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Mountain town takes high road to success

Hou Liqiang and Zhou Lihua
Updated: Nov 23,2016 8:01 AM     China Daily

Tourists visit a newly built market in Moudao town, in the Enshi Tujia and Miao autonomous prefecture, Hubei province. As tourists pour into the town, many farmers have found their produce gaining in popularity.[Photo by Hou Liqiang/China Daily]

Profound changes have occurred in Moudao, once a deserted town, since the local government brought in real estate tourism developers as part of a poverty relief campaign that made full use of the town’s natural advantages: a high rate of green coverage and cool temperatures during summer.

Before the tourism push began in 2011, Moudao’s people could hardly harvest enough to eat from the limited farmland, which supported only potatoes and corn.

Back then, few people were to be seen on the 3.5-meter-wide road in the mountain-encompassed town, according to Qin Taixiang, a local writer who has chronicled the town’s development for many years.

Zhao Xueyu, 87, carries a basket of sweet potatoes to her home in Yumuzhai village, Moudao.[Photo by Hou Liqiang/China Daily]

“The average per capita cultivated land in my village, Yaocai, is less than 1 mu (0.07 hectare). People think their lives are good if they have enough potatoes to eat. Almost 80 percent of the adults left town temporarily, and the terrible conditions prompted more than 10 households to relocate to other areas permanently,” said the 56-year-old resident of the town, which is in the Enshi Tujia and Miao autonomous prefecture of Hubei province.

The large number of villagers who left resulted in Moudao being nicknamed “the biggest source of migrant workers in Hubei”, and Wang Houjun, the mayor, said half of the 70,000 residents were once employed in other cities and towns nationwide.

But much has changed.

“Now the road has been widened to 12 meters, it’s common to see traffic jams in summer when the tourists arrive. Many families have moved into new houses and bought cars,” said Qin, who has written several books and articles about his hometown.

A woman carries her baby to the newly built market in Moudao.[Photo by Hou Liqiang/China Daily]

Mayor Wang said developers have now invested 8 billion yuan ($1.2 billion) in the town, which has boosted living standards for many residents.

“Last year, the average per capita income jumped to 9,636 yuan from about 3,000 yuan in 2011. In the eight villages near the town’s downtown, including Yaocai, the average household savings of the 10,000 residents have reached 732,000 yuan as a result of flourishing real estate tourism,” he said.

Chongqing University of Technology has now invested in a 1 billion yuan project that includes a hotel, apartments and an international center for academic exchanges.

A residential community in Sumadang, Moudao.[Photo by Liu Jiao/China Daily]

Developers

According to Wang, the local government realized the potential of real estate tourism in 2011, when they saw people from the Wanzhou district of nearby Chongqing help to fund construction of houses for their relatives in the town. The houses also provided the outsiders with a place to escape the heat during Chongqing’s baking summers.

“From August to November 2011, we went to Wanzhou to encourage further investment and signed contracts with 35 companies to develop real estate tourism,” he said.

During summer, the temperature in Moudao rarely exceeds 20 C, almost half the average temperature in Wanzhou, about 70 kilometers away.

That’s because the town stands 1,400 meters above sea level, and about 70 percent of the area is covered by trees, which results in high levels of negative ions (thought to promote feelings of harmony and happiness), according to developers.

Buildings under construction at the Linhaiyuntian project, which has attracted buyers from 14 provinces and regions.[Photo by Hou Liqiang/China Daily]

Chongqing resident Ji Songling bought an apartment in Moudao in 2012. “Temperatures are low and we enjoy the picturesque scenery and fresh air. It’s cheap to buy an apartment here. We spend at least two months in Moudao during summer,” the 48-year-old said.

Luo Shirong, owner of the Xiadu hotel, who made a small fortune from the development of real estate in the town, said the local government’s preferential policies mean developers only have to pay for the land covered by buildings they construct. They also have free use of the mountains and forests as backdrops for their projects, factors that developers find very attractive.

According to Liang Feng, general manager of the Linhaiyuntian development, construction work has finished on 15 percent of the 5,500 apartments that will eventually cover more than 133 hectares, and more than half of them have been bought by people from 14 provinces and regions. The average price of an apartment in the project is 4,500 yuan per square meter, higher than in many county-level cities.

Liang said that in addition to the natural environment, Moudao is sparsely populated and its advantageous location, close to a number of cities with rail and air links, makes it perfect for the development of real estate tourism: “The advantages are unparalleled and the town is full of potential.”

