Poverty alleviation proves a matchmaker

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On a rainy, fall day in Hunan province, Shi Liujin led a team carrying a bridal sedan chair. He couldn't have been happier. He was getting married.

Wu Chunxia (left) puts a pin on Shi Liujin before their wedding in Shibadong village, Hunan province, last month. [Photo/Xinhua]

Shi's home village, Shibadong, tucked away in remote mountains, was once extremely impoverished. With a per capita annual net income of just 1,668 yuan ($240) in 2013, 136 of its 225 households lived below the poverty line.

It was home to more than 30 single men age over 40, and women from elsewhere were reluctant to marry into the poor village.

Three years ago, at the village's first matchmaking event, Shi struck a gong while exclaiming: "I am a good guy with a kind heart. Anyone who marries me must rest assured."

It did not bring him immediate success, even though his kindness is widely recognized by fellow villagers.

He dropped out of school and became a migrant worker to support his family when his father fell ill 20 years ago. Years passed as his sisters graduated from school and got married, and the family did better. But Shi was entering his 40s.

"I used to see someone. But after visiting the village and my dilapidated home, she backed out," Shi said.

The village committee realized poverty reduction could be a shortcut to helping single men start a family. Thanks to a string of targeted poverty alleviation policies, Shibadong has seen tremendous changes since 2014.

Muddy mountain passes became asphalt roads. Tap water ran in every household. ATMs appeared.

In 2015, Shi decided to end his unsettled life in the city and returned home to shake off his single status.

He and his family opened a restaurant to cater to the increasing number of tourists, and he became a tour guide in the village. Next, he joined a kiwi fruit cooperative, as the fruit began to gain popularity in nearby cities.

Last year, a spring water factory went into operation, and he was employed as a technician.

By the end of the year, the village's per capita net income had climbed to 10,180 yuan. More women who were migrant workers chose to return home and get married, and more women from outside the village married local men.

At this year's matchmaking event, in February, Shi took the courage to get on stage to introduce his village and himself to the audience.

"I'm not only representing myself but the village as a whole," he said. "As life is getting better in Shibadong, I hope to marry a woman soon."

His words touched Wu Chunxia, a woman from a nearby village who was working in Shanghai. The two added each other as contacts on WeChat, and Shi invited Wu to visit Shibadong. She was deeply impressed by Shi's optimism and the vigorous development of the village.

Before long she decided to leave Shanghai and make a home with Shi. At the wedding, Wu received a surprise gift from the spring water factory, which accepted her as a regular employee.

Now Shi not only has a wife but one more co-worker as well.

A married life and a blue-collar job: both achieved without leaving his home village.

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