Mining villages in Zhejiang encapsulate vision of 'Beautiful China'

By Liu Caiyu in Anji | Global Times | Updated: Sep 22, 2022

Over the past decade, the color green has become a more prominent and brighter background for Beautiful China, in which humanity and nature coexist in harmony and contribute more to jointly constructing a clean and beautiful world.

The decade since the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China has been one in which ecological civilization and environmental protection have seen the fastest progress and the most remarkable results. That's a world-renowned ecological miracle and a green development miracle, Minister of the Ministry of Ecology and Environment Huang Runqiu told a press conference themed "Building a Beautiful China" on Thursday. 

China has created a civilized development path featuring sound production development, affluent living and good ecology. Blue skies and white clouds are frequently seen, clear waters and lush mountains are everywhere, and Chinese people generally possess a rising sense of happiness, gain and security, Huang noted.

During a few days' stay in Anji, East China's Zhejiang Province, known as "China's first eco-county," Global Times reporters spoke with numerous locals, visitors and officials, and were astonished by the county's stunning environment and how the civilized green development path has been shaping their daily lives in the past 10 years.

Personal dreams come true

Walking in Yucun village, previously the largest limestone mining area in Anji, a white-painted house stands out from the other buildings. This is a five-story house where former miner Ge Yuande and his family live, run their guesthouse and sell stone sculptures. 

"I collected all kinds of strange stones when I was a miner… and I learned to carve and draw in recent years. This is the stone that I collected on a mountain when I was still working at the mine," the 61-year old said while introducing some of his favorite works to the Global Times reporters, smiling from ear to ear like a child finally getting a toy he has long yearned for.

"I couldn't dare to dream of having today's lifestyle - every day waking up breathing fresh air, immersing myself in carving stones that I collected by myself on the mountains, and enjoying leisure time with my family for the rest of my day…you see, my daily dream before was only to be able to return home alive from the deep, dark mines."

The air in the village then was so black with coal dust, even the green bamboo leaves on the mountains were shrouded in it. Everyone who came out of the mines looked exactly the same - all covered in black. This situation lasted for decades, but things started changing in 2002 when Yucun village began shutting down the mines.

The momentum of development toward green, environmental-friendly industries ran high in Yucun and neighboring villages in Anji county, after Xi Jinping, then Party Chief of Zhejiang, put forward the "two mountains" concept - clear waters and lush mountains are invaluable assets comparable to the gold and silver of legend - in August 2005 during his visit to the county.  

Nowadays, former miners like Ge have sought out ways to make a living that they enjoy, with many becoming businessmen, running their own hostels, shops and tourism companies. 

Pan Chunlin, also a former miner, is now a local celebrity who is frequently visited by officials and media from across the country for being the first person who chose to run a hostel after local mines were shut down. "My annual income is now hundreds of times higher than before. Today, I can earn in a day what I used to make in one year," Pan said joyfully. 

Indeed, the Global Times learnt from Yucun village head Yu Xiaoping that the average annual income of the villagers is pretty high, and reached more than 61,000 yuan ($8,948) last year.

Following the development approach referred to as the "two mountains" concept, in the past decade, Anji has modeled itself into a place known for its beautiful ecology and prosperous green industries, which have completely changed the villagers' lives, Jin Peihua, head of the "Two Mountains" Concept Research Institute affiliated with Huzhou University, concluded. 

Right cycle for green devt

Jin continued by saying that the "two mountains" concept well illustrates how to address the relationships between "environment and development," "living and development," and "ecology and wealth." A correct green transformation of economic and social development involves creating a virtuous circle, allowing villagers to obtain long-term, substantial and guaranteed sources of income, Jin said.

Lujia, a village that neighbors Yucun in Anji county, has an even clearer answer. Utilizing the beautiful ecology of Anji, the village has explored a development mode based on "themed family farms," such as traditional Chinese medicine, bamboo, fishing and water rafting. 

This mode of business is generating at least three sources of incomes for some 2,000 locals in the village. Villagers firstly rent out their land to family farm investors for rental, and the local government takes the lead in operating those farms together with investors as a collective enterprise. If it generates income, villagers obtain annual dividends and they also can work on the farms for a salary, Qiu Liqin, the village director, told the Global Times.

In 2014, the collective assets of the village were quantified at only 375 yuan per stake, but in 2020, each share rose to 32,000 yuan.

Driven by the "two mountains" concept and with this right development cycle, Lujia has developed into a village resembling a large garden where care centers and amusement facilities are scattered between villagers' villas.

On a scorching summer day, visitors constantly pour into Lujia. Awestruck by the spectacular scenery, they cannot wait to take out their phones to take stunning photos, with no filters needed. Getting on a train that takes them through the entire village, visitors can hang around and spend time with their families and friends here all day long. 

Thanks to the achievements driven by ecology, every year Anji receives a swarm of visitors who come from across the nation to get a glimpse of the lucid waters and lush mountains, and study how the green model of development has brought affluence to locals. What they like to hear about most is how Lujia has evolved from being a poor and backward area into a modern village.

She pointed out that the key to success lies with having the right people. Without the strong leadership of the village committee of the CPC, they couldn't have made the right development cycle run steadily. 

"I don't have noble dreams. What I want is to see everything in the village get better one day after another." In 2016, days after Qiu underwent surgery for a malignant thyroid neoplasm, Qiu returned to her post as a member of the village committee. 

Ever since Lujia went on the path to prosperity, the local government has won total trust from villagers, Qiu told the Global Times. Now, when the local government seeks more land expropriation to further expand village development, villagers quickly agree.

The changes that have come about in Lujia and Yucun are the epitome of how the "two mountains" concept has evolved into practice and flourished across Zhejiang Province and the entire country in the past decade, pushing forward a historic and overall change in the country's construction of ecological civilization, Jin noted.

The newest data released by the Ministry of Ecology and Environment on Thursday showed that the number of national-level ecological counties across the country has risen to 362, while 136 innovative bases for "lucid waters and lush mountains are invaluable assets" have been established.  

Guided by the concept, those cities and counties have explored their own development path by taking snow, ice, lakes, grassland or sea as the valuable "lucid waters and lush mountains," Jin said.  

Helping each other

"When we become rich, we hope that with our efforts, we can help more people," said Ding Junfang, chief of Anji county's Huangdu village, which has been dubbed the "No. 1 white tea village of China."

Green tea plantations have grown the wallets of local villagers. Residents' average income reached as high as 63,800 yuan in 2021 because of this thriving industry.

Despite difficulties such as lack of infrastructure in underdeveloped regions and unsuitable earth for tea plantation, Party members together with local officials managed to cultivate tea saplings successfully and sent the first batch to three national-level poverty counties - Qingchuan county in Sichuan Province, Yanhe county and Pu'an county in Guizhou Province in 2018.

From raising seedlings to selecting sites as planting bases, and then to planting, management, processing and marketing, Anji has given support to those regions throughout the entire process.

Currently, a total of 22.4 million tea saplings have found new homes in five counties in five other provinces. The green leaves helped more than 2,600 minority members in underdeveloped regions onto the path of common prosperity.

The COVID-19 pandemic has not stopped them from achieving their goal of helping more people out of poverty through tea plantation. Within the next three years, Anji plans to donate at least 30 million more tea saplings to poorer regions, Ding told the Global Times.

"With a thankful heart, we were able to become rich and developed under the guidance of the CPC and preferential policies given by the local government. We just hoped to show our gratitude by giving back to society," Song said.