On April 15, dozens of foreign diplomats visited Yucun, a small village in East China’s Zhejiang Province that is hailed as one of the most beautiful villages with its fresh air, clear rivers, lush mountains and clean streets.
Diplomats were surprised when hearing this lush, paradisiac village was once a heavily polluted mining area decades ago.
Local people recalled how the village looked like at the beginning of the century. “There were always the days when the sky was grey, white mud floated down the rivers, and leaves were covered with dust,” villager Pan Chunlin told the Global Times.
Having long lived in a dusty environment, they seldom opened the window and some villagers even suffered with pneumoconiosis for years, Pan said.
Fortunately, this formerly uninhabitable village has now turned into a model of China’s rural areas seeking sustainable and eco-friendly growth through nearly 20 years of effort.
With the “green development” guidance of the Communist Party of China (CPC), Yucun shut down its mines and shifted to the protection of local environment and natural resources.
Through the development of the ecotourism, the yearly per capita income of Yucun villagers increased sevenfold in 16 years, jumping from 7,576 yuan ($1,162) in 2004 to 55,680 ($8,566) yuan in 2020, official data showed.
Yucun’s transformation impressed the visiting diplomats. This is a change from a purely quantitative economic growth to a development of quality of life, said Ambassador of Luxembourg to China Marc Hübsch.
Natural resources are the most valuable assets, Hübsch told the Global Times, praising the strategy that Chinese villages like Yucun adopted in pursuing development through taking advantage of their natural beauties. He added that they are going in “a right way”, which is “truly impressive.”
Combining economic growth with environment protection is an essential part of the green and sustainable development that the CPC has been emphasizing in recent years.
In 2005, Xi Jinping, then Party secretary of CPC Zhejiang Provincial Committee, proposed that “clear waters and lush mountains are invaluable assets,” during an inspection trip to Yucun.
The concept later became a guidance for Yucun and for tens of thousands of villages across China to work towards high-quality growth through the development of eco-friendly industries.
At Yucun, local Party officials started to encourage villagers, who lost their jobs overnight after the shutdown of the local mines, to build hotels and entertainment facilities to attract potential visitors and make a living.
“It was extremely difficult to mobilize villages at the beginning,” Yu Xiaoping, deputy Party chief of Yucun, told the Global Times.
“They were quite hesitant and afraid to work in tourism and be unable to make some money. Ecotourism was such a brand-new concept in those years that there was almost no precedent.”
Pan, formerly employed by a local mine as a driver, was one of the first villagers who were persuaded to set up a guesthouse in 2004.
With the gradual improvement of the local environment, the number of Pan’s customers has kept increasing these years, from zero to more than 200 a day.
“I have very good business now,” he told the Global Times. Xi served as the Party chief of Zhejiang between 2002 and 2007.
In 2003, he initiated the Double-Eight Strategy for Zhejiang’s development, which identified eight strengths of the province in terms of economic structure, including geological position, industries, coordinated development of urban and rural areas, ecology, mountain and ocean resources, environment and culture.
The strategy also defined the eight measures Zhejiang is adopting to take further advantage of these strengths.
The strategy focuses on an ecological construction, to “build a green Zhejiang.” “Xi once said, ‘a government that does not pay attention to ecology is not a clear-minded government,’” recalled Lü Zushan, former deputy Party chief of Zhejiang, according to an article by the Study Times published in March 2021.
Lü said that during Xi’s term in Zhejiang, the local government conducted investigations on 573 enterprises engaged in heavy polluting industries, including chemical industry, leather and smelting, and spent five years in solving environmental problems among more than 10,000 villages across the province, such as garbage disposal and sewage management.
The green transformation of Zhejiang villages attracted worldwide attention.
In September 2018, Zhejiang’s Green Rural Revival Program was recognized with the Champions of the Earth award, the UN’s highest environmental honor.
“This exceptionally successful eco-restoration program shows the transformative power of economic and environmental development together,” according to the UN.
On April 15, like many other tourists visiting Yucun, the diplomats walked around the village, enjoyed the scenery and bought handicrafts and farm products.
“I’m very impressed with the beauty of this village and with what they’ve done to take advantage of the beauty,” said Malaysian Ambassador to China Raja Nushirwan Zainal Abidin.
“Thanks to the vision of President Xi Jinping, when he was the Party secretary of Zhejiang, he mentioned that it was important for both economic growth as well as the ecology,” Abidin told the Global Times, saying that he’d been to some other Chinese villages that also work to achieve economic growth through green industries.
“I think that the vision of taking economic advantage out of a beautiful environment and ecology has taken root in all parts of China,” he added.
Party at grassroots This year marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of the CPC.
Invited by the International Department of the CPC Central Committee, some 40 foreign diplomats, including several ambassadors to China, visited Zhejiang last week.
During the visit they learned how Zhejiang, one of China’s most developed provinces, works to achieve economic growth and make life better for people under the guidance of President Xi and the Party.
The frontline grassroots Party organizations and officials play a critical role in the development of villages in Zhejiang.
Local residents told the Global Times that they regard the Party branches at their villages, the most basic level of CPC organizations in the Chinese countryside, as the backbone of village development.