Development stretches from 'mountains to sea'
Children learn to make wooden toys at the Yunhe Experimental Kindergarten in Lishui, Zhejiang province. LIN YONGHONG/CHINA DAILY
Geographically diverse Zhejiang province achieves balanced growth, common prosperity
Inside a greenhouse base in Tuanshi, a village in Longyou county in East China's Zhejiang province, 39-year-old Wang Weibo carefully examined the growing conditions of different varieties of cherry tomatoes. They would soon be ripe and ready for picking.
It was in early July, and the temperature in the greenhouse had already reached over 40 C. But for Wang, the heat seemed to have made him even more enthusiastic.
"The taste of our tomatoes is among the best in the industry," Wang said proudly.
The base's tomatoes are highly popular. They usually sell out soon after they're harvested.
According to the production base, the yield of Wang's tomatoes per hectare can reach 30,000 kilograms. Planted for two seasons each year, the tomatoes grown in the base, which covers an area of 2.87 hectares, can generate annual income of 600,000 yuan ($84,215) per hectare.
Half of that is profit, Wang said.
The production base has also created 20 jobs for local farmers, who can each earn roughly 3,000 yuan per month.
Moreover, the popularity of the base's cherry tomatoes has spurred the development of agriculture-based entertainment in Tuanshi village, as tourists throng there to pick tomatoes and enjoy the idyllic scenery.
Since 2021, the collective economy of the village has more than tripled, growing from less than 100,000 yuan to more than 300,000 yuan, and the per capita annual income of villagers has increased from 12,000 yuan to 17,000 yuan.
The tomato varieties grown in Tuanshi are not originally from the village, or even from Longyou county or Quzhou, the city in which the county is located. They are from Zhenhai district of the city of Ningbo, which is on Zhejiang's east coast.
The production base itself was built with an investment of 3.3 million yuan from the district in 2020.In addition, Zhenhai district has taught the villagers the necessary farming techniques and passed along management experiences and marketing practices.
Wang and his fellow villagers are the latest beneficiaries of Zhejiang's "mountain and sea coordination and collaboration project", an initiative designed and implemented in the early 2000s.
"Mountain" refers to the less-developed, mountainous areas mostly in southwestern Zhejiang and the islands of the city of Zhoushan, while "sea" denotes the province's more economically prosperous areas.
By pairing underdeveloped regions with developed ones based on their own competitive advantages and endowment of resources, the project seeks to achieve balanced and coordinated development among different parts of the whole province in such areas as economic development, education and healthcare.
In January 2013, Longyou county partnered with Zhenhai district under the framework of the project, which covers 26 counties and districts in the mountainous areas, including Longyou.
Since then, an industrial park with an area of 11.84 square kilometers has been established. It has attracted 64 projects in the past 10 years with a total agreed-upon investment of more than 39 billion yuan.
In the first half of 2022, the park's industrial output reached 3.487 billion yuan, so the park has quickly become an important pillar of the county's development.
Zhenhai has also been sharing its educational resources with Longyou. For example, starting in 2015, the best teachers from Zhenhai Middle School, one of the nation's top schools, have given lessons and lectures to students and teachers in Longyou Middle School every year, either in person or via the internet.
So far, a total of 54 primary and secondary schools and 22 kindergartens in Zhenhai and Longyou have agreed to carry out cooperation and exchanges in area including the improvement of teaching, the reform of curriculum and introduction of digital technologies.
With the help of the "mountain and sea" project, Wang, the tomato grower, also plants cucumbers, peppers and corn on his base.
"It doesn't have to be just tomatoes," Wang said. "We can grow different crops all year round. I hope to develop the base into a boutique fruit and vegetable garden."
According to the Zhejiang Provincial Bureau of Statistics, the GDP of Longyou county more than doubled between 2012 and 2021, jumping from 14.33 billion yuan to 28.80 billion yuan. The disposable income of urban and rural residents increased from 27,791 and 12,584 yuan to 56,738 and 30,045 yuan, respectively, during the same period.
With mountains and hills covering some 70 percent of the province's total area, Zhejiang's geographical conditions seem to have predetermined differentiated regional development.
For a long time, the 26 counties and districts in the mountainous areas have dragged behind Zhejiang's overall growth. Statistics show that they take up 44.5 percent of Zhejiang's total area, but their GDP accounted for only 9.65 percent of the province's total in 2020, and their per capita GDP was 61,363 yuan, 61.3 percent of the provincial average and 85.2 percent of the national average.
As a result, the development of these places has long been a top priority for governments at all levels in Zhejiang. In 2021, the "mountain and sea coordination and collaboration project" received a further boost when the province was designated as a demonstration zone for common prosperity, as China seeks to further narrow its wealth gap and improve people's quality of life after eradicating absolute poverty.
Since then, authorities in Zhejiang have taken a series of steps to upgrade the project and make it better meet the needs of high-quality development. One involves formulating customized and preferential policies for each of the 26 counties and districts in the mountainous areas, under which each place is encouraged to make the most of its existing conditions as well as its potential to find the most suitable path for future development.
For example, Chun'an county in Hangzhou, where Qiandao (or Thousand Island) Lake is located, will focus on the industry of bottled water and beverages, while Yunhe county in the city of Lishui will concentrate its efforts on producing wooden toys, which the county has already been exporting all over the globe.
A set of guidelines issued in July by provincial authorities to promote rural revitalization in these places calls for the implementation of 10 broad measures and various targeted submeasures. These include providing quality training to farmers to promote employment, sending more expert teams to these areas and developing at least one agricultural whole-industry chain worth a billion yuan in each of these counties and districts.
New progress has already been made.
In 2021, the per capita disposable income of urban residents in the 26 counties and districts in the mountainous areas was 53,710 yuan — up 9.8 percent year-on-year and 0.6 of a percentage point higher than the provincial average — while for rural residents it was 27,619 yuan — up 11.1 percent year-on-year and 0.7 percentage point higher than the provincial average.
In the first half of 2022, the GDP of these places reached 343.2 billion yuan. That was up 3.2 percent year-on-year and 0.7 percentage point higher than the provincial average, finally bucking the trend that had seen it continuously lower over the years.
During the same period, the growth rates of fixed asset investment, total sales of consumer goods, and disposable income of residents in these counties and districts were also better than the provincial average.
The "mountain and sea coordination and collaboration project" and the accompanying policies have become an integral part of Zhejiang's institutional arrangements for its pursuit of common prosperity, said Yu Jianxing, president of Zhejiang Gongshang University and a leading expert on public administration and governance.
"Over the past two decades, the implementation of the project has laid a solid foundation for a more balanced development in Zhejiang," Yu said. "More significantly, it will serve as a model for regional coordination in other provinces."
Meanwhile, across Zhejiang, the urbanization rate has grown over the past 10 years, from 63.2 percent to 72.7 percent, and the income disparity between urban and rural residents has decreased.