Yan’an: No Longer in Poverty

By: Xinhua Reporters Sun Bo, Shen Hongbing, Liang Juan, Chen Chen, and Zhang BinFrom:English Edition of Qiushi Journal July-September 2019|Vol.11,No.3,Issue No.40 | Updated: 2019-Nov-14 14:15
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Yan’an is sacred ground for China’s revolutionary history, but also a place that has lagged in economic and cultural development for a long time. In October 1935, the CPC Central Committee arrived at Wuqi Town with the Central Red Army at the end of the Long March. They set up a base in Yan’an proper at the beginning of 1937, where they stayed until March 1948. These 13 years are known as the Yan’an period.

On May 7, 2019, the revolutionary base of Yan’an reached a historic milestone, bidding farewell to absolute poverty as its last two impoverished counties of Yanchuan and Yichuan finally shook off the pernicious yoke.

Utter and unchanging devotion

The political center in Zhongnanhai, Beijing shares deep emotional connections with the sacred revolutionary ground of Yan’an.

In the run-up to Chinese New Year in 2015, General Secretary Xi Jinping visited Yan’an to extend his regards to officials and members of the public. He also hosted a forum on the transition from poverty to prosperity in the Shaanxi-Gansu-Ningxia revolutionary base area, showing great care for the region’s development.

“It is the bounden duty of the Party and the government to accelerate development and see that poverty alleviation is performed effectively in this old revolutionary base, ensuring that the rural poor shake off poverty and become prosperous as quickly as possible and that the people here reach moderate prosperity along with their compatriots throughout the country,” he said.

At the time of this speech, the people of Yan’an were facing a severe test, with three impoverished counties and 693 impoverished villages remaining at the end of 2014. A total of 76,200 households or 205,200 people, representing a tenth of the municipality’s population, were living below the poverty line. These pockets of poverty, dotted around the Baiyu Mountains and along the banks of the Yellow River, each represented a challenge of the most trying nature.

The General Secretary’s earnest instructions and the Central Committee’s attentive solicitude inspired the people of Yan’an to work vigorously and catch up. Xi’s visit sounded the charge.

March 26, 2018. A solemn air filled the conference room of the Yan’an municipal Party committee as a meeting was held to mobilize the whole city in the fight against poverty.

Ye Genli, the 37-year-old Party secretary for Huaziping Town, Ansai District, sat in the conference room, his heart beating faster as he listened. He sensed that this meeting would be different from any he had attended before.

A pledge was placed in front of the municipal Party secretary and the mayor, as well as each of the main people in charge of every district, county, and town. The final line of the pledge read as follows:

“If I do not complete my tasks, I will accept responsibility and resign.”

The night after he signed the pledge, Ye Genli could not sleep. His pillow was drenched with sweat, and one word kept bouncing around in his head: “Industry! Industry!”

A lack of industry was Shawan Village’s Achilles’ heel.

At great difficulty, the town government had found a patch of land that was on the leeward side of a slope and also faced the sun. However, just as preparations were being made to set up greenhouses for growing vegetables, the skeptics came along and began piling on the criticism.

Though Ye Genli was generally short-tempered, he could not allow his impatience to get the best of him. He had to keep going out and meeting the skeptics in order to make sure the work got done.

When he spoke to a local who was fiercely opposed, Ye would give them a cigarette and wait for them to cool off. If he couldn’t convince them one day, then he would return the next day and try again, patiently explaining the benefits of the project. Essentially what he was doing was clearing up everybody’s concerns.

Entertainers sing about how their lives have improved since they threw poverty behind during a storytelling performance in Xiying Village, Ansai District, Yan’an, Shaanxi Province. On the basis of traditional paper cutting, folk songs, waist drumming, farmers painting, and local art, Ansai has vigorously developed a cultural tourism industry that has benefitted more than a thousand of its poor residents. PHOTO BY XINHUA REPORTER LIU XIAO

These photos of the Yan’an riverside taken years apart from the same spot show how the area has changed. The photo on the left was taken on May 5, 2019 by Xinhua reporter Liu Xiao, and the one on the right was taken on December 26, 1983 (File photo).

But it didn’t matter how much explaining he did. From the no-nonsense perspective of the farmers, it was simply a matter of “seeing is believing.”

