Six months after being appointed Party secretary of Tibet Autonomous Region in November 2005, Zhang Qingli, a native of east China's Shandong Province, had traveled more than 10,000 kilometers on the plateau nicknamed "roof of the world".
Of all the things he saw, the poor state of the houses of local farmers and herdsmen moved him the most.
"You can see the stars from inside many houses," he said during an appearance on a talk show broadcast by China Central Television on Monday.
Zhang is in Beijing as a deputy to the National People's Congress, which is in the middle of its annual meeting.
He said some of the houses he saw had been built with dried yak dung, and some collapsed even when it was not raining or windy.
Those sites convinced Zhang, 57, to dedicate his time on the plateau to helping improve the lives of local people.
"This is the Tibetan way of building the new socialist countryside," he said.
His efforts have paid off: Last year 56,000 households, representing 290,000 people, moved into new houses, which the government spent more than 3 billion yuan (US$384.6 million) in building.
But Zhang's ambitions did not stop there. Altogether, new homes for 220,000 households are to be built between 2006 and 2010, he said on Monday.
Naturally, money is a key part of the effort.
"The government can easily make a promise, but it will only win people's trust by backing up its words with money," he said.
It would cost a rural Tibetan about 60,000 yuan (US$7,692) to build a new house with a floor space of about 200 square meters. Part of that money could come from the autonomous region's government. Farmers can apply to receive 10,000 yuan (US$1,282); a herdsman can apply for 15,000 yuan (US$1,923); and a resident of a poverty-stricken area can seek up to 25,000 yuan (US$3,205).
In addition, the prefecture and county governments offer each household subsidies to build new homes. Construction is on a strictly volunteer basis, said the Party secretary.
Gesang Quzhen, a teenage Tibetan girl from suburban Lhasa, said on the CCTV program that her family of three built a new two-storey brick home last year. She said she was most happy that her family had electricity in the house, giving them access to 49 channels of television programming. During the Chinese New Year Eve holiday last month, she said she watched the CCTV gala live for the first time.
Her father Anu said the family received more than 40,000 yuan (US$5,128) from governments at the autonomous region, prefecture and county level to help him build his family's new house.
(China Daily March 15, 2007)