How Xi Jinping's 'three visits' changed an impoverished town
Updated 12:41, 24-Feb-2021

"After 30 years of unremitting struggle by the people, Xiadang has become a place easily accessible by road with a brand new image, while local residents have a stronger sense of happiness and fulfillment, which vividly proves the old adage that weak birds take early flight, and constant dropping wears away a stone," Chinese President Xi Jinping wrote in a message to residents of Xiadang Township in August 2019, after hearing they had shaken off poverty.

Located deep in a mountainous area, Xiadang is the most remote township in Shouning County, Ningde Prefecture, east China's Fujian Province.

When Xi started his tenure as the Secretary of Communist Party of China (CPC) Ningde Prefectural Committee in 1988, Xiadang was a poverty-stricken area with few resources – no paved roads, no tap water, little money and no office buildings.

Xiadang Township, Shouning County, Ningde Prefecture, east China's Fujian Province in the 1980s. /China Media Group

Xiadang Township, Shouning County, Ningde Prefecture, east China's Fujian Province in the 1980s. /China Media Group

A narrow, thorny path winding through cliffs and rocks was all that connected Xiadang with the outside world, and the villagers had no choice but to climb mountains to get out and travel back in. Owing to the treacherous terrain, vendors hesitated in carrying glass bottles. Back then, most of the villagers hadn't tasted vinegar or soy sauce.

"Xiadang had a population of 7,500 at that time, and 70 percent of them lived in poverty," said Lian Deren, then deputy head of Shouning County government.

Xi has made three visits to Xiadang, each of which has had a far-reaching impact on the township, helping the residents break through the mountainous obstacles and thrive.

He paid his first visit on July 19, 1989, when he led over 30 government officials to the area. They traveled by car for nearly three hours and walked for over two hours before arriving in Xiadang in the scorching summer heat.

"When he arrived, I saw him wearing a white undershirt and a white, short-sleeved shirt. He took the shirt off and it was dripping with sweat," recalled Liu Minghua, then deputy secretary of Xiadang Township Party Committee.

After this visit, a decision was made to give Xiadang 720,000 yuan to construct paved roads, infrastructure for tap water and electricity, and office buildings.

The money "was the first funding Xi helped raise to lift Xiadang out of poverty, and it was seen as a milestone in the township's history of development," said Lian.

However, it was hit by a severe rainstorm a week later. On July 26, Xi walked in the rain for more than an hour to Xiapingfeng, the worst-hit village, to inspect the damage and visit the affected people.

"Each of the 62 households received 1,500 yuan to pull through. The village committee received another 150,000 yuan for reconstruction. We increased the height of the levees by more than four meters and rebuilt the school," said Yang Shangbiao from Xiapingfeng Village.

"I've been thinking about the people here all this time," said Xi, who went to the township for the third time as deputy Party secretary of the CPC Fujian provincial committee, seven years later.

This time, he led officials from the provincial departments of transportation, finance, civil affairs and poverty alleviation to Xiadang, where he inspected the reconstruction of Xiapingfeng Village as well as new infrastructure. Xi coordinated with relevant departments to allocate 1 million yuan to Xiadang for local construction and development.

"100,000 yuan was used to build a bridge for Xiapingfeng Village, 100,000 yuan to facilitate production, and the remaining 800,000 yuan to build a highway," said Liu, adding that a road was also built to connect Xiadang with Zhejiang Province. "After that, the issue with transportation was solved."

Xi's tenure in Ningde was relatively short, just one year and 11 months, yet he managed to visit 123 of its 124 townships.

Xiadang Township, Shouning County, Fujian Province, May 23, 2018. /CFP

Xiadang Township, Shouning County, Fujian Province, May 23, 2018. /CFP

By 2018, all 504 villagers from 177 households in Xiadang had been lifted out of poverty, and the average annual income of the residents reached 14,777 yuan in 2019, more than 70 times that in 1988, and well over the national poverty line of 2,300 yuan, thanks to the development of tourism and special agricultural products.

"When I was working in Ningde, Fujian Province, an ancient saying made a deep impression on me: 'A good leader should treat his people like a mother does her children, and a man does his younger brother. The sound of starving people agitates him. The sight of people suffering saddens him,'" Xi said during a keynote speech at the 2015 Global Poverty Reduction and Development Forum, and that's the mantra he has always practiced.

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