A light bulb suddenly went off in Ye Genli’s head. He rented two cars, and took the locals to see for themselves. With eyes wide in excitement, they walked around inspecting the greenhouses.

“Secretary,” they exclaimed, “these things can definitely make some money!”

After talking himself hoarse, Ye Genli had finally succeeded and now it was time to start construction.

One by one, the greenhouses started springing up. It seemed as though the enthusiasm of the people of Shawan Village had been ignited overnight.

This hard work did not go to waste. In Huaziping Town today, greenhouses, apple orchards, and farms for raising animals are spread across every village. More than 400 households that once faced a dearth of opportunities now have access to industries that can bring long-term prosperity, and per-capita net income for the town’s poor population has reached 9,853 yuan.

In his notebook, Ye Genli recorded a few of his thoughts. “Party members must not become discouraged when the people are unsure of what to do,” he wrote. “It is our job to be persistent.”

In our fight to eliminate poverty, each Party member is like a standard bearer on the battlefield, and everywhere the standard is raised, a moving story can be heard.

Tian Ting’s serendipitous connection with Huangjia Geta Village is one such story, and this story began with a dispute.

Zhu Chengcai, a poor farmer, crashed into the village committee office to complain. “Where is the new First Secretary?” he fumed, “I can’t sell my watermelons, and they’re about to rot! Aren’t you going to do...” As soon as he saw Tian Ting, he turned around and left without even finishing his sentence. “Sheesh,” he said, “what are they trying to pull sending a fragile little girl like that to be our secretary?!”

Seized by an inexplicable force, Tian Ting rushed out and grabbed hold of Zhu, who was easily a head taller than her. She said, “What do you think you’re doing, belittling me like that? I’m going to go into town right now, and promote your watermelons at every store if I have to. I’m not convinced that they can’t be sold.”

This happened in July 2017, which was Tian Ting’s first month as First Secretary of Huangjia Geta Village, Yongping Town, Yanchuan County.

All of the people in the village live in a deep ravine surrounded by large mountains with infertile soil. They have to drink alkaline water, and walk on muddy roads. Nearly all of the village’s young people go elsewhere for work.

Poverty alleviation authorities built 231 greenhouses in the village, but the locals, who had been planting grain for generations, had never grown vegetables in greenhouses before. Village officials went from house to house to convince people to participate, but only 47 families reluctantly agreed. This almost forced officials to assign greenhouses by drawing lots.

Everything started from scratch. At first the seedlings would die quickly since the locals didn’t know how to plant properly, and the watermelons would not grow big since they didn’t know how to take care of them in the right way. Even after struggling to get a harvest, fruits and vegetables would often go unsold.

“I planted four greenhouses and didn’t even sell ten grand, what a wasted year I’ve had!” The poor farmer Zhang Zhi’en made up this rhyme to joke about his unfortunate situation, but it also betrayed the resentment that many were feeling.

Then, at long last, Tian Ting came up with an idea.

The people in the village discovered that this girl, who wasn’t much taller than the handle of a shovel, liked going into the greenhouses and looking around on her spare time. When she went back to the dormitory at night, she would spend hours looking up information on the Internet. She went to the county government office to invite specialists and technicians to the village to conduct training, and when the villagers didn’t understand the first time, she put on a cheerful face and invited them back again.

After nine training sessions, even the least clever minds in the group finally got it.

In 2018, the village’s greenhouses together brought in more than 3 million yuan, with per-capita income of more than 10,000 yuan for the 15 poor households planting them.

Paving roads, providing running water in the home, renovating lavatories, beautifying walls and courtyards, helping poor farmers apply for public works positions... After being posted in the village for a year, Tian Ting reported that of 55 poor households, only four still relied on government assistance. Almost all once poor households were engaged in business, and by the end of 2018, overall eradication of poverty was achieved in Huangjia Geta Village.

“With the assistance of officials and the hard work of the people, we can shake off poverty and build prosperity.” This is the kind of slogan that can be seen everywhere among the hills of Yan’an.

Altogether 1,784 officials were posted in villages to serve as first secretaries, and 1,546 work teams were posted in villages to work on the front lines, with a total of 37,400 officials providing assistance to assigned households. According to the Party officials of Yan’an, “The life of an official is not complete until they have focused on eliminating poverty.”

