Wuhe: The fishermen of China's North-South divide
Updated 17:34, 07-Mar-2022
In the Field

Editor's note: After eradicating absolute poverty in 2020, China is on the path of realizing rural revitalization. In the video series "From the Soil," CGTN invites development experts to China's rural regions to investigate the methods used to head toward rural revitalization. In the third episode, Michael Dunford, Emeritus Professor of University of Sussex and a visiting professor of Chinese Academy of Sciences, goes to Wuhe, a county in east China's Anhui Province. The views expressed in the video are his own and not necessarily those of CGTN.

The modernization of China involves the transformation of a traditional agricultural country into one that is predominantly urban. Today, however, nearly 500 million of China's 1.4 billion people still live in rural areas. Of them, 270 million are engaged in agriculture. The revitalization of the countryside and high-quality sustainable development of China's rich rural resources are onerous and difficult tasks.

The Tuohu Lake is in northeast of Anhui Province. Water resources play a central role in the lives of the people who live here, and in a way which one can mobilize aquatic resources in order to contribute to common prosperity.

In the past, fishermen raised fish and crabs in artificial enclosures. To earn more income, households used assorted bait pesticides and chemicals. The water was badly contaminated. The crabs were thin, and prices were low.

In recent decades, the lake has been transformed into a wetland park. More than 400 households, who used to live on boats around the lake, were resettled onshore. Today, the fish, shrimp and crabs live in their natural environment, and are wild-caught.

Jia Wanhui is 48 years old. His family has been fishing here for generations. He is now the guardian and captain of the lake.“In addition to the insurance and housing fund, now my salary is 8,000 yuan a month. The fishermen here used to earn 30,000 yuan a year, but now it is 60,000 yuan.The cooperative hires dozens of fishermen and gives them a bonus by catching fish, shrimp and crabs," said Jia.

Bream, carp, crab, shrimp and ducks are gifts from Tuohu Lake. Of the one million tons per year of aquatic output, crab is the most famous. Using the lake, local farmers raise rice and crab in the single field.

This type of aquaculture is environmentally-friendly, and has existed in China for thousands of years. The rice provides shelter and nutrients for crabs, while the crab help the rice grow. Each year, this 800-acre-plus rice/crab breeding centre produces 100,000 kilograms of crab,250,000 kilograms of crayfish and 2 million kilograms of organic rice.

Huang Yuezong is the deputy general manager of an agriculture company. "To grow shrimp, crab and rice in the same field, we don't need pesticides or fertilizers. And the quality of this rice is very healthy and organic, and it is highly welcomed among local consumers. As soon as the rice is harvested, they will swarm to buy it up. Villagers rent their land to us and then work with us. Their income has increased several times. So, our county is getting richer. First, make a product with good quality, and then register the brand. With good quality, a good brand name and good promotion, the industry in this area will become bigger and stronger," said Huang.

An internet of things monitoring system and a cold supply chain have been installed, creating additional jobs for villagers. Moreover, online shopping makes it possible for customers to cross the length and breadth of China to enjoy these famous crabs at relatively low prices.

Life along the Huaihe River is not always easy. Since ancient times, the Huaihe River would flood every three to four years. Since the founding of New China, 900 billion yuan has been spent over 70 years to build and enhance levees, culverts and reservoirs. With rapid economic growth came industrial discharges, agricultural run-off and household waste.

Since the mid-1990s, the focus has shifted to control water contamination. Here, the quality of the river water is ranked Grade III or above and can serve as the main water source for the villagers. Over the years, centralized water supply, sanitation and rural sewage treatment have been increased. As of February 2021, around 29 percent of China's Huaihe River Basin water was categorized as Grade II and around 44 percent reached Grade III. As water quality improved, farmers returned to traditional ways of life. Rinsing clothing in the river is one aspect of them.

Traditionally, rural residents relied on rivers, streams, lakes, ponds, rain and wells for their water. Their changing relationships with water are reflected in local cultural traditions, music, stories, customs, and ways of life. Water is central to the lives of the people of Wuhe County. It is also central to their culture and performance art, depicting the variety of ways in which they engage with water.

In Chinese culture, water symbolizes wealth, a promise of success and happiness, and an attitude towards life. The relationships between people and water, are symbiotic, and affect many economic, ecological, cultural and spiritual aspects of life. But with these relationships come rights and responsibilities, which must be honored and respected if our world – and our people – are to survive and prosper.

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