A fleet of tandem trucks carrying wind turbine blades moved slowly along a winding mountain road from Xichang, capital of Liangshan Yi autonomous prefecture of southwest China’s Sichuan province, to Zhaojue county of the prefecture.
With one ends of the blades being fixed to hydraulic mechanism on the trucks and the other ends pointing to the sky, these blades, which were more than 40 metres long, rotated as the trucks inched forward and created quite a spectacle as they deftly avoided obstacles and trees along the road.
Abu, a driver of the Yi ethnic group, has long been familiar with such scenes.
In recent years, Liangshan Yi autonomous prefecture, which has been known for its high mountains and precipitous mountain paths, has gradually got access to tap water, electricity, roads, and the Internet.
Impressive spectacles of engineering are easily seen in the prefecture as many facilities that used to be unimaginable to the local people have become an indispensable part of their everyday lives since they bid farewell to poverty.
The experience of Atulieer village in Zhiermo township of Zhaojue county is the best example of the great changes in Liangshan Yi autonomous prefecture. In recent years, the village has witnessed how people walked an unusual path out of poverty and shifted from rattan ladders to steel ladders and then stairs.
According to local villagers, their ancestors migrated to the village as they found the place has pleasant climate and a natural environment suitable for living, farming, and raising livestock, and that the mountain paths, though steep, can help protect them from banditry and wars.
A special group of people have since lived a confined and self-sufficient life in the village for six or seven generations.
As times change, the “land of idyllic beauty” in the eyes of their ancestors gradually became a barrier blocking people’s expectations of a better life.
With an elevation drop of about 800 metres between the village and the bottom of the cliff it is located atop, Atulieer village is called “cliff village”.
In the past, when there were no roads, Internet, or stable power supply in the village, local people lived in adobe houses and relied on the weather for food. Besides, the only access from Atulieer village to the outside world was slippery rattan ladders, which made it extremely difficult for villagers to deliver goods and materials to the village or even get out of the village.
During the annual meetings of China’s top legislature and its top political advisory body, or the “two sessions” in 2017, Chinese President Xi Jinping paid special attention to the newly-built steel ladders in the “cliff village” at the deliberation of Sichuan delegation.
The new path is made of welded steel tubes and consists of a total of 2,556 steps. It is 2.8 kilometres long and 1.5 metres wide. With steel tubes penetrating deep into the rock wall, and every joint firmly welded, the steel ladders can remain absolutely still in strong winds.
Thanks to the steel ladders, the road up and down the mountain has become much easier. In less than a year, the village got access to electricity, the Internet, and 4G signals, and enjoyed closer ties with the outside world.
As more and more people came to the “cliff village” to experience the steel ladders and visit the village atop a cliff, Atulieer village has seen rapid growth in its tourism revenue.
In 2019, the “cliff village” received nearly 100,000 person-times of tourists, generating an income of nearly 1 million yuan (about $148,900) for villagers.
In May 2020, 84 households of the “cliff village” were gradually relocated to houses with stairs at a poverty-relief resettlement site. The resettlement caught the attention of foreign media.
For villagers of Atulieer village, life surrounded by the clouds is over, said an article published on CNN.
The resettlement site is at Nanping community near the central area of Zhaojue county. The new houses are spacious and bright, while the community is clean and tidy. In addition, the community also holds popular cultural and sports activities for villagers on a regular basis.
The resettlement site is equipped with public services facilities including kindergarten, school, and hospital. Instead of climbing rattan ladders, children in Atulieer village can now play at the playground of the community after school.
Being not afraid of heights and good at climbing used to be the special gift that people of Liangshan Yi autonomous prefecture were proud of, said an Internet user of the prefecture, adding that although children of the area who now live in urban areas probably won’t inherit the gift, he feels happy for them.
Yi people in the prefecture also have other gifts: hospitality and being good at singing and dancing. They are natural tour guides and travelling companions.
Based on two-way choice, about 30 households of Atulieer village decided to stay in their old village on the cliff and take part in the development of tourism projects after all the other families move to the new resettlement site.
In the future, the “cliff village” will have cable cars and “cliff-style” homestay hotels, offering unique tourism experiences for visitors while serving as an open-air museum that demonstrates China’s achievements in fighting poverty.
With the further development of the “cliff village”, more villagers will enjoy the benefits of tourism industry.
Moreover, thanks to a variety of favourable policies, villagers of Atulieer village have started to speak Mandarin Chinese, learn new skills, and take part in various work in the development of infrastructure, services, and poverty relief industries in the village.
After bidding farewell to agricultural economy, the “cliff village” enjoyed leapfrog development and gradually caught up with the modern lifestyle, making steady progress in ensuring care for the elderly, employment for labour force, and education for children.
Today, the once isolated “cliff village” is welcoming visitors and moving toward a bright future with unique charm.
* This article was published in partnership with People’s Daily Online SA.