An Zhenhua, who is director of the political theory lecture group attached to the Yan’an city Party committee as well as an adjunct professor at the China Executive Leadership Academy at Yan’an, has said that Party members fighting on the front lines in the battle to eliminate poverty constantly draw strength from the Yan’an spirit, and use their sense of mission, convictions, and actions to see that the original aspiration of the Party blossoms in this place.

The Green Long March

People far and wide know of Wuqi as the terminus of the Long March, but it also has a nickname that is only known to the locals: “the desolate roof of Yan’an.”

The area has an extremely arid climate and is covered with barren mountains. Every time the wind blows, the air is filled with sand and silt so dense that it blots out the sun. The environment is so bad here that it is as if it keeps the area locked in a chokehold. According to the records of the Yan’an Area Chronicles, in the more than 580 years between the beginning of the Ming Dynasty and the founding of the PRC, Yan’an was affected by natural disasters including drought, flooding, and hail more than 200 times.

An official from a state ministry posted to Wuqi back in the 1980s lamented as follows: “The people here live between the winkles of the earth. The more land they try to reclaim, the more barren the land gets. The more barren the land gets, the poorer the people become. The poorer the people become, the more land they try to reclaim.” Yan’an has become one of the areas most seriously affected by soil erosion on the upper reaches of the Yellow River.

In 1997, Wuqi County, which relied on goat breeding as its mainstay industry, invited experts from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations to come and inspect the area, in the hopes that they could provide advice for developing the local livestock industry.

This group of experts hit the nail on the head in their evaluation, saying, “Goats should no longer be allowed to graze in Wuqi, as the ecosystem is far too fragile.”

When then deputy director of the Wuqi County livestock office Gao Zengpeng heard this, he couldn’t get his head around it and was so annoyed that he became red in the face. When he tried to refute their assessment however, he found that he was at a loss for words.

The truth hurts, but it is often exactly what we need to hear. A year later, Wuqi led the nation in implementing policies that prohibited grazing on the mountains, supported the planting of trees and grass, and promoted dry lot feeding of goats. This would remove 238,000 goats from open grazing in one fell swoop.

Once the news spread around, the locals were in such an uproar that some of them threw down their pipes, leaped out of their seats, and ran straight to the office of the county Party committee to complain. They cornered then Party secretary Hao Biao in his office and launched into a verbal assault. One person even threatened that if he could not graze his goats on the mountains, then he would bring them into the Hao’s office.

All that Hao Biao could do was grin and bear it, maintaining his gentle demeanor. Whenever somebody came looking for him, he invited them into his office, poured them a drink, and gave them a cigarette.

He told them, “With the environment we have here in Wuqi, about one and a quarter hectares of natural pasture are needed to raise a single goat. But with artificially planted pastures, we can raise two goats with less than a tenth of a hectare. That’s dozens of times more efficient!”

Though he talked until he was blue in the face, he still couldn’t convince them. In desperation, Hao Biao stated bluntly, “Your ancestors have been herding goats for generations, but are you rich yet? Oh, you’re not? Then let’s try doing things my way.”

With so much resistance, Hao Biao was under immense pressure. Unable to sleep at night because of the anxiety, he stood on the balcony with his coat draped over his shoulders, watching the flickering lights of the homes around him as he smoked one cigarette after another.

Feeling distressed, Han Biao went to visit Wuqi’s cemetery for revolutionary martyrs. Thinking about all of the heroes that laid down their lives during the revolutionary war to liberate Wuqi, he suddenly felt a warm wave of encouragement.

He thought to himself, “All of these people died for a cause they believed in, while the worst thing that could happen to me is losing my job as Party secretary. That will not deter me from doing everything I can to develop Wuqi.”

Eventually, his commitment paid off. In 1999, the central government launched the Grain for Green Policy, and the people of Yan’an shifted their focus from reclaiming land to afforestation.

When he saw the news, Hao Biao felt like a great burden had been taken off of his shoulders.

That was also when Yan Zhixiong, the old secretary of the Party branch in Nangou Village, Wuqi County, started taking his fellow villagers up to the mountains to plant trees.

However, planting trees in a place as dry and drought-prone as Yan’an was easier said than done.

Spring is the tree planting season, and also the time of year when northern Shaanxi is gripped by a bitter chill. In order to plant trees on the steep cliffs, Yan Zhixiong led the locals up the mountains, climbing with their hands and feet as they carried baskets full of saplings on their backs. Before they even reached the top, they had blood trickling down their arms from cuts sustained by grabbing on to the jagged rocks.

