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Cadres at your service: Chinese way to inspirit villagers out of poverty

Xinhua, February 27, 2024 Adjust font size:

This file photo taken with a drone on April 15, 2021 shows a view of Shibadong Village of Xiangxi Tujia and Miao Autonomous Prefecture, central China's Hunan Province. (Xinhua/Chen Sihan)

Long Xianlan from Shibadong, an ethnic Miao village nestled deep in the mountains of central China's Hunan Province, is among the country's millions of once-impoverished rural residents who have shaken off poverty.

Donned in a protective suit, veiled hat and gloves, Long meticulously opens a hive, removes the honeycomb, and gently scrapes off the wax with a sharp blade. As the mellow honey slowly streams out, countless bees crowd around him, but the skilled beekeeper won't be hurried. Unfazed, he continues the task at hand.

Today, the self-made businessman can rake in more than 300,000 yuan (about 42,200 U.S. dollars) a year. But success did not come easy for Long. He earned it the hard way.

Ten years ago, he was a hard nut to crack for local cadres. His transformation may enlighten many around the globe in solving a common headache in poverty alleviation -- how to motivate marginalized rural populations to actively engage in efforts to improve their lot.

China's fight against poverty includes all people irrespective of their ethnicity, region and family background, targeting the poorest of the poor with the slogan "leave no one behind." Therefore, it falls on grassroots cadres to rack their wits to provide bespoke services for everyone in a bid to end their penury, even the most uncooperative.


Long Xianlan, who was 27 years old in 2014, was infamous in Shibadong for his indolence. Instead of climbing mountains to cut logs for heating, he would rather chop up his wooden bed for firewood and sleep on the freezing floor; whenever the village cadres called on the community to develop industry, he would grumble that he preferred to be given money.

In 2014, the local government hand-picked several cadres -- each either born in local rural areas or experienced in dealing with rural affairs -- to live and work in the village and assigned each a local household among the poorest.

Long Xiulin, a smooth talker with 13 years of grassroots village work experience, was dispatched from the local county's publicity department. He was paired with Long Xianlan.

Through his previous postings, the accomplished ethnic Miao cadre had secured a reputation for his ability to nurture close relationships with the public.

His assignment to Shibadong illustrates the "targeted" measures of China's poverty alleviation campaign, as cadres familiar with economics were often sent to villages struggling with weak industries. At the same time, communication specialists would head to communities battling with disputes.

During China's battle against absolute poverty, a total of 255,000 teams were dispatched to offer on-the-ground support and over 3 million people were sent to the countryside as special commissioners for poverty relief, official data shows.

As of 2021, Hunan Province alone dispatched 21,000 poverty alleviation work teams to its rural areas, with more than 600,000 cadres just like Long Xiulin paired with some 1.7 million local impoverished households.


Starting with casual chats, Long Xiulin began to build rapport with Long Xianlan who is 17 years his junior. He spoke at length with members of the village committee and called in on Long Xianlan's neighbours. Long Xiulin soon uncovered that Long Xianlan was abandoned by his mother after his father's death, and his only relative, his younger sister, also died.

It was clear that behind Long Xianlan's reputation as an alcoholic and brawler, was a young, vulnerable man who felt isolated due to a lack of love and care. Long Xiulin believed that the ties of kinship may help the young man find his way.

On New Year's Eve 2014, one of the most valued occasions for the Miao people, Long Xiulin brought Long Xianlan to his family home. They enjoyed a pleasant family dinner, and before leaving, Long Xiulin's mother gave the young man a red envelope containing 1,000 yuan, along with some hand-made cured meat, fish and sausage.

After so many years of solitude, Long Xianlan was so touched by the normal but unforgettable family dinner, he knelt on the ground, kowtowed his hosts and, with tears rolling down his face, shouted: "Mom!"

Similar practices to better bond with the less self-motivated villagers were also tailored according to their personality and family background. The team members paired with empty-nesters would frequently drop by to attend to the elderly; those self-contemptuous were encouraged to explore their own talents like carpentry and to develop hobbies into a lucrative career.

Across the board, the sincerity of the poverty alleviation cadres soon won the locals' trust.

"I used to feel scared because of loneliness and my helpless past and doubt that the work team would never understand the wrenching suffering of the poor," recalled Long Xianlan.

"However, they didn't look down on me. Instead, they invited me to dinner, took me to join the village's industrial development so that we can learn how to earn money ourselves. That was when I came to realize that there exists someone who really cares about me!" he said.

Long Xianlan and Long Xiulin are now brothers, and the warmth of home brought the former apathetic young man true dignity and new hope for life out of grinding poverty.


After several heart-to-hearts, Long Xiulin concluded that Long Xianlan's greatest concerns at that time were marriage and work.

In 2015, the work team organized a blind date activity, introducing single women in nearby villages to the bachelors in Shibadong. This was where Long Xianlan met his wife.

While the other desire of Long Xianlan chimed with another of China's targeted poverty alleviation priority approaches.

