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House reform transforms lives in China's revolutionary heartland

2015-02-16 16:56 Xinhua Web Editor: Gu Liping

In her dark, dank hovel in Ganzhou City, east China's Jiangxi Province, Zhong Nianfa (a pseudonym) uses a washing machine given by her son to store sweet potatoes and carrots rather than dirty laundry.

The ramshackle mud house the 78-year-old farmer calls home barely has enough electricity to power modern appliances such as a washing machine or fridge.

She is one of scores of Chinese farmers still living in old mud houses built decades ago in Ganzhou, home to the early revolutionary activities of the Communist Party of China, where wartime damage, unfavorable geological conditions and a dearth of government preferential policies have literally made the area a miserable land of poverty.

Soon, however, the farmers will bid farewell to their dated huts and move into new well-conditioned modern buildings, as a central government program is rapidly implemented in the former revolutionary base.

The program, launched in mid-2012 by the State Council, China's Cabinet, aims to improve the livelihood of local villagers by providing safe drinking water, transform mud shacks, upgrade rural electricity grids and boost economic development.

Since its debut, the program has helped 2.63 million farmers relocate into new modern houses, according to official statistics. The remaining are expected to move into new buildings by the end of 2015.


Life in the mud homes is not much fun.

Before the government initiative, about 695,000 households in Ganzhou, or three million people, were struggling under the roof of small, dilapidated mud houses.

With several people sharing one house, space is a commodity and family members are often forced to live in very small rooms, with the rest of the area used to store the family's possessions.

These houses are typically tucked away in the region's lush, boundless mountains, where Jiangxi's constant rainfall wages a battle with the mud structures.

Hua Chongqi, who used to live in such a house, explained to Xinhua the struggles involved.

"When it rained, the roof leaked and we had to put out washbasins to catch the drips," Hua said.

Being made of mud, the houses were very susceptible to water damage and, even when it wasn't raining, were extremely damp, he said.

"I have developed arthritis after living in the old house for years," Hua said. .

His wife, Liu Daoxiu, said she was constantly scared the weather would destroy their home on particularly rainy or windy days .

Ganzhou is an inland city with a complex landscape. It was important in early revolutionary activities due to its remote mountain ranges, but the geographical advantage during wartime has now become a developmental stumbling block.

Just after reforms began in the late 1970s, the government tried to push regional development. But Ganzhou won no major projects or key investments due to its geography, resulting in slow, sometimes nonexistent, industrial growth.

More than 200,000 people in Ganzhou struggle under the national poverty line, or annual earnings under 2,300 yuan per capita (367.77 U.S. dollars).

But with targeted government support to bring new prospects for farmers in Ganzhou, the dark days of living in mud hovels may soon come to an end.

In June 2012, the State council said measures must be taken to help ramp up development levels in the former revolutionary site, emphasizing the old, dangerous mud shacks must be transformed.

By 2014, more than 11.1 billion yuan had been handed out by the Ganzhou government to help deal with the issue, with the family members of revolutionary martyrs, the handicapped and low-income families getting first financial aid in the program.

More money will be poured into the housing transformation project this year, according to the local government.

With the help of the program, He Qingdong, a villager who used to struggle in a mud house in Ganzhou's Dongfeng Village, has just moved into a brand-new three-storey building ahead of the Chinese lunar new year, which falls on Thursday.

"I am just happy that the bitter days are finally over," the 48-year-old said, "now I am looking forward to a big family gathering on the eve of the lunar New Year in the big new house."

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