Yan Zhixiong summed up the key elements of tree planting into three points: plant them deep not shallow, plant them tight not loose, and plant them straight not slanted. He wrote these down on strips of cloth, and when he came across a villager who could never seem to get it right, he would stuff one of these homemade instruction manuals into their pocket.

Even on days with freezing cold weather, they were up on the vertical cliffs digging holes and planting trees. If they were thirsty, they took a sip of icy water, and if they were hungry, they chewed on a bit of dry bread.

In such a dry and arid place, it is very difficult for all the newly-planted trees to survive, so replanting is required each year. It is perfectly normal to see five generations of trees in a single forest.

These events from 20 years ago were recorded in photographs stored in Wuqi County’s Grain for Green Museum. In one of the photos, Yan Zhixiong can be seen sitting on a rock holding a pen high over his head, surrounded by villagers that are listening eagerly and all appear to be brimming with enthusiasm.

Now, 20 years later, Nangou Village is surrounded by lush and verdant scenery. Scanning the surroundings from the mountaintop, one can see the nearby apple orchard, which will bear fruit this year. At the foot of the mountain, tourists weave around in the 3A scenic area that has just opened for business. The under-forest economy is developing in the mountains. Last year, the size of the village’s collective economy surpassed two million yuan, with more than 30 poor families breaking away from poverty completely.

Over 20 years, the people of Yan’an have returned 718,000 hectares of farmland to forest. These efforts have pushed the edge of greenery seen in satellite imagery northward by more than 400 kilometers, and increased vegetation cover from 46.3% in the year 2000 to 81.3% today. Formerly dominated by desolate gullies and ravines, Yan’an was named a national forest city in 2016.

The people of Yan’an always say that without fundamental improvements to the environment, eradicating poverty would be out of the question.

A few years ago, Hao Biao, who had long since retired, went back to Wuqi at the invitation of an old friend. For the whole car ride, he kept his face pressed against the window, staring at the greenery that now stretched as far as he could see. “Wonderful! Wonderful!” he kept saying as tears welled up in his eyes.

Precisely targeted efforts

The day he moved to his new home, 39-year-old Li Dongdong insisted on performing the waist drum for his fellow villagers.

Almost everybody in Ansai knows how to play the waist drum, from 99-year-old elders to infants just taking their first steps. To Li, it is the most pleasurable activity in the whole world. He even believes that his parents named him Dongdong in imitation of the sound made by the drum.

Though playing the drum was enjoyable, it didn’t make any money. When he was 16 years old, Li Dongdong was sent out by his father to work and make a living. Three years later, as a result of his diligent work, Li became the first in the village to set up a greenhouse for growing vegetables. At the end of the 1990s, greenhouses were still considered an oddity in Ansai.

Li figured that after working hard for a few more years, building a house, and finding a wife, he could finally pick up the waist drum again.

But reality dealt Li some heavy blows that knocked him out of his dream.

His father contracted tuberculosis, and his mother was stricken with heart disease. He spent so much time at the hospital that he essentially lived there. All of his money was gone, and his greenhouse fell into neglect.

Despite all of this, Li Dongdong had to keep on living, so he put his worries aside, worked hard and found a wife. However, before he even had a chance to settle into married life, he found out that his son had cerebral palsy.

Back then, Li would look up and shout at the dark night sky, “Why are you doing this to me?”

It was right at that time that the targeted poverty alleviation campaign started up, and Li Dongdong’s family was officially registered as a poor household.

The arms of targeted assistance extended to wherever there were poor households.

Li found that the methods of alleviation implemented by officials really hit the mark.

When his wife had surgery, 90% of the cost was reimbursed, and the government delivered medicine to their door. When his eldest son was sent to study at a special school in Yan’an, he was completely exempted from paying tuition and also received an allowance for living expenses. Meanwhile, his younger son, who was attending middle school at the time, also received a 400 yuan living subsidy per semester.

This family, which had been constantly frozen in tragedy, finally saw their sadness melt away from warmth that they had not experienced in so long. Li started thinking once again about his beloved waist drum. By happy chance, he heard that the district was organizing waist drum classes for poor households, encouraging them to beat poverty away with their drums.

