How a village in central China used ecotourism to lift its residents out of poverty

Staff members of the Liye Qin Slips Museum in central China’s Hunan province wearing typical clothes of Qin dynasty. Picture: Zeng Xianghui/People’s Daily Online

Staff members of the Liye Qin Slips Museum in central China’s Hunan province wearing typical clothes of Qin dynasty. Picture: Zeng Xianghui/People’s Daily Online

Published Apr 8, 2021


Shen Zhilin

By taking advantage of its natural environment and developing ecotourism, Yunding village in central China’s Hunan province, has lifted local residents out of poverty.

The village, located in Liye town under Longshan county, Hunan, was once hindered by its natural conditions.

Covering an area of 7.33 square kilometres, Yunding is inhabited by merely 818 residents in six natural villages. Each household in the village has an average land of tens of mu (one mu equals about 666.67 square meters), and few families could farm all their land.

However, Yunding village, located in the Bamian Mountain, naturally lags behind in developing agriculture because of the mountain rocks and infertile land. Less than four months per year are agriculture-friendly and for almost half a year, the village on the tablelands is either cloudy, foggy, or rainy and snowy, which resulted in the lack of sunlight and low crop yields.

In 2012, Zhang Xiaoquan, a resident in Yunding village who used to work in the cities, returned to his hometown to seek a livelihood. He contracted a hilltop to take up farming, but didn’t reach many results.

With an unyielding will, the 44-year-old villager, has grown corn, sweet potatoes and tobacco leaves. However, the man found that he lost half of his capital considering years of both good and bad harvests and was deeply disheartened.

Things began to change in early 2018, when Zhang Xiangyang, first secretary in charge of poverty alleviation in Yunding, identified the crux of the problem.

“Nestled among the towering mountains, Yunding boasts a beautiful sea of clouds and twinkling stars on clear nights, making it an ideal place to develop ecotourism,” the official said, adding that simply developing agriculture is never the right way for Yunding.

With the help of the official, Zhang Xiaoquan established an eco-friendly agricultural cooperative, and handpicked and turned a piece of land of 400 square meters near a cliff into grassland for tourists to sightsee and camp.

Zhang has also developed catering business near the grassland, which can bring in some 1,000 yuan ($153) a day. In fine weather, tourists will also rent tents for camping at night, generating an income of several hundred yuan.

“The business reaches its peak in August, and sometimes 20 tents won’t be enough for one night,” he said.

Another villager Peng Shirong has opened a B&B and is busy renovating his attic as the original rooms cannot meet the popular demand.

Peng estimated that he needed to invest about 40,000 to 50,000 yuan to decorate the attic. The man told the People’s Daily that what he is worried about is how to improve service quality rather than room reservation, as tourists now flock to the village.

In Yunding village, tourists can take a bird’s-eye view of the ancient Liye town at foot of the Bamian Mountain. However, few tourists were seen in the village in the past as the one-way trip to the village would take one or two hours due to rugged roads, according to Peng, who has been living in the village for several decades, adding that he could only see local residents move out of this mountain area.

To solve such problem, Zhang Xiangyang first invited experts to explore ways to make better use of local ecological resources. The official also helped arrange charity performances such as traditional Chinese musical instruments Guqin and Guzheng on the peak of the Bamian Mountain. The videos about the performances have spread and attracted great attention. Gradually, the village has won growing fame.

As Longshan county has been promoting all-for-one tourism, the county has worked with Yunding to improve the village’s road. A brand new hardened road of width ranging from 5 to 6 meters reaches the top of the Bamian Mountain, shortening travel time to about 40 minutes between the ancient Liye town and the village.

Today, what impresses villagers most is that their agricultural products sell better. “Local agricultural products couldn’t sell a good price, but are now often sold out, including fresh meat and cured meat,” said Zhang Xiangyang.

* This article was published in partnership with People’s Daily Online SA.

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