Former cotton pickers embrace new life after mechanization in Xinjiang
By Huang Yue

Nurmangul Mehmet, 28, has been working at a China Mobile's offline store in a bazaar for about five years.

Born and raised in Shaya County, one of southern Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region's main cotton growing areas, Nurmangul, like most of her relatives and friends, used to pick cotton. Thanks to mechanization, she doesn't have to be tied to the farmland anymore.

"I know many of the shop owners in this bazaar. We all used to just pick cotton before," said Nurmangul. "Now we come here, where we've opened cake shops, restaurants, barber shops. And our incomes are higher than there were when we just grew cotton."

Nurmangul said she now earns about 6,000 yuan per month, roughly $900.

Her husband, Adil Rehman, who now owns a cooperative cotton farm, boasts an annual income about $7,600 dollars, with money coming in after each yearly harvest.

"Last year, we decided to renovate our house. In the past, when we were just farmers and had to do all the farm work by hand, we didn't have much money or time. Now, we've bought some new pieces of furniture, and we've also installed under-floor heating in the rooms," said Adil.

The couple said even years and years ago, long before machinery made cotton harvests easier, there was never any alleged "forced labor."

"I started picking cotton when I was 18. I could pick over 100 kilograms of cotton and I was the best among all my friends and relatives. We were all willing to pick cotton because it was a means to make money. No one forced us," Nurmangul said.

Shaya County ranks first in cotton growing area in Aksu Prefecture, with 130,000 hectares of cotton fields.

Last year, total cotton output in the county hit over 280,000 tons, 92 percent of which was machine-harvested.

(Cover: Former cotton picker Nurmangul Mehmet [right] sits together with her husband Adil Rehman, talking about their new life after mechanization, Shaya County, Aksu Prefecture, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, April 2, 2021. /CGTN)

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