He rummaged through the cupboards and found his waist drum covered in dust from years of not being used. Then, without skipping a beat, he went to sign up for the classes. Since he had already learned the fundamentals as a boy, he completed the course after only a week.

Still, he felt uncertain. “Can we really eliminate poverty by playing our drums?” he wondered. “We’ve been playing waist drums for generations, but why are we still so poor?”

This time, the sound of the waist drum really did beat poverty away. Ansai made itself famous for its waist drumming, paper cutting, farmers painting, local art, and folk songs, lifting its people out of poverty by developing a thriving cultural tourism industry. It has suddenly become popular for tourists visiting Yan’an to come to Ansai via a short thirty-minute car trip where they can see the waist drum dance and listen to local operas.

In Ansai today, the air is filled with the sound of singing and thundering drums.

The locals even established a special troupe of performers made up primarily of people from poor households. Li Dongdong has become a key member of the troupe, and performs constantly. He earns 150 yuan for each show, and can perform in more than a hundred shows per year. The cultural tourism industry has flourished in Li’s hometown, with more than 1,000 poor people consistently participating in performances to supplement their income. As such, this village in Yan’an famous for its folk customs has found a path out of poverty and toward prosperity that is suited to its own conditions.

In his new home in the new community to which his family was relocated, Li Dongdong sat stroking his waist drum with all kinds of emotions filling his mind. Using only 10,000 yuan of his own money, he was able to move his family to this new home, and finally bid farewell to the cave house that they had been crammed in for decades.

Poverty comes in many forms, but there is one secret to solving all of them: action! However, there is no universally applicable way to take action. Adapting to local conditions, implementing policies suited to each village, each family, and each person, and refusing to engage in broad and unrestrained campaigns – this is the prescription that the people of Yan’an have come up with for eliminating poverty.

About 150 kilometers away from Li Dongdong lives another man who uses music to express his joy at having escaped poverty. To a local Shaanxi tune, 56-year-old Li Tianpeng sings about how things have changed since the hard days of the past, and how he can now live a content and comfortable life.

Li Tianpeng comes from Baliwan Village, Pingqiao Town, Ansai District. The village is perched on top of a mountain in the Baiyu Range. It is an extremely drought-prone place where people live at the mercy of the elements and where extensive cultivation yields a small harvest. Without the blessing of rain, one-tenth of a hectare of land can only put out less than 500 pounds of grain.

Years ago, all of the villagers had to drink from a single well, but every bucket of water drawn from the well would be about half mud, so this water needed to be set aside for a few days for the sediment to settle before it could be drank. Not a drop was wasted, with water left over from washing one’s face used to wash the dishes before finally being given to the animals to drink. In these circumstances, taking a bath was just an extravagant fantasy.

As a result of the poor environmental conditions, many of the village’s young people left to go work in other places. As early as he could, Li Tianpeng sent his son to the city to learn to be a cook. Every time his son was to return to the city after a home visit, he couldn’t resist the urge to tell him, “Go work hard and make money so that you can get out of this place for good.”

Finally, in 2016, the days of hardship came to an end. Li Tianpeng clearly remembers the scene that day. Officials from the town came and told him, “The government has decided to conduct relocations in order to alleviate poverty in this area. The eight families in this small village will be relocated to the city. For only 10,000 yuan, you can get an apartment with two bedrooms and a living room!”

Li couldn’t believe his ears. He followed the officials out and asked them again just to make sure he had heard them right.

Squatting in front of the cave house that had been home to three generations of his family, Li was both excited and nervous. He wanted to move, but he didn’t know what he would do when he got there. His mind was a whirlwind of emotions.

On moving day, Li locked the door to his old cave house and left without looking back.

His new home was in the Huizeyuan resettlement community in Ansai proper. The two-bedroom apartment was equipped with all of the essentials, including a refrigerator and a color TV. His son had earlier installed a water heater in the bathroom, knowing very well that his father would want one. The night of the move, Li delightedly took a shower. He said that he “scrubbed his skin until it was all red,” as if he was washing away all those years of misery.

Li then left the fields behind and embarked on his new life as a nine-to-five worker. The local government fixed him up with a job as a uniform-wearing security guard in a residential complex.

