Goulanyao village in Hunan province is being hailed as a prime example of successful poverty reduction achieved by developing rural tourism.
A farming celebration festival in the village featured various folk activities that drew visitors nationwide.
Situated near the border between Hunan and the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, Goulanyao is home to many people of the Yao ethnic group. As a consequence of living in a remote mountain village, residents have traditionally struggled to make a living on barren land for decades. In 2012, there were 153 households with 642 people below the poverty line.
He Jikun's family has been tilling the soil and growing rice for generations, but the harvests did not offer a decent living. The family of four had to survive on an annual income of less than 8,000 yuan ($1,270), and the patriarch of the family suffered from a chronic illness that added further to their hardships.
"Most of the young people went to big cities to find better jobs, leaving the old and the ill stuck on the low-output fields. We were helpless to get rid of poverty," he said.
Things started to change when the villagers began to promote the distinctive Yao culture to outsiders instead of relying on rice growing alone.
"Goulanyao is a historical and cultural village in Hunan, whose harvest festival and many unique celebration activities are unique cultural heritage highlights of the Yao ethnic group. It's a cure to poverty," said Jiang Xiaojun, the village Party chief.
The local government beautified the village by cleaning the streets, removing waste and trash, growing shrubbery and renovating residents' homes. To attract tourists, the government has also helped villagers develop and sell products such as preserved pork, rice wine and folk costumes.
Many villagers have turned their homes into hotels where they provide meals and lodging and present cultural activities. For example, visitors can take part in campfire parties to enjoy dancing and folklore festivities with the villagers.
More than 120 performing troupes were arranged over the past year, and even seniors in the village found roles. As a result, 20 families emerged from poverty.
"Our family income was increased by 14,400 yuan last year by joining in the performances. We never imagined that the activities we used to entertain ourselves could be turned into geese laying golden eggs," villager He Jikun said.
Jiang said the troupe has, in turn, increased the popularity of the village and spurred a boom in other businesses including rural homestays and local specialty sales.
"There were three travel agencies booking tourism receptions at my home during the Spring Festival," He said.