Business / Economy

Far from the madding crowd in Shanghai

By Xu Xiaomin (China Daily) Updated: 2015-06-15 08:02

Far from the madding crowd in Shanghai

Chongming island at the mouth of Yangtze River lures city slickers with its pastoral expanses and slow pace of life. [Photo/China Daily]

Chongming island attracts residents tired of urban grind and seeking a life closer to nature

While millions of Chinese farmers are flooding into big cities in search of a better life, some Shanghai residents are going the other way: ditching their office jobs to live more of a pastoral existence in the boondocks.

Hou Xueying, a former financing manager at a Japanese fashion company, quit her job in 2010 and rented some land in Chongming, China's third-largest island that lies at the mouth of the Yangtze River. It ranks as a county under Shanghai's jurisdiction, and is now starting to push eco-friendly agriculture.

Now a typical day sees Hou, who had no previous farming experience, don her jeans and sneakers to go out and clear weeds, feed chickens and take care of her sheep.

"I used to be well-paid in the city but the overtime was killing me and giving me insomnia," said the 39-year-old, as she sat amid recently planted corn and pumpkins in her field.

"At night, when I was at home feeling exhausted after working till 2 am or 3 am, I kept asking myself, 'What am I suffering for?'"

Her husband, who was born in Chongming, brought her to the island for a weekend break and Hou quickly fell in love with village life.

"I was surprised to find that I could sleep well after working a whole day in the field, and I felt refreshed the following morning," she said.

"The smell of soil restored my energy," she said, letting some of it run through her fingers as small crabs scuttled around underneath.

She began her new life by renting a 1.4-hectare field in Mihong village, a place once famous in Shanghai for producing high-quality rice. Now her farm has expanded to about 8 hectares.

She grows rice, vegetables and roses, and feeds her sheep and poultry. Everything is done in an eco-friendly way with no use of pesticides. She calls the farm Xin Geng, which translates as "plough with heart".

She has gained 10 kilograms since reinventing herself as a manual laborer. Her skin has become tanned. But she doesn't mind.

Shanghai's Ding Heqin also quit his job at an auto company one year ago and made a new life for himself on a farm in Chongming. The former team leader of a production line at Volvo's Shanghai factory said he may not have traded for an easier life, but it was worth it to be closer to nature.

"On the farm, I can feel the breeze and the sun and hear the birds' singing," he said. "It's relaxing and satisfying to watch the plants grow with each passing day."

Shanghai's GDP grew by 7 percent last year. But this rapidly developing city brings much added pressure for its residents, especially those aged 30 to 50, many of whom support their offspring and parents.

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