing such work.
However, she soon realized that the villagers wanted someone who could bring vitality to what many of them saw as a rather dull area.
Like many other Chinese villages, most young people left Sanjia to work in big cities, leaving seniors behind to farm and take care of the children. Over the past two years, Zhang, who is determined to bring change to the area, has proved that her ideas work.
When local officials persuaded her to stand for election, Zhang thought that being a village head would be a relaxing experience, as she could earn a good living without doing much work, but this has been far from the case.
The village, which occupies 4.42 square kilometers, has 400 permanent residents, 80 percent of whom are 60 or older.
It had no main industry, and Zhang saw broken trees, desolate roads and dilapidated homes. In the two months after she was elected the village Party secretary, she cried every day due to stress.
She thought about giving up, but one day, Zhang heard her father talking about her to a friend on the phone.
"He was so proud of me. I had never seen my father react like this before, as he always seemed taciturn and serious. This rekindled my faith that I should bring hope to the village," she said.
When she was 10, Zhang left Sanjia to attend school, returning home during weekends, when she stayed mainly indoors. As a result, she did not know many locals.
"At first, I felt shy and uneasy about getting along with the villagers. I began learning to greet them on the street, and with help from the former village head and other colleagues more experienced than myself, I gradually became more familiar with the work," she said.
After gaining inspiration from social media, she came up with the idea of painting walls in Sanjia to create a "rainbow village" to develop tourism. She showed pictures to this effect at the villagers' representative conference, but some of them asked whether her idea was a waste of money. "However, they soon found themselves benefiting from the program," Zhang said.
After about a month of renovation work, the village was totally transformed. Its new look drew media reports, heralding the arrival of tourists and business opportunities.
Last year, the village cooperated with a company to plant pumpkins on 26.6 hectares of land, most of which used to be barren. This project produced 30 jobs for villagers, who received 180,000 yuan ($26,019) as a land transfer fee.
In July 2021, a huge rainstorm hit Henan, and the situation in Sanjia was particularly serious. Floodwaters came up to residents' knees, well water was polluted, and electricity cut off. Zhang and her colleagues helped collect relief materials worth 3.84 million yuan from the local government and a charity organization.
After these efforts, Zhang was accepted and recognized as a capable and responsible leader.
She has since helped roads and tap water pipelines to be built in Sanjia, and has opened the village's first library, projector room, basketball court and public toilet. She was surprised that the villagers were willing to play their part in such work.
The village is now working on a new millet-planting project, which is expected to produce more jobs.
Before taking the job as village Party chief, Zhang ran a bed-and-breakfast business in Tianjin. Ma Yousheng, a local Party member, said that in late 2020, the village authorities appealed for several people of Zhang's age to return for the election, but only Zhang did so.
He added that the authorities in Shilin town, which administers Sanjia, wanted young people to help bring changes to the village.
Ma, who is a friend of Zhang's father, said that when Zhang was a child, she had the enthusiasm "for doing things" and learning about agriculture at college.
Zhang, who graduated from Tianjin Agricultural University with a major in plant protection, said: "My father told me that what I could learn from being a village Party secretary could not be compared with any other job. I then realized that no matter where you are and what you do, there are opportunities for you to contribute to society."
Liu Yuanjie, 26, who helps beekeepers in Yuli county, Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, sells honey through his livestreaming sessions. (PHOTO / CHINA DAILY)
With bees swarming on his neck, arms and feet, Liu Yuanjie enthusiastically promoted honey during a livestreaming session at an apiary in Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region.
Being stung has become routine for Liu. At first, his face was swollen for five or six days. Now, he said it only takes him about 10 minutes to recover from a sting, as he has developed antibodies.
With his round face, dark skin, moustache and large, square-framed eyeglasses, Liu's rugged appearance did not seem to match the rural scenery, and some netizens even asked whether the background used for the broadcast was fake.
In footage that has received 97 million views, Liu threw a bucket into a river to prove the waterway was genuine, before rushing to retrieve the bucket as it started to float away. His actions, which amused many netizens, attracted comments such as, "He made me laugh just by standing there."
Liu, 26, attracted 16 million fans in just a year through live broadcasts, thanks to his sense of humor, enthusiasm for work, and the beautiful scenery in Xinjiang. He brings in monthly revenue of 3 million yuan, with a profit margin of 20 percent, by selling honey and related products bought from local farmers.
His story has inspired many people lacking good looks or a rich family background that nothing is impossible in life.
Born in Jiangsu province, Liu dropped out of school when he was 16. He started work by polishing and painting cabinets at a furniture factory, before being employed as an electric welder at a shipyard. Later, he learned software development and started his own e-commerce clothing business, which failed.
In 2020, Liu traveled to Xinjiang, where he was impressed by the local livestock and stunning scenery. "Xinjiang is so big and beautiful. It healed me. I knew I would be happy if I stayed here," he said.
During a trip to Yuli county, Bayingolin Mongol autonomous prefecture, Xinjiang, Liu tasted local honey, and was impressed. Yuli is known for bluish dogbane, a popular herb, whose flower is a major source of honey. Its long florescence in June and July offers beekeepers natural advantages.
However, most beekeepers sold honey through Wechat Moments, and sales were poor. Liu wanted to bring the product to a wider market through using digital tools.
"Xinjiang has long hours of sunlight, and temperatures vary widely from day to night. Many different types of flower grow in the wild, resulting in honey being produced in considerable quantities," he said.
