President's visit set course for country's poverty fight

An aerial view of Xiadang village. Lin Shanchuan / Xinhua

30 years ago, Fujian township lacked paved roads, electricity, tap water

For decades, the mountainous township of Xiadang in Fujian province offered few opportunities for Wang Guangchao to make a decent living.

Tea plantations dotting the subtropical highlands provided the main source of income, but transporting farm produce along a rugged trail to the outside world posed a daunting challenge because of poor infrastructure.

For those living in the hillside villages in Shouning county, where Xiadang is located, it was hard to make ends meet.

Wang recalled the painstaking efforts involved in shouldering loads of tea leaves to sell, which meant visiting three different markets, only to find that prices often dropped without warning.

The villagers' dilemma was even more apparent when it came to raising pigs. Taking the larger animals for sale was virtually impossible, and every household tried to raise smaller ones.

"Life without roads was unforgiving. It was like being a frog at the bottom of a well, or a bird in a cage," Wang said.

In those days, Xiadang, nicknamed "the Siberia of Shouning", was the only township in Fujian that had no paved roads, tap water, electricity or office buildings.

But on July 19, 1989, President Xi Jinping, who was secretary of the Communist Party of China Ningde prefectural committee at the time, made his first trip to Xiadang. It took Xi, who is now general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, a three-hour journey by car and a two-hour walk in scorching summer heat along twisting mountain trails to reach the township.

During a meeting that day, Xi proposed prioritizing the building of a sealed road, a hydropower station and office building for the county government, despite the prefecture's tight budget.

The decision marked the start of a poverty reduction campaign spanning more than 30 years, during which the township's per capita income rose from less than 200 yuan in 1988 to over 13,000 yuan ($1,834 at today's rates) last year.

Xi made another two trips to the township, later that year and in 1996, when he was the deputy Party chief of the province.

Serving as Party chief of Ningde, which administers Shouning, from 1988 to 1990, Xi made poverty reduction a top priority during his tenure in the city. He worked in Fujian from 1985 to 2002.

He shares some of his thoughts in the book Up and Out of Poverty, which comprises 29 of Xi's speeches and articles from the city. It was published in July 1992.

"To fundamentally alter poverty and backwardness, the people there must engage in long-term, unremitting efforts with an entrepreneurial spirit of tenacity and dedication, like 'water droplets drilling through rock'," Xi wrote in one article.

In another, he said that focusing on agriculture in economically underdeveloped areas is a precondition to alleviating poverty, and this has fundamental significance for economic development in rural areas.

"We must eradicate the 'poverty' in our minds before we can eradicate it in the regions we govern, before we can help the people and the nation out of poverty and embark on the road to prosperity," Xi wrote.

Lin Hongzhang, deputy head of the municipal office for poverty reduction and development in Ningde, said Xi paved the way for the ensuing large-scale poverty alleviation efforts in the city.

"A crucial aspect of our experience was to make sustained efforts, just like 'water droplets drilling through rock'," he said. "Nobody else has seen the problem more thoroughly than him (Xi), and nobody proposed a better solution than him," he said.

Lin added that officials have been inspired by the blueprints drawn up by Xi in recent decades, which have been an important reason for the city's resounding success in reducing poverty.

Over the past 30 years, Ningde, which had a population of 2.9 million last year, has lifted over 774,900 people out of poverty. The number of those living below the poverty line in the city fell to 75 this year, and the poverty incidence rate was 0.01 percent, far below the national average of 1.7 percent.

Nationwide, the number of people living in poverty in rural areas fell from nearly 99 million by the end of 2012 to 16.6 million by the end of last year. A target has been set for all rural residents to be lifted out of poverty by next year.