Describing his job, he said, “The work is easy, and I get paid 1,800 yuan per month! That tops the amount I used to make in an entire year planting grain.” After spending a lifetime farming, he was slowly getting used to living in an apartment building and working until a specific time every day.

A total of 637 families relocated from other areas moved into eight tall buildings in the Huizeyuan resettlement community. Most of Li Tianpeng’s new neighbors were also poor families that had been relocated from 11 townships throughout the district.

Every story of escaping from poverty involves a sigh of relief when one finally leaves their misery behind.

Each county, village, and family emerged from poverty through its own approach. On the vast canvas of 37,000 square kilometers of steep ridges and deep gullies, the people of Yan’an drew up one meticulously detailed blueprint after another for guiding themselves out of poverty.

In Luochuan, of the 2,836 poor families able to put out labor power, 2,604 built apple orchards.

In Yanchuan, the locals vigorously developed leading industries including farming apples on hillsides, growing jujubes along the Yellow River, farming in greenhouses on areas of flat land, and raising animals in ravines, and average disposable income per farmer has reached 9,548 yuan.

In Yichuan on the banks of the Yellow River, e-commerce service providers are spread across all of the poor villages.

In Ansai, 2,524 families have moved to new homes through the campaign to alleviate poverty through relocation.

Almost all of the officials working on eradicating poverty in Yan’an carry around a little booklet entitled 30 Methods of Targeted Poverty Alleviation. Flipping through the booklet, one can see that the main point actually isn’t difficult to grasp: make your efforts targeted and precise!

Unstoppable growth

Hou Xiuzhen, a 74-year-old Party member, sits in her yard humming the tune of the revolutionary song “Nanniwan.” In the wheat fields beyond the courtyard stands a monument to the Yan’an Mass Production Movement, inscribed with Chairman Mao’s words, “If you take action yourself, there will be no shortage of food to eat or clothes to keep you warm.” Though the years have brought many trials and tribulations, these words have only grown more impactful.

Fifty-six years ago, she married a man from Nanniwan. This place left a deep impression on her, partially from singing its namesake song, but also from listening to her father-in-law’s stories. Her father-in-law Liu Baozai was a company commander in the 719th Regiment, 359th Brigade of the Eighth Route Army. He arrived in Nanniwan in 1941 to open up land for agriculture, and remained there for the remainder of his life.

Liu Baozai worked on opening up land, but his daughter-in-law worked on planting trees. At the beginning of the 2000s, Hou Xiuzhen started bringing the women of the village up to the mountains, where they painstakingly converted grain fields into forests. Now in her twilight years, she adamantly refuses her daughter’s requests to come and live with her in the city, and still goes out to work in the fields every day.

She says, “When I am gone, there will be nobody left from the 359th Brigade. I can still work, and I’ve still got some strength left in me...”

Though many years have passed, the spirit of hard work and self-reliance has remained as an immutable source of strength in the people of Yan’an.

“I’ll pay you back, even if I have to sell everything I have.” To this day, 32-year-old Zhao Yangyang from Luoju Village, Liandaowan Town, Ansai District still remembers this pledge that he made as he placed his thumbprint on a loan agreement, because this marked his determination to end his impoverished state.

In the spring of 2015, Zhao Yangyang stood at a crossroads in his life. His father had died in a traffic accident, and his mother was bedridden due to a serious injury.

As if thrust into adulthood overnight, the once happy-go-lucky Zhao Yangyang started looking on the Internet for ways to make money. When he came across information on some places that were breaking away from poverty by raising sika deer, his eyes lit up.

Without delay, he travelled to a county in Shandong specialized in raising deer to take a look. After asking around he found that the business offered big opportunities.

In Yinchuan in another province, he visited a company that was raising more than 160 deer with only five employees. Little by little, his plan was coming together.

Back at home, Zhao Yangyang went from door to door trying to convince as many people as he could to go into business with him. But in the end, he was only able to persuade four people, three of which were family relatives.

Because he couldn’t bear to see his nephew go through hardship forever, his uncle agreed to participate. However, he hesitated when he was in the process of signing on, with his pen hovering over the paper for what seemed like an eternity. He couldn’t help but ask, “If you can’t pay this money back then...”

“I guarantee I’ll pay it back,” Zhao Yangyang interjected, “I swear on my life.”

His fellow villagers didn’t understand, but the government officials supported him, helping him apply for a loan of 80,000 yuan.