Lang Wencai (right), 56, cleans sweet potatoes in the rain with his wife in Yumuzhai.[Photo by Hou Liqiang/China Daily]

Coming Back

The arrival of the developers and tourists has seen locals returning to Moudao, ridding the town of its reputation as a factory for migrant workers.

Yang Min was just 14 when she headed to Guangzhou, Guangdong province, where she worked more than 10 hours a day in a shoe factory, earning 1,000 yuan a month. After more than a decade away, she and her husband returned last year and opened a barbershop.

“East or West, home is best! My hometown is certainly better than anywhere else for me. No matter how long I stayed away, I had to come back to be with my parents and son,” Yang said, adding that the scale of the town’s development potential made her more determined to return.

Since the barbershop opened in May 2, the average business volume has reached 2,000 yuan a day, in contrast to a shop the couple owned in Wenzhou, Zhejiang province, where daily takings ranged from several hundred yuan to more than 1,000.

Xiong Chuntao was delighted and relieved when her youngest son returned to Moudao after 23 years.

“I was too lonely and troubled by mental anxiety because I missed my two sons. Once, I didn’t have any contact with them for more than two years. I didn’t eat regularly and felt low every day. My mental anxiety evaporated completely after my younger son returned last year,” said the 81-year-old.

Her son, now 63, can easily make 150 yuan a day through casual work.

With tourists crowding in, the senior has started a vegetable retail business: “My vegetables are very popular. People say they like them because we don’t use chemical fertilizers. Before, if we had more vegetables than we could eat, we used them to feed the pigs.”

Zhang Yuanjun’s wife has a heart condition and his father is paralyzed, so like Xiong, he sells vegetables in the town.

“No matter what you plant on your farmland now, it can be changed into money because the tourists like all sorts of vegetables,” said the 40-year-old, who plans to start a chicken farm next year to cash in on a rise in the price of locally raised birds.

Chicken meat has jumped to 15 yuan a kilogram, from less than 10 yuan in 2011, before the developers were brought in.

The local government has spent more than 1.7 million yuan to build a market where 300 of the more than 500 booths are set aside for farmers such as Xiong and Zhang, who are not charged for use of the facilities.

Wang, the mayor, said locals have opened more than 3,000 businesses, including hotels and restaurants, and more than 30,000 jobs have been created.

The improved employment opportunities have seen many former residents return to the town, and statistics supplied by the Moudao Primary School show that the proportion of left-behind children at the school has fallen to 17.4 percent from 47.5 percent in 2014.

Hope rises

While residents of the eight villages near Moudao’s downtown have become rich, hopes are rising that people in the town’s other 48 villages will also benefit from tourism.

Chen Jianping, the town’s Party secretary, said 3,558 families are still living below the annual poverty line-3,000 yuan per person-and the central government has set a goal of eradicating poverty and realizing moderate prosperity by 2020.

“The most common topic among my classmates is where your parents are and when they will return,” said 11-year-old Li Xinyu, who boards at the primary school because her home village is far from the downtown. Moudao’s development has raised her hopes that her parents will return soon.

“My parents said they work outside so that they can make enough money to build a big house. I don’t want a big house; I just want to have them back,” Li said, tearfully.

Tan Denghong was 9 when his mother left their poverty-stricken family and never returned.

Three years later, to escape the deprivation in his village Tan traveled to Guangdong province to look for work. The then 12-year-old was hired by a duck farmer on condition he accepted a monthly wage of just 300 yuan, half that of an adult worker.

In 2008, Tan returned to Moudao, and until the construction of a new home last year, he, his wife and two children lived in a simple house below an overhanging rock.

The couple now makes a living by raising goats, but they have to leave their daughter with the neighbors when business calls.

“Tourism is the only way to develop this place, but we still have few opportunities in my village (more than 20 km from the downtown). To be honest, I am expecting a lot from the development of local tourism,” the 38-year-old said.

Chen, the Party secretary, believes that eventually every resident will benefit from Moudao’s development. “Tourism will create many more opportunities and all the villagers may become wealthy together,” he said.

“We will upgrade and promote tourism in the town and make it work better to relieve poverty by involving more people in the industry. While encouraging companies to give jobs to people from poverty-stricken families, we will also improve the social security system to ensure that all the families will be free from poverty by 2019.”

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