Poverty alleviation through economic development is considered the most direct and effective way to give poor areas the capacity for independent development and help people find employment locally, according to China's white paper on its poverty alleviation experience and contribution.

With this in mind, China has supported its underdeveloped rural areas in developing various industries geared to the local resources available, which, for Shibadong, are agriculture, animal husbandry, Miao embroidery, labor services and rural tourism.

Long Xiulin and his colleagues invited the village youngsters to attend an industrial development discussion, collecting their opinions on future careers so that they can provide each of them with bespoke support.

"Dozens of young people shared our own ideas. Some wanted to be tour guides, others wanted their own restaurants, and some asked to be trained to operate an excavator. For me, I would like to learn how to plant crops and breed livestock," recalled Long Xianlan.

Their voices were not only heard but taken seriously. The cadres shared free vocational skill training and job opportunities: Hotel chefs were invited to take on apprentices; technicians like welding workers offered on-site training, while Long Xianlan was among those who attended a two-month agricultural course.

According to Long Xiulin, Shibadong had all its new industrial projects under a market-oriented mechanism, with outside enterprises hiring local talent. Government funds also helped fledgling sectors gain a foothold in the market.

It was not easy for Long Xianlan to find his profitable niche. He tried selling fish and other jobs, all in vain. But no matter what, his "elder brother" Long Xiulin was always there, finding new job opportunities, helping him apply for a low-interest loan, and keeping him motivated.

"My brother has always been so good to me. I feel obligated to strive for a better life by earning money with my own hands!" said Long Xianlan.

Based on Long Xiulin's deep understanding of the local natural conditions and market demands, he persuaded the young man to join the honey business. Embraced by mountains, Shibadong boasts abundant honey sources and breeds high quality bees. The business did not require much in terms of start-up capital and suited the young man down to the ground.

Sure enough, Long Xianlan proved to be a fast learner, and started his own honey business a few months later. The work team also helped Long Xianlan promote his honey products via e-commerce platforms and media channels.

Thanks to the care and attention from his "elder brother," Long Xianlan scaled up his sweet honey business quickly, and found his place in the world.


To help more fellow villagers live a better-off life, in 2017, Long Xianlan took the initiative to set up a bee-keeping cooperative. It now has 562 members and manages more than 1,300 beehives, with an annual output value of nearly 2 million yuan.

Their cooperation is built upon a common business model in today's rural China: in order to integrate resources and form an industrial cluster, Long Xianlan rents local villagers' land as bee breeding bases; while Long provides necessary techniques, guides members in bee-keeping and manages the bases, the members can focus on better breeding the bees. After the honey is collected, Long's company will purchase the honey from the members and process and package the honey into bottles catering to the market demand for sale.

By the end of March 2021, there were more than 2.25 million farmers' cooperatives across China, engaging nearly half of its rural population, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs.

Official data released in 2019 shows that each farmers' cooperative returned an average of 1,402.5 yuan as dividends to each of its member, and over 3.85 million registered impoverished households nationwide joined such cooperatives.

To boost the product sales, in 2020, Shibadong set up an exhibition hall, where tourists can directly buy local agricultural products, cultural and creative products and handicrafts on display.

The village plans to add more stories to the exhibition, including highlights of its decade-long poverty alleviation efforts, so that the visitors attracted by the local picturesque natural scenery will get a lasting impression of the village's original ecology and its eco-friendly production bases and be willing to bring the products in the mountains back home.

With the local government's support, Shibadong also set up an exhibition counter in the waiting room of Jishoudong railway station, where urbanites often passed by during their high-speed railway trips, to exhibit Miao embroidery, agricultural products and local specialties.

Promotion activities are also held on a regular basis in the village or elsewhere to help sell the products. During such events, Miao ethnic characteristics are sure to draw everyone's attention, with beautiful women wearing glistening Miao accessories, singing in Miao language. The village also designed their own online shop via the WeChat mini program, which can be accessed as long as you have an account of WeChat, China's current leading instant chatting platform.

"I've married the right person in the right place! I firmly believe that as long as we are diligent and work hard, a happy life is sure to come. My husband is no longer a drunkard and has realized our dream with his own hands," said Wu Manjin, his wife.

"I used to work in a well-off coastal city where my boss owned a sedan and villa. Such a privileged life was once a distant dream for me, beyond imagination. That dream has come true now," Long Xianlan raved, adding that such a blessing should be credited to the persevering poverty alleviation work team.

However, due to fierce market competitions and China's booming e-commerce, Long Xianlan is a little bit concerned about the price war among honey producers. He has decided to introduce some local livestream anchors to help his cooperative win the hearts of customers; he himself is also posting short videos on social media and sharing interesting moments of his bee-keeping career to attract more buyers.

It doesn't bother him much though, as Long Xianlan remains confident of his high-quality honey products, his diligent fellow villagers and the reliable village cadres.

Across the country, countless cadres like Long Xiulin, continue to extend a helping hand and support those in need with the heavy lifting, exemplifying the enduring spirit of cooperation and progress that continues to transform the lives of its marginalized population. 

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