Whole new lease of life for relocated villagers

By Yuan Shenggao (China Daily)

Updated: 2022-05-20


The new settlement for relocated residents in the village of Songjiagou in Kelan county. [Photo by Zhao Wenjun for China Daily]

Chen Fuqing, former Party secretary of the village of Zhaojiawa in Shanxi's Kelan county, left his post in July last year after completing a five-year mission to relieve poverty.

Now serving as an official at the county's people's congress, Chen is still concerned about residents' livelihoods even though they've already left this impoverished village at the heart of Lyuliang Mountains.

Thanks to a relocation program targeting poverty alleviation, former residents of Zhaojiawa now live in new homes in a settlement in Songjiagou village near the county seat of Kelan.

Chen was one of the officials that had arranged for the last six households in Zhaojiawa to move.

Zhaojiawa used to be a rundown village featuring a row of dilapidated adobe houses dotted along the slope of a loess mountain and infertile farmlands in the mountain valley.

Before 2017, many of the houses and farmlands had already been abandoned as their residents moved out of the village in search of better lives. Some of the villagers-21 people in six households to be exact-who had stayed behind were struggling with extreme poverty.

Cao Liuren was one of them. His bedroom, bereft of any furniture or ornaments except a brick bed with newspapers pasted on the walls and the ceiling, mirrors the stark condition of the family.

The Lyuliang Mountains region in Xinzhou city, due to its inhospitable loess land and steep ravines, used to be one of China's poorest places. And the village of Zhaojiawa was a typical case of such conditions.

"Because of the drought, crops could be grown for brief spells only and the yield was low. The villagers lived at the mercy of the weather," Chen said.

Chen and his colleagues made their final attempt for a poverty-alleviation relocation program in 2017.

He recalled that convincing the last residents in the village to move out was a painstaking endeavor at first.

"I was reluctant to move when officials came to persuade me in 2017," Cao said.

Cao's major sources of revenue back then came from herding a few sheep and goats on nearby hills, plus a meager yield of corn from his farmland.

He said officials did not force him to move. Instead, they gave him two options: he could move to a new home in Songjiagou and find a new job with the government's help, or he could stay in the village with his sheep and goats.

His main concern with moving was whether he and his wife could find new jobs to support his family.

In his visits to the Guanghuiyuan community, the new settlement in Songjiagou, residents there told him a number of enterprises had been established in the neighborhood to help with poverty alleviation. Jobs were easily available with recommendations from the government.

Convinced, Cao and his wife made the decision to move. They now live in an apartment with access to running water, gas and central heating.

And like Cao, the other five households have also since moved to the new settlement.

After their relocation, Party chief Chen was still with them. He said he had to make sure the residents could find jobs and adapt to their new lives.

He said he even devoted his time and energy to teaching them how to use electrical appliances, and how to pay bills for electricity, gas and water. "These were all new experiences to the residents," Chen said.

Cao now works in a nearby factory, with a monthly pay of 2,800 yuan ($415). "That is a big increase in revenue, as I could only earn 4,000-5,000 yuan a year when I was in Zhaojiawa," he said.

The new residents in Songjiagou have all seen substantial improvements in their quality of life. They either work in nearby factories and other entities, or do farming work in vegetable greenhouses near their homes.

Kelan county announced last year that absolute poverty had been eliminated. Local statistics show that the per capita income of formerly listed poor residents reached 14,216 yuan in 2021, an increase of 9 percent from 2020.

Wang Pei contributed to this story.