Zhang Zhimin in Southwest China's Yunnan Province lives near the
evacuation site of the Yuanmou Ape-Man, who, according to current
knowledge, is regarded as the earliest primitive man to have
existed on the Chinese mainland.
But 1.7 million years later and until a dozen years ago, the
life of Zhang was still close to a "primitive" state: living in
poverty a gnawing pain in mind and facing the same problem
confronting his ancient ancestors.
He was head of the mountain-top village of Mahuangqing in Wuding
County's Jiuchang Township, which is about 150 kilometers from the
Yuanmou Ape-Man site and 100 kilometers north of the provincial
More than a decade ago, Zhang recalled, farmers in the village
with nearly 300 people in 78 families could live on a yearly income
of 100 yuan (US$12.30) apiece. Their annual harvest, mainly maize
and potatoes, was enough for only four months a year at most.
"Without adequate access to drinking water and firewood, our
living environment was too fragile for us to think of any
production," he said of the villagers, who are from the Miao ethnic
However, with a helping hand from the local government and the
Amity Foundation, which provided needy cash and timely skills, the
villagers now have better lives: incomes of 600 yuan (US$79) a
year, increased grain for everyone, tap water, a satellite TV with
30-odd channels, and, starting from the new year, access to a
supply of pork.
"A magic change indeed," Zhang beamed.
The helping hand came
Xie Xiaoxiang, now 58, was the link between the helpers and the
needy ones. He was an employee at the Intellectual
Poverty-Alleviation Office under the Yunnan Provincial Committee of
the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC)
when he first visited Mahuangqing village.
He has helped bring in about 1 million yuan (US$123,000) for
these Miao ethnic people.
Xie himself had a trail of hardship, living in a poor rural
family, entering a primary school at the age of 10 and joining the
army eight years later to get out of hunger. When he left the army
in 1986, he got his job at the provincial CPPCC office.
"Intellectual poverty alleviation just means we can arrange for
communication on scientific topics, arrange lectures in poor
regions and raise suggestions for improvement," he said.
However, his trips to Mahuangqing left him stunned. "We have no
money to afford education for our children and no clear water to
drink, let alone to irrigate the fields. How can we spare the time
to listen to your lectures and read your publicity?" he recalled
some residents as asking.
Further investigation painted a bleaker picture: excessive
felling of trees in a fight for firewood with other residents
nearby, fewer plots and less skill to plant better crops such as
potatoes and maize, no vegetables and no proper drinking water.
These factors left the villagers unable to think of any better life
than struggling for survival.
"We needed first to provide them with better fuel to cook meals
and proper drinking water," Xie said.
He went to enterprises in the province which still has about 8
million people living in poverty asking for social donations, and
they turned out to be little more than a drop in the bucket. Xie
had to find other way to raise funds, and in 1992 a CPPCC member
hinted that he should try non-governmental organizations
Xie took a trip to Nanjing in East China's Jiangsu Province to
visit the local-based Amity Foundation, an independent Chinese
volunteer organization created in 1985 to promote education, social
services, health and rural development from coastal provinces in
the east to the minority areas of the west.
Xie took Amity Secretary-General Qiu Zhonghui to Yunnan in 1992,
and they visited the dark thatched huts of the Miao residents in
Mahuangqing. Qiu came out without a word and donated 100,000 yuan
(US$12,300) to help the Miao in Wuding County learn to build and
use methane gas.
Local government responded
Four years later, Amity worked to bring in a donation of 4
million yuan (US$493,200) from a Dutch organization. A 10-day trip
to Yunnan by Hoccima Yan an official from the organization moved
Since 1992, Amity helped introduce 50 million yuan (US$6.2
million) in donations to the province.
The local government was deeply touched. It matched the
With that money and funds from the government, comprehensive
agricultural and water conservancy projects were started while poor
children received cash assistance to go to school.
In a span of more than 10 years, three cash-invested villages in
Wuding County saw the arrival of huge improvements.
Zhang Meihua is now so proud: This year, her son became the
first college student from her mountainous village to go to school
Encouraged by her excitement, she began to take up a new
business: making accordion-pleated skirts in the Miao style and
selling them in the cities for 30 yuan (US$3.70) each to supplement
her income. She lives in Xiachangchong Village in Wuding County,
located about 35 kilometers from Zhang Zhimin's Mahuangqing
"We learned to set up our own ethnic handicraft business," she
Xiachangchong Village head Long Dehua, 32, said on his newly
bought tractor: "The changes in our village during the past decade
are quite beyond our imagination."
There are about 60 families in his village located on a mountain
"We now have tap water for each family, from which each person
can get an average yearly income of 1,000 yuan (US$123)," Long
"The local agricultural science station helped us adopt
diversity in planting, which resulted in increased grain, and we
began to plant fruit trees," he said.
Also, he said, each family took up the business of planting
organic vegetables and sold mushrooms.
"Previously, there were only four horse-pulling carts in our
village; now more than 40 households have their own tractors," Long
As for Mahuangqing Village, its head Zhang Zhimin said though
the villagers are far from rich, they are now quite content in that
they can eat heartily and are no long victims of hunger. Each
villager can now harvest about 150 kilograms of grain with improved
"Our life and production are now in a good cycle, which makes us
quite confident of our future," he said.
Zhang Mengguan, a villager, added that each household now has a
pigsty instead of having to let pigs roam about on the mountain
The result is that fewer pigs run away, and the income from
raising them increases.
Before, only about one-fifth of the families could afford a pig
to celebrate Spring Festival. Now each household can kill one or
two pigs for food at that time of the year, Zhang Mengguan
"Of course, my greatest affection is for the tap water and the
satellite TV," he said proudly.
Love not to be forgotten
"The villagers express their great thanks to the Amity
Foundation, and I believe their thanks are sincere, as the
assistance they received was sincere," Xie Xiaoxiang said.
"It is this NGO and the local government that helped lift the
villagers out of poverty. Words cannot express our thanks.
"Our cooperation with Amity during the past 14 years proved
successful, and I can never forget their dedication to and love for
(China Daily December 2, 2005)