Foreigners witness country's victory against poverty

By CAO PENGYUAN in Lu'an, Anhui | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2021-01-13 07:26
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Albert Mhangami from Zimbabwe tries his hand at making sweet potato vermicelli in Jinzhai. CAO LI/XINHUA

Firsthand experience gained on mission to rural areas

After immersing himself in his studies for several years, Albert Mhangami, 27, a student from Zimbabwe at Tsinghua University in Beijing, last month finally had a chance to interact with the people he had been researching.

Mhangami, who is studying China's poverty alleviation efforts, visited Jinzhai county in Lu'an, a city in Anhui province. Just six years ago, some 130,000 impoverished people were living in this mountainous area.

Recalling his expectations before the trip, Mhangami said, "I anticipated seeing a lot of old people, few young people and not much technology."

However, a series of surprises were in store for him.

In the villages he visited, Mhangami met many young people working in a range of occupations. They included teachers, farmers, grocery store owners, doctors, civil servants and e-commerce entrepreneurs.

One of those who impressed him the most was Zhang Chuanfeng, a farmer who has become an internet celebrity.

Zhang's family was once identified as an impoverished household. After receiving government subsidies and favorable policies such as rent-free accommodation, Zhang launched an e-commerce store in 2017, buying local specialties from impoverished families and selling them online to customers nationwide.

To promote local goods such as dried sweet potatoes and tea, Mhangami collaborated on two videos with Zhang on the Douyin sharing app.

"Zhang really has a massive online presence. I think he had around 50 million views for one of his videos," Mhangami said.

Last year, Zhang's store saw revenue of about 5 million yuan ($772,000) and made a profit of 500,000 yuan.

Mhangami was also highly impressed by the laughter he heard among farmers during his trip, which he said helped inspire him.

In his notebook he wrote that such laughter was not only shared by one particular village, but "by the hundreds of millions of people that have been pulled out of destitution".

On the five-day trip, which was organized by Xinhua News Agency, Mhangami was joined by Michael Chick, a Malaysian media worker, and by South African teacher Shaun Nish and his daughter Rebecca.

The foreigners traveled to the once-impoverished county to experience rural life and to witness the nation's poverty alleviation efforts.

At the end of last year, some 100 million impoverished rural residents living below the poverty line nationwide had shaken off penury. All 832 poor counties, including Jinzhai county, had been lifted out of poverty.

During their visit, the foreigners were surprised by the level of internet development and the booming digital economy in the rural area.

Shaun Nish said he had been amazed by the amount of local infrastructure, adding that he had not been expecting to see such a wide variety. He also thought that roads in the area would be less wide.

He and his daughter, who live in Hefei, capital of Anhui, were also delighted with the easy access to wireless internet in the villages.

Chick, who has traveled to many Southeast Asian countries for TV production work and is now turning his attention to China, said: "It is not just Wi-Fi-it's internet connectivity. That's pretty much how this village we visited is able to market its products outside.

"When you talk about infrastructure, it is always roads, water, sanitation and everything else, but people always forget to mention the internet. The internet infrastructure forms the basis for a whole lot of things. It changes your perspective. It opens up your markets."

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