XI'AN: For four years, the residents of the remote Gaojie village, 40 km from the county seat of Qinjian in Shaanxi province, missed the smiles on their faces.
Heavy rains had destroyed the production of dates, the village's main industry. From 700 yuan ($102) in 2003, the villagers' annual per capita income dropped to a measly 100 yuan in 2008. Four ballots to elect the village's committee director had failed.
But then Bai Yitong, a 19-year-old Gaojie girl, took it upon her to bring back the smiles to her troubled village.
On Jan 14 this year, she was elected the villagers' committee director, the youngest in the history of Gaojie.
On Monday, when all the villagers gathered to celebrate the colorful Lantern Festival, organized by the newly elected committee, Gaojie, it seemed, was well on its way to fight the hardships.
During the Spring Festival between Jan 25 to Jan 31, Gaojie witnessed its first ever villagers' sports competition, a Bai Yiton-brainwave, with loud cheers and thundering applause silencing the troubled past.
"The festival was great fun," said a gleeful Bai Yaosheng, a 57-year-old villager. "We had almost forgotten what celebrations were until the young girl took over as the committee director. She has given us hope."
Bai Yitong, a university student, said she had planned the festive activities so that the "villagers could forget their pain and enjoy a while, and also for cohesion".
When the 19-year-old won the village committee elections, there were, and still are, hundreds of Gaojie villagers anxious to see what their young director could pull off.
Bai Yitong said she had a plan.
"I have a plan to have roads linking our village with the cities, to dig deep water wells to solve the problem of water shortage and developing aquaculture in order to increase the income of our farmers," she said, the confidence gleaming in her eyes.
Even her election rivals have developed faith in her.
Bai Zhijia, 46, who stood against the girl in the recent election, admitted he didn't have a chance to win, as Bai Yitong knew exactly what the villagers wanted and required.
"Mid-way through the election campaign I knew I was going to lose to this young girl. The villagers were supporting her far more than they were supporting me," he said. Out of a total of 461 voters, Bai Yitong found support from 450.
"All the former directors had failed the village. The villagers would rather put their trust into fresh blood rather than the tried and tested elderly," said Bai Yingqi, a villager.
Zhang Baotong, economist and director of Shaanxi economic development research institute, said that the significance of the election was the farmers' consciousness to exercise their electoral rights.
"It's clear they wanted a young person who they thought could lead them to the light.
"But Bai Yitong should know it's not an easy job. There is a lot of hard work ahead. She needs to know more about the situation and contradictions in rural areas," Zhang said.