Those days were so busy that he didn’t even have time to catch his breath.

At great difficulty, he secured a paddock for the deer, gritting his teeth as he signed the contract. The feed was expensive, so he cut down on his own food consumption, going from three meals a day to one. He worked from dawn to dusk, one time becoming so exhausted that he dozed off on top of a fawn while he was giving it an injection. Raising deer is not a business that offers quick payoffs, so his relatives became unsettled as money kept going out but none was coming in. They got his mother to talk to him, and she said, “Just sell the deer, and at least that way you won’t lose as much money.”

But Zhao Yangyang was confronted with an even bigger problem – the deer ran away. After searching for two whole months, he was able to find most of them and bring them back, but two were hit by cars and died.

He was on the verge of weeping as he held one of his dead sika deer, but he forced back the tears. “There’s no use crying. No matter how great the challenges I face, I have to keep moving forward!” he said.

When the deer farm harvested antlers for the first time in 2017, the villagers all crowded together and watched.

The antlers from a single deer sold for 1,500 yuan. Together with the money they made from selling deer, they calculated at the end of the year that they had made 500,000 yuan.

The villagers were now completely convinced. The day that the business registered as a cooperative, 17 poor households brought over small loans, wanting to join in as shareholders. Zhao Yangyang signed the profit sharing agreement then and there.

He said, “I know the bitterness of poverty, and now that I have broken free of it, I want to give others a hand in doing the same.”

The people of Yan’an always possess a kind of strength that leaves others with deep admiration.

Qu Wanping is a 46-year-old man from Luochuan who lives with brittle bone disease. Before his tenth birthday, he had already suffered broken bones ten times. After that, he was essentially bedridden for more than a decade. Once he grew up, his favorite thing to do was to take his walking stick and wander around the apple orchard. After spending so much time there, he eventually became something of an apple expert.

He bought a phone, opened a WeChat account, and immersed himself in a book called Learning Taobao from Scratch, soon becoming the first person in his village to do business online. Soon, big orders started pouring in one after another.

He worked with the apple farmers in the village on fulfilling orders and guaranteeing quality of the fruit. On WeChat he didn’t just post the prices of the apples, but also photos of what the orchards actually looked like. He never forgot to gather feedback from customers every time he sold a box of apples. In the space of five years, he pocketed almost 860,000 yuan in profit, making him famous as a shining example of someone who broke free of poverty.

In 2017, he was elected president of the association of disabled persons in Luochuan County. He helped 22 disabled people open their own online stores, earning them steady income of over 1,800 yuan per month.

The indomitable spirit of the people in this old revolutionary area is stored in the depths of the winding ravines between its endless mountains.

A road toward a dream

In Yanchang County on the remote banks of the Yellow River, there is a village called Tianjintou.

Sixty-five-year-old Feng Yuqin liked to sit at the edge of the village and watch surroundings. Her eyes showed a strong yearning for the wider world as a mountain dweller.

“Secretary, when is a road going to be built to our village?” This was the question that Liu Haibo, secretary of the village Party branch, had heard over and over again.

The people of Tianjintou did not expect that the targeted poverty alleviation program would finally bring a road to their remote village. In 2016, an asphalt road connecting the village to the larger town was fully opened. The firecrackers set off in Tianjintou to celebrate this event could be heard for miles around.

After that, the local sweet potatoes and Sichuan peppercorns were constantly in demand. Feng Yuqin was overjoyed, saying, “Customers flocked to buy our products. We could sell a pound of sweet potatoes for 3 yuan!”

This road offered a way out of poverty, offering the people prospects and driving them toward prosperity and wellbeing.

By the end of 2018, 693 poor villages and 195,000 people in Yan’an had moved out of poverty.

The poverty rate throughout the prefecture fell to 0.66%, and average net income for people registered as having escaped poverty reached 8,289 yuan. The counties of Yanchang, Yanchuan, and Yichuan completely shook off the yoke of poverty. A total of 17,300 families or 56,300 people were relocated, and unsafe dwellings in rural areas were removed. Cement and asphalt roads, safe drinking water, and electric power were extended to cover rural areas throughout the prefecture.

Looking back on the road we have travelled, the changes that have taken place on the Loess Plateau are astounding. The people of Yan’an have recorded an impressive pace as they have pushed forward in pursuit of their dream.

