Better houses, better lives for ethnic minority in China's Ningxia

2020-06-11 Xinhua Editor:Li Yan

In a factory in Miaomiaohu Village of northwest China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, Huang Jinhua deftly works the pedals of a sewing machine, stitching school uniforms and then ironing them.

It has been six years since Huang moved out of the mountains.

"I can make 2,000 yuan (about 283 U.S. dollars) a month, in addition to a bonus of 500 yuan," said Huang, 33. "The situation is so much better than in the past."

Huang, one of 2.5 million people of the Hui ethnic group in Ningxia, has come a long way. She left behind the mountains and with that an impoverished life.

Huang's former home lies in the mountain village of Yangzhuang in southern Ningxia, which forms part of Xihaigu, one of China's poorest areas.

Xihaigu is a largely mountainous region labeled the "most unfit place for human settlement" by the United Nations in the 1970s due to drought and a fragile ecological environment. Many of Ningxia's Hui people live in Xihaigu.

The grinding poverty in Xihaigu was shocking. In 1982, the area was hit by a heavy drought, and the per capita annual amount of grain owned by local farmers plummeted to 88 kg, while the annual per capita income was 44 yuan. About 70 percent of local farmers struggled to make ends meet. By the end of 1993, Ningxia's southern mountainous areas had 1.4 million people living under the poverty line, earning an annual income of less than 500 yuan per capita.

Relocation became the only way to help the locals survive.

Beginning in the 1980s, Ningxia implemented six large-scale relocation programs, moving 1.23 million people living in hostile environments closer to water, roads and cities.

Since 2013, Miaomiaohu Village has received more than 7,000 people like Huang from the county of Xiji. To help the locals start a new life, local authorities formed rural cooperatives, labor service centers and poverty-relief factories.

The factory where Huang works has more than 120 workers, including more than 90 who were relocated.

"Many of them only knew how to toil in the fields, so we offered them training," said factory director Ye Hongqin. "Now a skilled worker can earn 5,000 yuan a month."

Huang is quite content with her transformation from a farmer to a factory worker.

"In the past, women in the mountains barely had chance to work outside, and we mainly focused on working in the fields, cooking and tending children," she said. "Now we can work in the factory while still caring for our family."

Moving farmers out of mountains rooted out poverty, and broke the vicious circle of poverty, said regional anti-poverty official Liu Xuezhi.

Bidding farewell to the mountains also meant that students could go to school much more easily.

Ke Yuan, 16, studies at Yucai Middle School in Yinchuan, the regional capital. The key school only enrols students from the mountainous areas in southern Ningxia.

In 2012, a total of 1,665 families from Xihaigu, including Ke's, moved to a settlement in the city of Zhongwei.

"I am so lucky that we moved from the mountains so that I can attend a better school," Ke said. "My dream of going to college will soon come true."

It was more than one hour's walk on the mountain road for Ke to reach school. Now, the new school is within walking distance.

"The new school has many advanced facilities and more classes, and there are courses that I am interested in, such as music," Ke said, adding that she has joined the school choir and even earned an opportunity to participate in an international festival in Beijing.

All the people in the settlement are of Hui ethnicity, with former houses located in a seismic fracture zone, making it difficult to walk outside, find water and go to school. The new settlement, however, offers solar water heaters, toilets with flush, and internet, and shuttle buses help transport them to the nearest county.

"As the Hui people are known for their tradition of doing business, we built a big rural market here, in addition to many commercial buildings," said local official Ma Hanwen.

And people are living better lives in better houses.

Official figures show that the annual per capita income in the settlement rose from 2,800 yuan in 2012 to 7,200 yuan in 2019. The number of impoverished families decreased from 421 to just two.

"Life is full of hope," said Ke Yuan.

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