Cong Xinshan, 76, moved to a two-bedroom apartment in town at the end of last year. His old house in the country has been demolished and crops are to be planted on the site in the spring.
"With a gas stove and flush toilet, we are very happy to have started our 'urban life'," said Cong, from Dancheng, a poor county in central China's Henan Province.
Cong and his wife are among nearly 20 households of left-behind elderly folks who were moved to new apartment buildings and are about to grow crops on the sites of their former houses.
With most people of working age off in the cities, the village, like many others across the country, is almost deserted. The few who remain are often housed in shabby old buildings.
"The whole place was overgrown. Weeds were everywhere and we could barely hear a cock crow," Cong recalled.
Turning deserted rural housing into farmland in Dancheng County is part of the "land reclamation coupon" system in Henan Province to make better use of land and secure the amount of arable land.
County governments which reclaim arable land from the sites of former houses are given coupons representing the amount of "construction" land converted to farmland. These coupons may then be sold to cities in the province, which can use the same amount of farmland within their jurisdiction for building.
Yang Yumin, head of Dancheng County land resources bureau, said the county organized the relocation with the agreement of the villagers and the reclaimed far