Young people spur rural development drive

By CHEN MEILING in Beijing and HUANG ZHILING in Chengdu | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2023-05-26 07:02
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Zhang Guifang, 24, Party secretary and director of Sanjia village, her hometown in Hebi, Henan province. [PHOTO/CHINA DAILY]

Key role played in improving agriculture and countryside affairs

Editor's note: As China accelerates the promotion of rural vitalization, more young people are contributing to the development of agriculture and rural affairs, while also benefiting from grassroots work. China Daily interviewed three people born after 1995, who shared their stories of "young power" driving rural development.

Zhang Guifang, 24, was surprised to be elected Party secretary and director of Sanjia village, her hometown in Hebi, Henan province, as she had no experience of doing such work.

However, she soon realized that the villagers wanted someone who could bring vitality to what many of them saw as a rather dull area.

Like many other Chinese villages, most young people left Sanjia to work in big cities, leaving seniors behind to farm and take care of the children. Over the past two years, Zhang, who is determined to bring change to the area, has proved that her ideas work.

When local officials persuaded her to stand for election, Zhang thought that being a village head would be a relaxing experience, as she could earn a good living without doing much work, but this has been far from the case.

The village, which occupies 4.42 square kilometers, has 400 permanent residents, 80 percent of whom are 60 or older.

It had no main industry, and Zhang saw broken trees, desolate roads and dilapidated homes. In the two months after she was elected the village Party secretary, she cried every day due to stress.

She thought about giving up, but one day, Zhang heard her father talking about her to a friend on the phone.

"He was so proud of me. I had never seen my father react like this before, as he always seemed taciturn and serious. This rekindled my faith that I should bring hope to the village," she said.

When she was 10, Zhang left Sanjia to attend school, returning home during weekends, when she stayed mainly indoors. As a result, she did not know many locals.

"At first, I felt shy and uneasy about getting along with the villagers. I began learning to greet them on the street, and with help from the former village head and other colleagues more experienced than myself, I gradually became more familiar with the work," she said.

After gaining inspiration from social media, she came up with the idea of painting walls in Sanjia to create a "rainbow village" to develop tourism. She showed pictures to this effect at the villagers' representative conference, but some of them asked whether her idea was a waste of money. "However, they soon found themselves benefiting from the program," Zhang said.

After about a month of renovation work, the village was totally transformed. Its new look drew media reports, heralding the arrival of tourists and business opportunities.

Last year, the village cooperated with a company to plant pumpkins on 26.6 hectares of land, most of which used to be barren. This project produced 30 jobs for villagers, who received 180,000 yuan ($26,019) as a land transfer fee.

In July 2021, a huge rainstorm hit Henan, and the situation in Sanjia was particularly serious. Floodwaters came up to residents' knees, well water was polluted, and electricity cut off. Zhang and her colleagues helped collect relief materials worth 3.84 million yuan from the local government and a charity organization.

After these efforts, Zhang was accepted and recognized as a capable and responsible leader.

She has since helped roads and tap water pipelines to be built in Sanjia, and has opened the village's first library, projector room, basketball court and public toilet. She was surprised that the villagers were willing to play their part in such work.

The village is now working on a new millet-planting project, which is expected to produce more jobs.

Before taking the job as village Party chief, Zhang ran a bed-and-breakfast business in Tianjin. Ma Yousheng, a local Party member, said that in late 2020, the village authorities appealed for several people of Zhang's age to return for the election, but only Zhang did so.

He added that the authorities in Shilin town, which administers Sanjia, wanted young people to help bring changes to the village.

Ma, who is a friend of Zhang's father, said that when Zhang was a child, she had the enthusiasm "for doing things" and learning about agriculture at college.

Zhang, who graduated from Tianjin Agricultural University with a major in plant protection, said: "My father told me that what I could learn from being a village Party secretary could not be compared with any other job. I then realized that no matter where you are and what you do, there are opportunities for you to contribute to society."

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