Chichige, a 26-year-old woman of the Mongolia ethnic group, has never left her home town on pastures in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, north China. But this does not kept her away from pursuing a stylish life.
Recently, she traveled several dozens kilometers to a beauty parlor to dye her black hair blonde. Hair-dyeing is now a fashion pursued by many Chinese urbanites.
On her dresser are various cosmetics: lipstick, mascara, body lotion and hair gel. All these cosmetics are brandname products advertised on China's TV programs.
"She just washed her face with clean water in the past and now she uses cosmetics," said Batu, Chichige's husband. "She learned to do her make-up through TV programs."
However, it is electricity that enables Chichige's family to have access to TV and radio programs, which brings them closer to the outside world and a modern fashionable life.
A total of 500,000 farmers and herdsmen in the Inner Mongolia and Tibet autonomous region in the northern and southwestern China have had access to TV and radio programs since the 1980s, according to the science and technology departments of the two regions. This is ascribed to the development of wind power and solar energy in the two regions.
Chichige's family has installed a wind power generator with a capacity of 200 watts on the roof of their brick-structured house. The family now uses electric lights, ending its long history of burning oil lamps at night.
The TV and radio programs have also brought other noticeable changes to the life of Chichige and her family.
The four-member family has raised more than 300 sheep and a dozen milk cows. They earn more than 30,000 yuan (about US$3,700) a year from selling livestock and mutton.
In the past, Mongols cherished their sheep and cows very much and never sold them. They only culled the livestock when the animals were too old and ate the mutton and beef themselves.
Milk and milk tea used to be the major drinks of the Mongols. Now, Chichige and her family and their peers alike often buy soft drinks and beer.
"We also eat vegetables and fish which we Mongols of the past generations never ate," Chichige said. "We now pay attention to the balance of nutrition."
It is hard for China's power grid to cover all people who live in the vast remote areas of China. Lack of electric power has remained a hurdle that keeps people from shaking off poverty and having access to larges cities's industrial goods.
The Chinese government has exerted great efforts to promote the research and development of wind power and solar energy and encourage the use of clean energy in families in these areas in the past two and a half decades since the 1980s.
As one of the research programs, a wind power and light complementary electricity generating system for household use passed expert appraisal recently. The government also grants subsidies to encourage farmers and herdsmen in remote areas to use clean energy.
Some international organizations, including the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the United Nations Development Program, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, have granted support to China's efforts to develop new and recyclable energy resources.
The GEF, for example, has donated US$22 million to develop a solar energy electricity-generating system which can serve 200,000 to 300,000 households in northwestern China.
Currently, China still has more than 30 million households without access to electricity in the western region. The Chinese government plans to enable these households to use electricity in a short period of time in the future by using wind power and photovoltaic technology to generate electricity.
Currently, China boasts 270 million kilowatts of wind power that can be explored, mostly in Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and Gansu Province in northwest China. Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia boast a potential installed capacity of wind power totaling 190 million kilowatts, equal to the installed capacity of ten Three Gorges Projects. The Three Gorges Project is a massive hydraulic power project on the Yangtze, the longest river in China.
Experts estimate that the total solar radiation China receives each year equals to 2,400 billion tons of coal. Two-thirds of China's total land space of 9.6 million sq kms receives sunlight for more than 2,000 hours annually. Some regions like Tibet receive more than 3,000 hours of sunshine annually.
Indeed, while changing the life of people in remote areas, electricity also brings a hard strike to traditions of some ethnic groups in the outlying regions.
Even in the innermost areas of the Inner Mongolia Grassland, ethnic Mongols no longer wear traditional Mongolian long gowns, but jeans and sportwear, and pop songs popular among a growing number of people have eroded the dominant position of the Pastoral Songs of the Mongolia ethnic group. Young herdsmen also leave pastures for cities.
"It has become an urgent task to seek way for protecting, carrying on and developing the pasture culture," said Hao Shiyuan, a research fellow with the Mongolian Culture Research Center of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
(Xinhua News Agency November 23, 2005)