Feature: Trustful "keyholders" open door to community bonds in rapidly modernizing China

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by Xinhua writers Cheng Lu, Cui Enhui and Zhang Xiao

BEIJING, April 30 (Xinhua) -- Imagine entrusting your keys to a security guard for safekeeping, relying on a neighbor to tend to your plants and pets while you are away on vacation, or sharing the responsibilities of after-school childcare with other working parents.

In a metropolis where skyscrapers dominate the skyline and community bonds are elusive, such scenarios may seem far-fetched. However, in the Beiyuan Subdistrict of Beijing's sub-center Tongzhou District, this is indeed a reality.

Lan Enlin, 69, a native of northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, migrated to Beijing with his wife in 2007 in search of work. Upon securing a job as a security guard at the Hounancang Community in Beiyuan, Lan was shocked by the level of trust his neighbors placed in him, to the point of entrusting him with their keys.

"At first, I was worried about potential misunderstandings if anything went awry or missing. But without unwavering trust, they wouldn't have handed over their keys," Lan said. "I couldn't afford to let them down."

Over time, more residents entrusted Lan with their keys, particularly during the neighborhood's renovation phase in 2013, when daytime renovation work posed challenges for many working residents.

Lan went beyond his duties as a security guard by caring for plants and pets when neighbors were away, helping with moving vehicles and calling ambulances for elderly residents in medical emergencies.

"I saw them as family," Lan said. "It's reassuring that there have been no disputes arising from the keys I have held over the years."

There is a famous Chinese saying that goes: "A neighbor close by is better than a brother far off." It evokes memories of a time before many Beijingers transitioned to high-rise living. Back then, children would gather at a neighbor's house after school, either to study together or share a meal whenever they happened to forget to bring their keys.

Those were among the fondest childhood memories of Zhang Jing, a Beijing native and another "keyholder" in the Beiyuan Subdistrict. For the 46-year-old social worker from Shuaifu Community, nurturing neighborhood bonds is a mission.

Shuaifu faces the challenge of an aging population, with seniors making up roughly one-sixth of its residents. Zhang regularly conducts on-site visits to assist over 400 households, particularly those with elderly people living alone or dealing with physical disabilities.

Among those who have entrusted their keys to Zhang is 74-year-old Mao Dawei. Every winter, Mao and his wife travel to south China's island province of Hainan, leaving their home empty.

Zhang diligently takes care of Mao's residence, tending to the fish and plants, and checking for leaks. Going the extra mile, Zhang goes as far as delivering heavy supplies to Mao's doorstep on the fourth floor, even though there's no elevator available.

"We're deeply grateful and touched. Through Zhang, we see that the enduring legacy of traditional values is still thriving and relevant today," Mao told Xinhua.

For Zhang, keys aren't just about access, but they're about connection, trust and support. "That's why I find this work particularly meaningful," she said.

Yang Jianying, a resident of Xincheng South Street Community, echoed Zhang's sentiments. This community houses over 400 pupils, posing the challenge of ensuring parental supervision for children after school.

While managing her own travel agency during the day, Yang entrusted her ground-floor store key to the community and assumed the responsibility of caring for the neighborhood children.

Yang established an academy offering free courses such as calligraphy, painting and traditional musical instruments. All teachers are residents of the community who volunteer their time to enrich the children's learning experience. "Any neighbor is welcome to join us," Yang said.

Shen Yuying and her grandson are frequently seen at Yang's academy. The 66-year-old Shen relocated to Tongzhou District from north China's Shanxi Province a decade ago.

"Despite the numerous residents here, with each often retreating behind closed doors, the warmth of human connection remains undiminished," she said.

Beiyuan Subdistrict, home to 100 residential communities, continues its transformation from a humble beginning as a shanty town to a modern and comfortable urban area.

Recently, the media has been shining a spotlight on the stories of unique "keyholders." These individuals are being recognized for their contributions to fostering community cohesion and trust.

Inspired by these "keyholders," Shen has joined a volunteer team comprising around 50 residents. Together, they aim to offer assistance to neighbors facing difficulties.

"While we may not be able to accomplish big tasks, we can do our part to pass on love and build trust within our neighborhood," Shen said. Enditem

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