Relocation: the move into modernity

Updated: 2013-02-19 10:53

By Wang Hao, Yang Wanli and Yang Fang (China Daily)

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Relocation: the move into modernity

A herdsman looks after his sheep on the Hulunbuir grassland. Inner Mongolia has seen a rapid expansion of pasture land thanks to the policy to return low-yielding farmland to pasture and forests. [Yu Changjun for China Daily]

Ordos gives those who worked the land a chance of a new beginning, Wang Hao, Yang Wanli and Yang Fang report from Inner Mongolia.

Ordos, on the vast plateau of the Inner Mongolia autonomous region, has probably been China's most rapidly developing prefecture-level city during the past decade, as a result of the exploitation of its rich mineral resources.

With 13 percent of the country's coal and one-third of its natural gas reserves, Ordos boasts a higher per capita GDP than larger cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. The city is investing great efforts in the management of social security and, in particular, township construction. Thousands of farmers and herdsmen, who could barely manage to make ends meet on the sandy land, are relocating to nearby towns.

Wanggui Xincun is one of the tens of "new homes" in Ordos occupied by farmers and herdsmen who used to live in adobe or brick houses.

Located close to the center of Dalate town, the residential community is home to more than 1,200 families. In addition to supermarkets and kindergartens, the community also has an entertainment center, where residents can play badminton, table tennis and billiards. It also has a fitness club and a library. Meanwhile, group activities can be held in rooms provided free of charge by the residents' committee.

Bai Yufeng, who moved from the suburbs of Dalate to Wanggui Xincun with his wife and son in August, is a member of the center's calligraphy club. Bai, 62, said that joining the club and practicing the art form with 30 friends has given added meaning to his post-retirement life.

"There was no public place for clubs in my old village. I could only practice calligraphy at home and so I felt lonely. Without a public activity center, there was really nothing for elderly people to do in winter," he said.

He was speaking in late January when the outside temperature was approximately -15 C and the cold weather made outdoor sports impossible. Inside the club, however, Bai needed little more protection than a sweater.

He said his family lived in a brick house for more than 20 years. The house, less than 20 square meters, consisted of just a dining room and one bedroom. In winter, family members only took a shower once a month because the house had no water heater and they had to bathe in public bathrooms.

Now, Bai's family lives in an apartment comprising a sitting room, a kitchen and two bedrooms, and they can shower as often as they like. Living much closer to the town hospital, Bai said his wife and he are happy in the new community. Moreover, the apartment was cheap, less than 1,000 yuan ($160) per square meter.

The farmers and herdsmen that have moved into the new residential area retain ownership of their farmland and houses in the rural area. Most of them have rented the land for the cultivation of sand willow (salix mongolica), a cold- and drought-tolerant, fast-growing tree, believed to be one of the most effective plants in the prevention of desertification.

In total, 500,000 farmers and herdsman have moved to the new residential areas, resulting in the average annual income rising from 2,500 to 12,000 yuan. The grassland has also undergone a tremendous change, with the vegetation-coverage rate expanding to more than 75 percent last year from 25 percent in 2000.

"We are lucky to be the first group of villagers to move to the township. Some of our relatives living in other districts are still waiting for the relocation program," said Bai.

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