Settling down after the high life
Updated: 2013-07-28 23:18
By Luo Wangshu and Tan Yingzi (China Daily)
Jian Faqun shed no tears when she finally left behind the home she had shared with her family for 40 years.
"I won't miss a thing about that place,"she said.
A former mountain dweller builds his new home in Lantian town. Luo WangShu / China Daily
The 61-year-old moved to Xingyue village on Chongqing's Daba Mountain after she married. Since then, life has been a struggle, due largely to the poor transportation links and scant opportunities to make a living.
"We planted corn and potatoes, and made less than 1,000 yuan ($160) a month,"she said. "Farming was all we had."
She said she felt only relief when she was offered the chance to move, along with her two sons and their families, to a lowland purpose-built community for former mountain dwellers.
According to the Mountain Ecological Anti-Poverty Project, published in January, city authorities aim to resettle 500,000 people from poor, isolated villages between this year and 2017.
The name "Xingyue"literally translates as the stars and moon; but to its residents, the differences between the old village and the new communities in Lantian town are like night and day.
"My children, and then my eldest granddaughter, had to walk hours to get to school when we lived on the mountain,"said Jian, whose family was among the first to relocate, in 2010. "They left home at 5 am, before sunrise, and returned at 8 pm, after sunset.
"It was hard for the young ones, especially in winter,"she said. "The weather was bitter and the mountain road was bad."
Today, her 4-year-old grandson only needs to travel 10 minutes from the family's new home in Lantian to reach his kindergarten.
Wang Xiangui, who made the move in 2011, said he now sees a lot more of his granddaughter. "She used to have to board at school, but now she can come home for lunch,"he said, smiling.
Unlike Jian, he still has an interest in the old village — his beehives are there, which are his main source of income.
"I have to commute, but it's OK. It's every villager's dream to move out of the mountain,"he said.
Lantian is in the center of Daba Mountain, a national natural reserve, and sits on a plain that is 1,100 to 2,400 meters above sea level.
The town government began building the communities for resettled residents in 2008. Along with its original population of 3,417 residents, as of June it had attracted 358 families from the peaks, 1,432 people all together.
Party chief Chen Liangfeng said Lantian used to be one of the poorest towns in Chongqing, known for being "90 percent mountain and water, 10 percent land".
He said the relocation project was the best thing for villagers and the authorities' coffers.
Managing a centralized community of resettled residents, rather than scattered in isolated villages, is a lot easier, he said, adding that the government can also save money by building public amenities, such as schools and health centers, in just one place.
However, relocation is a costly project for families.
Jian's son spent nearly 130,000 yuan building their house, with most of the money saved from her sons' salaries as migrant workers.
"The government does provide support for residents looking to relocate, such as building the frames of new homes in the centralized community,"Chen said. "But they have to spend some savings to leave the mountain, they can't rely solely on the government."
He said authorities have already built a nursing home for the most impoverished and elderly residents who come down from the mountain.
Each county in Chongqing has been urged to get involved in the Mountain Ecological Anti-Poverty Project and make detailed plans based on different local needs and conditions.
Wulong, an impoverished county on Wuling Mountain, has invested 396 million yuan into its project, helping to move 19,804 residents so far.
To create new opportunities, Chen said families are encouraged to open hotels. "It gives resettled residents a way to look after themselves and develop tourism,"he said.
Hotel management training was offered to all relocated villagers, and more than one-fourth — about 5,100 people — are now involved in the tourism industry, according to the county government, which reported a rise in annual income of more than 800 yuan last year.
Chongqing Education Department also launched retraining programs.
"We'd like to have more investment to develop tourism"and provide residents with even more opportunities, Party chief Chen said.
He added that work to connect Chengkou county, which includes Lantian, to the expressway is expected to be finished this year.