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Editor's Note: Trail Blazing Transformation
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By Zhou Jianxiong

Over 60 years ago, there was a vast expanse of sparsely inhabited land stretching over 57,600 square km to the north of China's northeastern Heilongjiang Province, bordering Russia. Called Beidahuang at that time, which literally means "Great Northern Wilderness," the area was covered by trackless swamps and infested with overgrown weeds and extensive underbrush. Then one day in 1947 the rank and file of the People's Liberation Army marched into this great wilderness in enthusiastic response to the calls of the Communist Party of China to cultivate farmland and also out of their own aspirations to serve the emerging New China.

Since then, more than half a million young men and women, including demobilized army officers and soldiers and high school graduates, have followed suit. These pioneers have set down roots, toiling on state-owned farms they helped build year in and year out. Many came from the metropolitan cities of Beijing and Shanghai, where they could have led a comparatively easy and comfortable life. Thanks to the most strenuous and painstaking endeavors made by these adventurous young people, the once deserted wasteland was transformed into one of the largest and most reputable grain production bases in China. It now has the enviable name of Beidacang, or "Great Northern Granary."

The transformation of Beidahuang in the past 60 years may best illustrate the normal pattern by which state-owned farms have grown in China: starting from scratch and developed through many years of persistent hard labor, to eventually reap the reward of bumper harvests and sound economic returns. Today, many of the state farms set up across the nation's 17 primary farmland reclamation areas, either in Heilongjiang Province, Inner Mongolia or Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Regions, or elsewhere, are among major production centers of many agricultural and cash crops, including rice, wheat, cotton, rubber, sugar, meat and dairy products. They also manufacture state-of-the-art farm technologies and machinery to meet both local needs and those of other parts of rural China.

While many of us may marvel at the remarkable achievements of these state-owned farms over the last six decades, it is the selfless spirit and dedication of the farm workers that are the most admirable of all, as they have devoted their lives and risked untold hardship to build an agricultural miracle. And with China's working and living conditions improving tremendously, although no one is now required to undertake the same arduous tasks as those elders once did, it is nonetheless hoped that their courage and hard work will have an inspiring effect on the younger generation of today.

Late last year, a new five-year plan was released that dealt specifically with the economic and social progress of state-owned farms between 2006 and 2010. A number of grand goals were set in the program. If everything goes according to the plan, by the end of the decade, these farms will continue to play a complementary role in China's agricultural sector, and make even greater contributions to the nation's economy as a whole. 

(Beijing Review June 29, 2007)

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