Liu spoke to local beekeepers, but nobody was interested in his suggestion, until he proved himself with growing sales. He also paid beekeepers in advance. "When they heard their honey was selling well, they all smiled, which was extremely touching," he said.
Honey from Yuli is now sold nationwide, and orders for it have also been placed by foreign clients. The unit price is 100 yuan per kilogram, and Liu promises clients they can receive packages of honey within five to seven days.
Last year, he helped sell honey and black wolfberry from Yuli, attracting orders worth more than 10 million yuan. His business expanded, and the goal this year is to make 100 million yuan, he said.
To use the stunning local scenery, Liu and his team members drove across Xinjiang, sometimes sleeping in the open air. Zeng Rui, one of Liu's partners, told Beijing News of the time they broadcast a livestreaming show near Bosten Lake. She woke up at midnight, as she was so cold, and made a fire. Sometimes, the team stayed in the desert for a week.
Liu's success led to him being elected president of the Yuli Beekeeping Association. He helped 40 beekeepers' families sell honey and invited agricultural experts to train them.
In January, as a member of the Yuli County Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, he suggested that more measures be introduced to encourage young people to become entrepreneurs.
As vice-president of the Bayingolin Self-media Association, Liu trained hundreds of people interested in livestreaming.
"I wanted to share my experience to help promote sales of agricultural produce and attract publicity for the county," he said, adding that he wants to help build up the industry to bring wealth to more people.
Twelve of his 14 team members are from Yuli. Arman Ablimit, 20, who is responsible for after-sales and client services, told cnr.cn that she learned from Liu how to persevere, and that she wants to stay in her hometown after graduating to help it develop further.
Jinie Ziri, 28, Party chief of his home village, Abuluo ha, Sichuan province, who promotes local tourism and introduced rice plantain trees from Qiaojia county, Yunnan province, to help local famers earn more. (PHOTO / CHINA DAILY)
On April 6, Jinie Ziri stood out among people celebrating the 100th day of operation of the new Chengdu-Kunming Railway, which runs between Sichuan and Yunnan provinces. The tall young man, dressed in an ethnic Yi costume, spoke fluent Mandarin to promote tourism in his home village of Abuluoha, Sichuan.
Located deep in a valley of the Jinsha River on the upper stretches of the Yangtze River, the village boasts mountains on three sides and cliffs on the other, providing a wealth of natural scenery.
Those who know Jinie Ziri, 28, said he is always ready to promote his village, situated in Butuo county, Liangshan Yi autonomous prefecture, Sichuan, which is home to the largest number of Yi people in China. The village used to be extremely poor.
Abuluoha, which translates as "valley surrounded by rolling mountains" in the language of the Yi ethnic group, is the latest village in China to be connected to the outside world via a new road, which was constructed in 2020.
In the 1960s, leprosy was prevalent in Liangshan. More than 300 patients with the disease in the prefecture were accommodated in one area of Abuluoha, which was commonly known as the "leprosy village".
Covering more than 6 sq km, the village is home to 65 families and a population of 253. Until recently, 29 local families and 182 people were poverty-stricken, with corn and peas their only crops.
When Jinie Ziri reached school age, the village had no primary school. He spent 10 hours each day walking to and from a school in Jinyang county in the prefecture.
Graduating from Sichuan Radio and Television University in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan, he worked for a charity company in Xichang, Liangshan, for two years, earning 4,000 yuan a month.
Quitting his job to return to his home village, he became its youngest Party chief in 2017.
He only earned 1,600 yuan a month as the Party chief, but felt honored to help fellow villagers beat poverty. He introduced 3,000 rice plantain trees from Qiaojia county, Yunnan, and the villagers received a subsidy of 5 yuan for planting each tree.
Laibao Bazei, a 47-year-old resident, thought the trees would not survive, as they had never been grown in the village before.
But Jinie Ziri said, "As the altitude, climate, sunlight and soil in some parts of the village are similar to conditions in Qiaojia, the trees will survive."
Three years later, the village had a bumper rice plantain harvest, and many local residents escaped poverty by selling plantains, including Laibao Bazei, who carried a large bag of them from his fields to Jinie Ziri's home in appreciation.
Jinie Ziri led villagers in planting other crops, such as mangoes, seedless and green peppers, improved varieties of the root vegetable konjac, navel oranges, and a herb with a starchy, tuber-like edible stem that grows underground.
The village boasts numerous wildflowers, and bee farming has become a source of income for locals, who used to carry honey to the nearby town to sell it.
Because the town was a long way from Abuluoha, they had to stay in the town overnight, and sometimes their income from selling the honey did not cover food and lodging costs.
Jinie Ziri used his knowledge of e-commerce to promote the honey among his friends, and also mailed it to those who made orders for the product.
Villagers now sell honey from home, and the local enthusiasm for beekeeping is unprecedentedly high. The price of a kilogram of honey has risen from 60 yuan to 200 yuan, and some villagers earn 20,000 yuan a year from beekeeping alone.
Thanks to the new road, villagers now transport crops to the outside world. Their average annual income has surpassed 5,000 yuan, compared with less than 200 yuan before 2006.
Qiesha Secong, 33, a villager who sold his family's only pony to buy a motorcycle, said, "We now have more confidence in embracing a promising future."
The pony used to carry home seeds, fertilizer, salt and rice along a mountain path, but he parted with it, as the motorcycle does the job much faster.
Shi Baoyin in Zhengzhou and Mao Weihua in Urumqi contributed to this story.
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