Huozhou City, a traditional coal mining center, is situated in north China’s Shanxi Province. Over the past couple of years, its fast-developing tourism sector has replaced traditional industries as the backbone of the local economy.
Anyone visiting the countryside in north China’s Shanxi Province during the winter may expect to find it quiet and cold with few activities on offer. But this is certainly not the case in Qiliyu Village in Huozhou City in the south of the province. At a time when there is little work to be done in the fields, the villagers here are busy building or refurbishing their houses.
“I want to turn my house into a small hostel for visitors. Lots of them are coming nowadays. I’ll open a small shop too to sell wild herbs and fruits we harvest in nearby mountains.”
“We’re very glad that more people are coming. In the past we had few exchanges and contact with the outside world. Nobody would come to this remote, impoverished place. And we seldom leave the place we live. The visitors have helped us broaden our horizons. They have also brought us income.”
But even today, the mere mention of Huozhou can bring to mind images of coal mines and factories. Like many other places in Shanxi province, Huozhou is a traditional coal production center, and one of the province’s main energy and chemical bases. But the development of the energy industry came at the expense of the area’s natural environment, according to local residents.
“The air quality is very bad. Even on sunny days, we can’t see things clearly on the horizon, especially in the afternoon. It’s obviously an unhealthy living environment.”
In the light of serious environmental pollution and dwindling coal reserves, Huozhou turned to the development of the tourism industry in 2000. Wang Yuexi, an official with the local government, thinks this will lead to long-term local sustainable development.
“Tourism is considered a sunrise industry. We know that Huozhou has great potential in this arena. It’s situated between the Taihang and Lvliang Mountains. Fascinating landscape here – we don’t care a lot about it ourselves, but people from other places are very much attracted to it, saying it’s precious, especially in northern China. Besides, Shanxi is a birthplace of the Chinese civilization, so you’ll find many cultural and historical heritage sites here, too. Over the past two years, these attractions have drawn visitors from many places, including Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei Province. ”
Wang says the prospect has also attracted investors from outside the city. One of them is Chen Houmin, who moved to Huozhou from east China’s Shandong Province to run a holiday village.
“I was drawn here by the great tourism resources. The earlier you invest here, the more profit you make.”
Pushed by the growth of tourism, the tertiary industry in Huozhou now makes up over 30 per cent of the local industry, compared to less than 20 per cent only three years ago. This means a lot of job opportunities for both laid-off workers in the city and the surplus labour in the countryside.
“I own a small photo business, taking pictures of visitors. I also rent cameras. My customers come from everywhere, both from Shanxi and elsewhere, even from faraway places like Shanghai, and Sichuan Province. They are very interested in the local culture and customs and our cuisine.”
According to local statistics, about 2 million people visited Huozhou over the past two years. Last year, Huozhou’s revenue reached a record high. But Zhang Yuxi, an official from the local environmental protection bureau, says the benefits brought about by the development of tourism are obviously wide-ranging.
“Since it is gradually replacing polluting industries, the natural environment in Huozhou has notably improved. The air quality, in particular, is a lot better.”
Even in the small village of Qiliyu, where 33 families live, great changes have taken place due to the incoming flow of visitors.
“The development of tourism means better transportation. More people and vehicles are coming here. Now farm work is all done by men. Women stay at home, taking care of the family tourism business. Those who went to seek jobs in cities have all come back. ”
“There have always been loads of wild herbs and fruits in the mountains nearby, but nobody cared about them in the past. We didn’t realize that they would one day help us out of poverty. People in the city love them very much.”
(CRI February 17, 2003)