Villagers move up from old 'machete'

Editor:Sharon Lee
Updated:2017-12-18 12:23:29
  About 340 families, mostly from the rural Yanhe Tujia autonomous county in Guizhou province, have moved to this community in downtown Tongren since last year. YANG JUN/CHINA DAILY

  Related: Rural residents start to feel urban buzz

  Yikoudao's villagers sing a traditional song about leaving for the nearest settlement at sunrise and arriving at sunset.

  The song survives. But its lyrics no longer apply.

  Yikoudao's name translates as "machete" because of the shape of the sheer karst cliff beneath the settlement in Yanhe Tujia autonomous county, Guizhou province.

  The village's limestone "blade" cuts up to 1,170 meters at its apex.

  Until recently, transportation in Guizhou was less a challenge of traversing longitude and latitude than a problem of abrupt altitudes. Mountains make height more of an obstacle than distance.

  Stone soars to slice the province into pieces, long making human development an uphill battle in every sense.

  But a photo collage on the wall of Yang Cuihong's apartment in Tongrenwhere she has relocatedserves as a portrait of how her life has been transformed since she left Yikoudao in June.

  One picture shows the 37-year-old's family in front of the rustic home they left.

  Another shows her family and other farmers hiking over earthen roads with sacks of belongings slung over their shoulders as they trekked to their new, modern dwellings in Tongren.

  Another shows her family smiling on the couch above which the collage now hangs.

  Xiao Han (fourth from left), a senior cadre, chats with Deng Zaifa (fourth from right), a resident of Yikoudao villiger, and other representatives about the local government's efforts to relocate residents to urbanized areas. YANG JUN/CHINA DAILY

  Free apartments

  Yang is one of 913 people who have relocated to Tongren from one of the poorest villages in one of China's poorest provinces.

  The government has provided villagers from Yanhe and Songtao counties with free apartments20 square meters per occupantincluding furniture and appliances.

  It also offers vocational training to enable farmers to work in skilled trades.

  Yang earned 1,500 yuan ($230) a month as a cleaner after arriving in the city in the summer. The government later helped her find a new job doing quality control for a local tobacco company that pays 2,000 yuan a month as a base salary, plus performance-based bonuses.

  "We had no expendable income in Yikoudao," Yang said. "It was really hard to make money farming there. We earned just enough to survive."

  So, she and her husband alternately worked as migrants or stayed to look after their three children.

  Yang only attended primary school for two years. She can read but "can't really write".

  Her husband returns from working as a migrant in Zhejiang province once a year, usually for Spring Festival.

  Zhu Hailu, their 17-year-old daughter, has adjusted well since the relocation.

  "Her classmates and teachers like her," Yang said. "She said it was difficult to understand the other kids' accents at first. But kids learn fast.

  She had no problem making friends. She'd come home right after school in the first few months. But now she stays out shopping with the other girls."

  Zhu is a year behind in school because she grew up in the village.

  "Usually, 17-year-olds are sophomores. But she's a freshman," Yang said.

  The girl started primary school at age 8 rather than 7 because she had to climb for an hour to reach the school from their home.

  "The path was dangerous," Yang recalled.

  In two years, Zhu will take the national college entrance examination. She hopes to become a civil servant.

  Yang appreciates urbanization's conveniences.

  "Our home was far from the village center," she recalled. "If we got sick, we'd have to go to a small hospital in Yanhe town. It was over an hour's hike. If you were too sick to walk, a family member would have to carry you. If no relative could, a neighbor would."

  In addition to consolidated public facilities, she's grateful for such home amenities as running water. "We washed with a bucket about once a week in the village."

  An elderly relative took a while to get used to flushing toilets, she said. Residents agree the relocation offers a better life. But it also poses challenges.

  Poverty-alleviation programs arrange for officials from Tongren city and Yanhe county to help the relocated villagers' to adapt to city life.

  "It was initially hard to persuade people to move downtown because they'd lived in the village for generations," said Xiao Han, a public servant in Tongren. "They have concerns about city life. It's difficult to serve those without professional skills or education."

  So, the village chiefs visited the eldest member of every household to persuade them to relocate, he explained.

  "Cremation is also a point of contention," he said. "Many villagers prefer to be buried in hillside tombs alongside their relatives. They fear cremation in cities."