Rediscovering their roots

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


A tourist visits the Librairie Avant-Garde bookstore at Chenjiapu village. CHINA DAILY

Rural vitalization efforts in line with the push for common prosperity have brought similar achievements in nearby Chenjiapu village.

The scenic mountain village, which is 800 meters above sea level, is home to about 850 people in 336 households. Its history and traditions date to the late Yuan (1271-1368) and early Ming (1368-1644) dynasties.

Since 2016, rural development measures and investments have ranged from eco-tourism to sustainable agriculture and cultural enterprises that bank on the area's natural beauty and rich heritage. The village received more than 600,000 visitors in 2018, contributing to total turnover of more than 30 million yuan, according to local authorities.

The latest investments include about 20 million yuan for travel lodging, creative arts studios and sweet potato processing facilities.

Farming cooperatives that follow green practices, such as avoiding the use of pesticides and fertilizers, have helped maximize efficiency through the reclamation of high-altitude plots. This has nearly doubled the income from sweet potato production to about 40 yuan a kilogram-an increase of 5,000 yuan for every 0.067 hectare, according to local authorities.

Further measures to develop sustainable agriculture that tap local ecological advantages include a Chinese herbal medicine base covering more than 5 hectares and a rice planting zone of 4 hectares, with food processing facilities for popular bamboo shoots, white radish and highland white tea products.

Village head Bao Chaohuo said rebuilding efforts have retained the village's original allure, with many young residents returning from urban areas to develop the local culture. This has resulted in touches of modern aesthetics, lifestyles and practices in restaurants, retail stores and other tourist attractions.

"More than 160 people have returned to do their part for our growth," Bao said. "Our history dates back centuries, but the residents and visitors have brought renewed vigor toward the next stages of development."

Chenjiapu's top attractions include the Librairie Avant-Garde bookstore, which covers 300 square meters and has 30,000 books and related products. Employee Zhao Jin said the store, nestled at a corner of the village with breathtaking views of the mountains and valleys, receives up to 50,000 visitors during the travel peak, with revenue this year already hitting 1.5 million yuan.

"You can see how real rural vitalization occurs here, with the development of the economy and culture happening hand in hand," said Zhao, 28.

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Art center founder and Songyang resident Cheng Changying (right) explains a tree-root carving to visitors at the Songyang Yuanpu art center. CHINA DAILY

Playing active role

Cheng Changying, 51, another Songyang resident, has also successfully led rural development projects in the county, such as building partnerships with farmers to promote their agricultural products via e-commerce platforms.

After successful textile and other business ventures in cities, Cheng decided in 2016 to return to his home county to invest, and play an active role, in its rural development.

His major projects include the refurbishment of a heritage ancestral temple in the county seat, turning it into a hub of art and cultural exchange. The site, which is spread over more than 800 square meters, opened to the public in 2019. It hosts at least four large-scale exhibitions a year, with facilities for folk events, artists' residence and art education programs drawing up to 5,000 people a day, on top of boutique lodging and tea appreciation sessions.

"I set up this space with the original intention of displaying tree-root carving collections. Its role later expanded to become multifunctional," Cheng said.

"Through these efforts, we can help extend the historical life of ancient architectural villages and houses for the whole community."

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