Impoverished. Isolated. Now they have a life
Targeted approach to eradicate extreme hardship reaps rich rewards
The snowcapped Gaoligong mountain range kept the Dulong valley and its inhabitants - the Dulong people - isolated from the outside world for years.
For the better part of the 20th century, thousands of ethnic Dulong led a slash-and-burn lifestyle on the eastern rim of the Himalayas.
The economic boom elsewhere in China had only trickled into Dulongjiang town in Yunnan province, due to shortages of physical or internet connections.
Snowfalls could block the makeshift mountain pass for months, cutting off the only traffic route to the county seat, which some 7,000 Dulong people rely on for medical services, shopping and schooling.
Traveling in the valley often involved using pulley bridges for cross-river trips and ladders attached to cliff faces to reach hamlets at higher altitudes.
Ten years ago, electricity was a luxury, along with television and other forms of entertainment.
But all this has changed for the once-impoverished community, thanks to the central government's renewed push in 2012 to curb extreme poverty in the country's remotest regions.
Five years ago, 780 million yuan ($109 million at today's rates) was pumped into a project aimed at upgrading the route that linked the community with the county seat. Tunnels were built, slashing traveling time by seven hours and ensuring people could get through even in harsh weather.
Hundreds of millions of yuan was also used to build bridges, improve roads, set up a 4G cellular data service, train farmers to grow caoguo, a ginger-like plant, and relocate them from ramshackle thatched homes to new brick-built properties.
Mu Weiqing, Party chief of Bapo, an isolated hamlet, said, "Our caoguo sells well because it's grown in the natural environment." He added that there is a dire need for young people to help farmers increase sales online and through the numerous logistics services that have reached the valley.
A Dulong community in the Gaoligong mountains on the border of Yunnan province and the Tibet autonomous region. Hu Chao / Xinhua
Local government figures show Dulongjiang village's output value last year grew by 38 percent year-on-year, with per capita annual income reaching more than 6,000 yuan. Ten years ago, such income was only 900 yuan, far short of the national poverty line - 2,300 yuan a year, set in 2010 and adjusted for purchasing power parity.
The village is just one of many that have been lifted out of extreme poverty since 2012, when the central government stepped up alleviation efforts through targeted measures.
Under the renewed fight for a poverty-free society before 2021, the centenary of the Chinese Communist Party, officials are forbidden from merely handing out relief funds without finding ways of attaining a sustainable income.
Instead, local authorities have been asked to carry out a thorough assessment of their resources, environmental conditions and culture, and draw up tailored relief plans that stress both speed and efficiency.
The plans vary from village to village in some of the remotest areas with a range of ethnic groups, such as the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region and several prefectures in Qinghai, Sichuan, Yunnan and Gansu provinces.
Dai Qie, 77, left, visits Li Wenshi, 73, at the newly built home of Li's family in Dizhengdang village, Dulongjiang town, Yunnan province. Yin Gang / Xinhua
The campaign is evidence of the central government's ability to mobilize.
Businesses, nonprofits, research institutes and banks have all contributed to the efforts through their individual strengths, such as handing out low-interest loans and promoting crops that can survive extreme weather and soil conditions.
The achievements have caught global attention. China's impoverished population, which stood at nearly 100 million in 2012, had been reduced by more than 80 percent by the end of last year, according to the State Council Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development, the top poverty relief agency. The number continues to fall.
Poverty incidence nationwide fell from 10.2 percent to 1.7 percent during the seven-year period, making China a pioneer in reaching the Millennium Development Goals by 2015, which were set by the UN at the turn of the century.
But the clock is ticking. Speaking at the annual gathering of legislators in Beijing in February, Wu Weihua, vice-chairman of the Standing Committee of the 13th National People's Congress, said poverty relief is among China's most urgent and important tasks, and local authorities should complete their duties in this regard on time.
"We'll adopt tough approaches and mobilize the entire nation," he said.
Editor: John Li