Premier Li Keqiang paid a visit to Banzigou, an impoverished village in Guyuan, Ningxia Hui autonomous region, on Feb 1, and promised more efforts to resettle the poverty-stricken villagers.[Photo/China News Service]
Premier meets with rural families, offers encouragement
Visiting people and households living in poverty has been an annual routine for Premier Li Keqiang before the Chinese Lunar New Year for the past two years, bringing them greetings as well as learning more about their living conditions.
This year, Premier Li’s visit to families in poverty took him to a village in Guyuan, in the southern part of the Ningxia Hui autonomous region, where he arrived on Feb 1.
This is Premier Li’s fourth visit to Ningxia in the past six years. The previous three times, beginning in 2010 when he was the country’s vice-premier, mostly centered on deepening the region’s western development strategy as well as boosting local economies.
His visit to Ningxia on Feb 1 focused on lifting poverty.
Banzigou village in southern Ningxia has more than 1,300 people, all of them of the Hui ethnic group. Among them, 523 have been living below the poverty line of an annual income of 2,300 yuan ($350).
On the afternoon of Feb 1, 15-year-old Wang Yansi was helping his elder sister with cooking when Premier Li and his entourage from Beijing stepped into their room. The middle-school student said he was “so nervous and surprised that he almost held his breath”.
The village of Xiji county, more than an hour drive from Guyuan, faces extremely severe drought conditions as well as dilapidated roads. The county was once defined by the United Nations as one of the places with “the worst living conditions”.
Wang’s house is on a mountain, so it can only be reached by climbing. The house has no lights, no chairs, no indoor toilet and no tap water. Only a mobile phone connects the family of five with the outside world. The family needs to walk 5 kilometers to get water.
The Premier was touched by the dilapidated scene. He turned to the Wang Jinbao, a 50-year-old farmer, to learn about the family’s annual income.
The family, which has an annual income of about 4,500 yuan, plants potatoes and corn for food. After learning that for years the family has needed to walk far to get water, using five big plastic barrels, Premier Li encouraged the father by saying that the village will soon be moving to an area with better natural conditions.
The tidy stack of school exercise books on the bed, which is where the girls study as well as sleep, quickly attracted the Premier’s attention. Premier Li carefully turned the pages of the children’s work. He then turned to the father.
“Your kids work very hard on their studies,” he said. “It is important to support the children at school, as they are the hope for the family.”
He then handed out a New Year gifts of “red envelopes”, encouraging the children to study even harder in the new year.
Eliminating poverty in rural areas is seen as a difficult challenge in building a “moderately prosperous society” as set out by China in its 13th Five Year Plan period (2016-2020).
By the end of 2014, China had 70.2 million people in rural areas below the poverty line.
Li Shi, a professor at the Business School of Beijing Normal University, said a lack of water is an important cause of poverty for regions in Northwest China.
It is vital to guarantee safe drinking water, he said, adding that a lack of water restricts agricultural development.
The efforts to lift Guyuan and other regions in Ningxia and Gansu province out of poverty started in the 1980s, the professor said.
Such efforts have already begun in the Guyuan area, and the Zhongzhuang Reservoir in Guyuan was the first stop of Premier Li’s visit on Feb 1. The reservoir will help provide drinking water to 1.1 million people.