Villagers cultivate tourism as crop yields wane
A volunteer in Potang village, Zhejiang province, performs diancha, a tea-making technique resembling latte art. [PHOTO BY ZHANG WEI/CHINA DAILY]
The famed Longjing — or Dragon Well — tea has been grown for decades in Potang village, a misty rural community half an hour's drive from downtown Shaoxing, Zhejiang province.
The tea was mostly introduced in the 1970s as part of a sweeping campaign to expand the growth of cash crops and promote growth.
However, due to the aging of plants, the output has plummeted in recent years.
As a result, its 10-hectare tea plantation lost its competitive edge in Zhejiang, a tea production heartland.
The village also lost much of its younger workforce to nearby cities for lack of opportunities after a local dying mill was phased out as a polluting business.
"The village was messy, run down and nearly hollowed out just a few years ago," said Luo Guohai, a local Party official who oversees the village.
But it has risen from ashes.
"The efforts to remake the village since 2020 have turned it into an internet sensation," Luo said.
A resident takes a walk with a baby in Potang village. [PHOTO BY ZHANG WEI/CHINA DAILY]
It now serves as an idyllic escape for city dwellers, an outdoor classroom for grade school students and a camping site for adventure-seeking hikers. Its less fertile, but still scenic tea plantations, have become a major tourist draw.
On a slope facing a winding driveway that leads to Potang, village authorities have erected giant Chinese characters that advertise it as the "quietest" tea plantation, just a short trip from the hustle and bustle of big cities.
Recently, electric sightseeing cars lined up at the village's entrance, ready to carry an influx of visitors to the foot of the cloud-enveloped, terraced tea fields and bamboo woods.
A gargantuan, teapot-shaped installation loomed amid the lush tea bushes in the distance, creating what looks like a floating teapot. Water rushed from its spout, wowing the visitors who left their vehicles behind and set out on a hiking path that vanishes into the tea bushes.
Mist rose from three teacup-shaped installations beneath, resembling steam.
"The sight was filmed and uploaded online and has met with enormous fanfare," Luo said as he led a group of visitors to get a closer look at the teapot fountain, now a landmark for visitors to pose for photos to be posted on social media.
As part of the village's makeover, the workshops left behind by phased-out, dying mills, have been repurposed as conference centers and restaurants. Luo said the facilities can rake in up to 400,000 yuan ($55,900) in revenue annually.
The space also served on a recent workday as a showcase where volunteers in hanfu, the historical clothing of the ethnic Han group, demonstrated tea-drinking rituals to tourists.
The once-deserted farmhouses now house a range of amenities, from cafes and restaurants to hotels.
"I have been thinking about what draws people to our village, and I believe that the rural landscape is a major attraction to people seeking the feel of engaging in activities relating to agriculture and rural affairs," he said.
The slow-paced lifestyle, coupled with the improved rural infrastructure, is drawing many former residents back.
Qiu Hailiang, a corporate executive who works in Shaoxing, is one of them. The 55-year-old was wrapping pork dumplings in front of the two-story ancestral home of his wife, which he said has a history of about 300 years.
Yearning for a break from the fast-paced life they had been leading since graduating from college, the couple decided after their son got into college to return to the village on weekends.
The village is a far cry from what it used to be. "When I married my wife, I wanted to drive my car into the village, but in those days it couldn't be done," he said.