Rediscovering their roots

By ALEXIS HOOI, WANG LINYAN and MA ZHENHUAN in Lishui, Zhejiang | Updated : Nov 19, 2021 L M S


Ye Dabao, local entrepreneur CHINA DAILY

Showcasing history

In Songyang county, rural vitalization measures include major projects that have won accolades for protecting the environment and the traditions of its villages, at the same time providing novel ways for its residents to help build and retain their economic, social and cultural bonds. To that end, its tourism sector includes arts and crafts workshops like those employing Jiang Xiaomei, as well as accommodation, food and travel options that showcase the county's pristine setting and history.

The village of Pingtian, which is in northeast Songyang, 15 kilometers from the county seat, has over 300 residents and more than 120 households. Its structures date back 900 years to imperial times. The village's rural heritage and cultural attractions helped it become a major scenic spot in 2018, with tourism offerings now including at least five farmstay facilities and 145 beds.

Songyang native Ye Dabao was drawn to Pingtian seven years ago and decided to take a personal stake in its development. She left her city retail job to invest in the village hospitality sector. Her investments soon grew to cover cultural tourism, ethnic arts, foods, beverages and green agriculture products, leading to establishment of her Pingtian Cloud Village brand. Like many young entrepreneurs who return to their community to contribute to its growth, she taps the latest e-commerce trends and other digital and innovative business practices .

"I'm just returning to my roots in the countryside," said Ye, 33. "It's been very encouraging to be part of the progress here, with the support from the local authorities and residents."

Her brand, which started with 10 million yuan of investment in 2014, has been making healthy returns, reaping about 5 million yuan last year, she said.

Tsinghua University architecture professor Luo Deyin led a team of design luminaries to help turn Pingtian's village homes and structures into green attractions, with many of them managed and operated by Ye and other entrepreneurs.

The sustainable development project has been a step-by-step community effort, with crucial contributions and feedback from its urban and rural participants and stakeholders, Luo said.


An "interaction hub" in Pingtian village encourages residents and visitors to mingle. CHINA DAILY

An "interaction hub" has been identified in the central part of the village, where visitors and villagers can meet and communicate on a slope surrounded by homes, tourist lodgings and amenities. This epitomizes the organic development behind the project's success, said Luo, who is also deputy head of a Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development panel of experts on traditional villages.

"Songyang boasts a good natural environment, but its economy had lagged somewhat behind that of other areas. It was perhaps a change in mindset, to really leverage its advantages, that brought about all these changes," he said.

Chen Jianwu, Pingtian's Party secretary, said the urban and academic expertise used in refurbishing the village's previously dilapidated structures and in retaining its rural charm complements local government policy and support for vitalizing the countryside, drawing young talent back to fuel the local economy.

"Our villagers can get good dividends when businesses manage their property, on top of the related job opportunities; most of them have had at least a twofold increase in their incomes. The beauty of our village is retained, and our elderly are well taken care of," Chen said.

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