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Abandoned Ningxia village reborn through tourism

China Daily | Updated: 2020-10-23 09:07
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YINCHUAN-With a bullhorn in her left hand, Li Xuejing narrated tales as tourists rambled along beside her in Dawan, the village where she grew up in the Ningxia Hui autonomous region.

The village, in Changle township, Zhongwei, sits beside the Yellow River, the second-longest in China.

Li, 26, recalled snapshots of life years ago as she walked near a desert date tree standing in front of her childhood home.

"It has been a long time since I left my home village," she said."The first time I re-entered the village, it felt familiar and strange."

Sixteen years ago, a flood destroyed farmland in Dawan, and villagers including Li and her parents were relocated to Zhongwei.

The village, with its rundown houses and wild weeds, was gradually fading from villagers' memories until the arrival of businessman Chen Zupin seven years ago.

Seeing something special in the dilapidated village, Chen was amazed by the scenery, which features the Yellow River and China's fourth-largest desert, the Tengger Desert, right across it.

"The earthen architecture deeply touched me," Chen said. "I believe people who visit here will feel refreshed and inspired."

Chen made up his mind to restore the village by developing tourism.

To keep the scenery and original cultural landscape intact, he devised methods to preserve the paths and trees in Dawan and spent six years using local materials like stone and wood to build a cluster of tourist facilities that match the village's overall style.

"To make sure that nature comes first, I flew here several times to inspect the progress of the construction," he said. "I've seen too many man-made things, and I don't want to let this land down."

Chen was worried about whether his efforts would pay off before the tourist facilities opened in December 2018. However, his fears were allayed as all of the rooms were quickly booked out.

Huang Qian, a tourist from Shanghai, spent several days with her family and friends in the village. She said the experience was a rewarding one as her husband read a poem at a campfire party, and her son looked for eggs and milked goats on a nearby farm.

"We feel relaxed, temporarily escaping the hustle and bustle in the city," Huang said. "My son has traveled to many countries since he was 2 years old, and I knew he loved being closer to nature when he asked if we could stay longer."

In the past year the occupancy rate of tourist accommodations in Dawan was 78 percent, encouraging many villagers to return.

Li returned to the village to offer logistical support two years ago and now works as a tour guide, with a monthly salary of 6,000 yuan ($901) during the peak season.

"Our guests are from all walks of life and from all over the country, and I always feel inspired by their ideas," she said.

Like many of her colleagues, Li has a 50-minute daily commute from her home in the city.

Ta Zhaofeng, however, left his house in the city to run a farm in Dawan.

"I moved to the city for a better life rather than merely eking out a living on farmland, but now I earn more and live cozily thanks to my farm business," the 50-year-old said.

Ta grows peppers, tomatoes and organic vegetables and also raises chickens, goats and camels on the 33-hectare farm.

"Kids can milk the goats or hunt for eggs to satisfy their curiosity, while their parents can pick fresh vegetables," he said.

Dawan has become so popular that rooms were booked out two months ahead of this year's National Day holiday, which came as no surprise to Chen.

"Rural vitalization depends on the changes and vitality of people, and I'm happy to see the village rejuvenated," he said.


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