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Country Roads Link Every Village
As a section director of the Guizhou Provincial Communications Bureau and someone who has spent 36 years roaming all corners of the province, Zhou Mingzhong has a vision of linking every village in the province with highways.

He, and many others like him, will continue to work hard on the ground to ensure the dream is realized even as the current hot topic is China's plan to send man into space.

The country's investment in its space program is only a very small portion of what the US spends on its own. In contrast, the country has decided to pour a massive 800 billion yuan (US$96 billion) in constructing highways in its vast western region alone by 2010.

To Zhou, building roads is as great and difficult as walking in the sky. Mountainous Guizhou is the only province without a single piece of plain, and it is the poorest province in China.

Among Guizhou's 24,000 villages, 7,000 have not been reached by highways and the picture is similar in many parts of west China. Although the space industry will undoubtedly create a lot of opportunities, it is still beyond the reach of China's poor villagers, whose simplest dream is that one day a vehicle would carry a TV set to their home.

But constructing a road seems more difficult than sending man into space. In the 1950s, during the building of the Sichuan-Tibet highway, 3,000 soldiers died from landslides, low temperature and a lack of oxygen. The government usually invests tens of millions of yuan to build a highway to connect a small village with only hundreds of households, according to Zhou.

The country built its first expressway in 1984. In 1998, the central government decided to embark on a nationwide highway construction. By 2001, the length of highways has reached 1.4 million kilometers, and will extend to 1.7 million by 2010, of which 25,000 kilometers will be expressways, according to the Ministry of Communications.

In the beginning, funds for highway construction were allocated to the eastern coastal regions with its huge populations that were more attractive to foreign investment. Over the past several years, the focus has been gradually shifting to the mountainous, poverty-hit and population-sparse western region, which covers some two-thirds of the country's territory.

The most eye-catching one among many of the roads currently under construction is an 800-kilometer-long expressway, which will link Sichuan and Shaanxi provinces in the western region.

"China's greatest poet Li Bai had told his unforgettable travel experience 1,000 years ago: 'Walking from Shaanxi to Sichuan is harder than climbing up to the sky'," says Zhang Congyi, who is participating in the project.

Built 2,300 years ago, "Shudao" or road to Shu (the abbreviation of Sichuan) was a plank road and the only linkage between Shaanxi and Sichuan, alongside plains are rare. It was actually a wooden and stone bridge zigzagging on rising cliffs. Documents say in some sections it only allows two persons to pass by.

Despite its danger and steepness, the extremely narrow, snaky, and usually fog-covering ancient road provided a vivid picture for literary aspiration.

(Xinhua News Agency January 11, 2003)

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