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Blind dates help struggling village prosper

By LI HONGYANG in Xiangxi, Hunan | China Daily | Updated: 2020-07-10 09:27
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Organizer in Hunan's Shibadong plays matchmaker to boost births, incomes

When Wu Manjin told her parents in 2015 that she wanted to marry a man in Shibadong village, in Xiangxi Tujia and Miao autonomous prefecture, Hunan province - about 10 kilometers from her village - she was refused because her mother who was raised there still has a deep memory about its poverty.

Due to the mountainous landform, each villager in Shibadong has an average of just 500 square meters of arable land, only enough to feed themselves. In 2013, the per capita income was just 1,668 yuan ($239) per year, the local government said.

Long Xiulin, former leader of the poverty alleviation team in the village, said when he first arrived there in 2014, he realized that the main problem was the negative population growth.

He said that the first year he was there, 12 older adults died while just two babies were born. The majority of the young people went to cities seeking jobs and settled there, making it harder for the villagers to increase their income as a whole.

"Left behind in the village were the elderly, children and single men. No women would like to marry here. So while helping them develop the farming industry, I began to organize blind dates for the single men, not only to boost local birthrates but also to push these men to pull themselves together and start to think more about earning money to feed their small families," Long said.

It is how Wu, then 35, met Long Xianlan, a then 29-year-old villager, during a blind date in 2015 in Shibadong.

Wu said that she signed up for the blind date just for fun without telling her parents. About 30 men and 10 women took part in the blind date and "the competition was fierce".

"While other men sang, played instruments and ate spicy food, Long Xianlan did a lot of push-ups to show his strength. I fell in love with him at first sight and decided to date him," Wu said.

However, Wu's family members were all against the relationship because after Long Xianlan's father died from disease years ago, his mother remarried, leaving him alone in a worn, wooden house. He drank excessively and didn't have a stable income.

"I didn't care about that. No matter who he is, I will be with him and won't give up," Wu said.

In 2015, Long Xiulin, the team leader, secured a 50,000 yuan loan for Long Xianlan to maintain beehives.

In 2016, Wu quit her job in a supermarket and married Long. After receiving training from the poverty alleviation team, Long Xianlan gradually increased the number of hives to about 300 this year and developed his business into a cooperative one. Last year, he earned about 400,000 yuan and in March, they had a baby girl.

Shi Chengyun, 46, is another lucky villager who not only met his fiancee in the village but has also shaken off poverty.

He returned to the village from Taizhou, Zhejiang province, where he worked as carpenter, to take care of his 86-year-old mother in 2011 after his father died.

"For her entire life, my illiterate mother has never been out of the village. She has seen a train but has never taken one. Like a tree, she is not able to leave this ground," Shi said.

However, living in a poor village has somehow reduced opportunities for Shi to meet women. As the economy of the village started to boom and more people began to visit, Shi met his fiancee, a then 35-year-old woman from neighboring Banli village in 2018.

They plan to get married this year.

"I envied those couples in the village before, and now I am lucky to have my own soul mate. She supports me spiritually at work and I don't feel tired or gloomy any more," Shi said.

Now he can earn more than 10,000 yuan yearly doing carpentry in the village.

Since 2015, Long Xiulin has seen about 30 single men in Shibadong marry women from other villages.

"After getting married, they have had more sense of responsibility and have been working harder to increase their income," Long said.

"If no workers want to settle in the village, it won't prosper even though it has been equipped with facilities and technical resources," he said.

According to the local government, in 2016, all 533 people listed as impoverished were lifted out of poverty, and last year, the per capita income of the village was 14,668 yuan.

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