Even after the yoke of poverty was broken in the poor counties, Yan’an pressed on without letting up, continuing to help the remaining poor population escape poverty and vigorously promoting and consolidating achievements in poverty eradication. These efforts have ensured that the people of this old revolutionary base area will reach the goal of a moderately prosperous society in all respects in step with their compatriots throughout the country.

Yan’an has thrown poverty behind! With General Secretary Xi Jinping’s warm care and the vigorous support of the CPC Central Committee’s effective policies, officials and residents in Yan’an have captured great success through their fighting spirit. Now, at the dawn of a new era, a bright new future for this special place in our country is emerging before our eyes.

Most people would probably never have imagined that the Loess Plateau, once as a dry and arid place crisscrossed with countless gullies and ravines, could boast the type of beautiful scenery characteristic of verdant southern China, with flowers blooming in the spring and lush rice paddies in the fall. In May of last year, Nanniwan became one of the trial planting areas included in a project launched by Yuan Longping and his team to spread the use of a hybrid variety of rice that can be grown in salt water. This year, the total area of fields planted with this rice will increase to 100 hectares.

Most people would probably never have imagined that in a resource-base city where before almost everybody was fixated on oil prices, terms from the tech world like makerspace, big data, and unicorn would quietly become buzzwords. Platforms for innovation and entrepreneurship such as Wuhan’s Optics Valley, Tencent’s WeStart, and Beihang University’s scientific innovation center, as well as 445 other enterprises in new economic sectors including Huawei Cloud have set up in Yan’an. New industries and new forms of business are thus blossoming rapidly.

Most people would probably never have imaged that a once backward and out-of-the-way revolutionary base area would be selected as a national ground shipping hub. In Yan’an today, multiple expressways including the Baotou-Maoming Expressway and the Qingdao-Lanzhou Expressway link the city with all directions. Everyday, 88 trains carrying passengers and goods pass through. Departing from the new airport in Nanniwan, one can fly directly to 16 different domestic destinations.

Here is an inspiring statistic:

In 2018, Yan’an’s total economic output reached 155.89 billion yuan, with growth of 9.1% setting a five-year high.

And here is a remarkable transformation:

Tertiary industry and the non-public sector of the economy have grown in proportion to 31.7% and 29.3%, respectively. The pattern under which Yan’an went through ups and downs due to its dependence on oil is in the process of transforming.

These changes are apparent everywhere one looks.

Yan Zhixiong went up to Yinchuan in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region for discussions on business cooperation, which turned out to be very fruitful. Rural tour guides got themselves ready and went to work, zipping back and forth on electric vehicles. After getting its name out, this beautiful village welcomed its first out-of-province tour group.

At the Yanchang County e-commerce public services center, tones indicating that an order has been placed ring constantly. This place on the banks of the Yellow River, which has been poor for thousands of years, today has more than 40 online businesses. People from 525 formerly poor households now are doing business on e-commerce platforms. Sitting at home, they can sell premium local products by pressing just a few buttons on their phones.

At the entrance to a village called Mashuping in Yichuan County, which has just recently broken free of poverty, there is a pear tree covered in gorgeous flowers. In the peppercorn gardens, one can see farmers busy at work. During last year’s harvest, merchants from all over thronged to the village to stock up. About a hundred meters away, cars move in a constant stream along the riverside road that generations of locals hoped to be built. In the distance, water flows calmly down the Yellow River, bearing witness to the changes taking place all around.

On yet another bright spring day, Li Yongqian from Zaoyuan brings his whole family, dressed in fresh new clothes, on a hike up Baota Mountain. Looking out from the top, tall buildings and lush greenery fill his view. Overwhelmed with emotion, he suddenly speaks from the heart: “The people of Yan’an are grateful to General Secretary Xi Jinping and the CPC Central Committee. The wishes of generations of our people have finally come true – Yan’an has thrown poverty behind!”

The towering Baota Mountain has stood witness to the history of the CPC, as it has grown from weak to strong and advanced from one victory to the next.

And it continues to bear witness as the 2.26 million sons and daughters of Yan’an continue, under the leadership of the CPC Central Committee with Xi Jinping at its core, to advance toward achieving the goal of moderate prosperity in this place that is so important to our country’s history.

(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No. 13, 2019)