Two pairs of newlyweds have a Miao ethnic wedding in Shibadong village, Hunan province. Such celebrations have drawn tourists from all over China. (Photo/Xinhua)
Hauling garbage has become Shi Chengfu's hobby. The more he carries, the happier he is. For the past half-century, the shoulder pole was the 90-year-old Shi's primary tool for carrying heavy loads. These days, with an influx of tourists－and their trash－to his family's restaurant, he now uses the pole to transport rubbish bins to a nearby disposal site.
Shi's home village, Shibadong, Hunan province, is home to many ethnic Miao people, and its scarcity of arable land and water is typical of the area.
When he was in his 20s, Shi had to collect ash rock in the mountains and carry it to town to sell as fertilizer. At daybreak, he would carry two baskets of the ash using a shoulder pole, walk hours on the narrow road along a cliff's edge, and exchange the ash for a bag of rice. He usually didn't return home until after 7 pm. As soon as he finished eating, he would go back to the mine tunnels in the dark to dig more ash for the next day.
Since China's reform and opening-up began 40 years ago, the mining industry has developed, improving local infrastructure and living conditions. Shi eventually hung up his shoulder pole and became a mine worker until he retired.
But young people in the village, including Shi's son, migrated to work in cities, and Shi was left alone. To liven up his retirement, he grew corn and used his shoulder pole to carry it to town to earn pocket money.
Life was not difficult for Shi, but he was far from prosperous.
In 1994, the area was designated as a key "battlefield" in the fight to alleviate poverty in the province, which brought more outside investment and talent.
Lacking in resources but rich in intangibles like culture and landscape, the village began to increase support for sectors such as agriculture, Miao embroidery and tourism.
Shi's son also returned with a wife, and the couple opened the village's first hotel and restaurant in early 2015.
In 2017, 260,000 tourists visited Shibadong, generating revenue of more than 2 million yuan ($320,000) and pushing the village's per capita net income to over 10,000 yuan annually.
The family restaurant serves more than 30 tables every day on average, earning a gross annual income of about 300,000 to 400,000 yuan. As the number of customers increased, the single trash can at Shi's home began to overflow. Three bigger ones were soon added.
Shi has taken charge of emptying the trash cans－at least five times a day. He even purchased a new shoulder pole for his new responsibilities.
"Unlike carrying ash before, I'm happy to use my shoulder pole now, as life is so full of hope," he said.