Village gratitude shows integrity of task
Updated: 2012-05-15 07:58
By Cui Jia (China Daily)
Zhou Yi, an official from the regional politics and law committee of Xinjiang, talks with a family in Kashgar. Zhang Wei / China Daily
Ahat Musar (on the right, in the blue shirt) an official from Tagarqi township, gives a briefing about the construction of a road in Chaqulak village. He is one of 42,880 officials in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, who have been sent to villages around the region to learn about the needs of the residents. Photos by Zhang Wei / China Daily
Cao Zhongjun (right) has a routine morning meeting with his team members in Chaqulak village in Tagarqi. Cao is the leader of a team of six regional-level officials currently based in the village.
Kurban Umar in the small library he has opened at his home in Chaqulak.
Officials helping small, far-flung communities often find expressions of appreciation literally on their doorstep, reports Cui Jia from Kashgar, Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region.
On a hot afternoon, Zhou Yi picked up a bag of freshly boiled eggs that had been left on the doorstep of the committee office in Chaqulak village in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region.
There was no indication as to who had left the surprise gift.
"The villagers have sent us food again," Zhou told his colleagues who, like him, are regional-level officials sent to live in Chaqulak as part of an initiative to provide officials with first-hand experience of working at the grassroots.
It was not the first time the team had received anonymous donations of food from the villagers since they began their nine-month stay on March 17. The surprise gifts have ranged from legs of mutton, to eggs, to yellow carrots.
Earlier this year, the central government decided to send provincial and regional-level officials to live in villages across the country. The move is aimed at allowing those who have never worked at grassroots level or even visited villages of this type - the lowest level of China's administrative system - to learn how people think and to better understand their needs.
Six regional-level officials traveled from Urumqi, the capital of the region, to the village in Tagarqi township, Shule county. The village is roughly 1,600 km from the regional capital and has a population of around 1,500, almost all of whom are from the Uygur ethnic group.
"It's been almost two months now and everyone's skin has turned dark because we have to walk to the villagers' houses every day," said Zhou, who works for the regional politics and law committee. As evidence, he held up his mobile phone and displayed a photo of himself with much lighter skin, taken when he first arrived in the village.
According to the regional government, more than 42,880 officials, all fluent in both Mandarin and the Uygur language and from all levels, including 486 regional-level officials, have been sent to 7,590 villages and 1,251 communities around Xinjiang.
Together with county and village-level officials, 24 officials work in the village as a team. Their task is to learn about the needs of each villager and tackle their problems, big or small, said Cao Zhongjun, the team leader and deputy secretary of the Chinese Language Institute at Xinjiang Agriculture University in Urumqi.
"We've visited every household and have collected 32 suggestions and complaints from the villagers. What we are trying to do now is to understand those problems and solve them," said Cao, who studied the Uygur language at university for three years.
One of the things that most concerns the villagers is the poor condition of their road, and the team is determined to improve it. "If you haven't been here, you can't imagine how much it affects people's lives. When we first walked down the rough and bumpy dirt road, which leads to the wheat fields and the local market, and saw the dust that gets everywhere, we immediately made paving it our top priority," Cao said. "Some of the problems might sound small to us, but they are huge for the villagers." Thanks to the team's efforts, the renovation of the main road will start at the end of the year.
Another pressing problem is the supply of drinking water. Although the village has access to running water, the supply is highly unstable because of problems with the pressure. The winter poses the biggest problem for the villagers, because, in addition to the low pressure, the pipes often freeze and they have to walk more than 1 km along the muddy road to fetch water. In response, the team consulted hydrologists and has promised to improve the situation by June.
The team is divided into six groups. Each contains one regional-level official who is supported by three from the county and village levels so they can learn from each other. Each group has been assigned different tasks, including routine security patrols, the administration of religious affairs, village renovation and educating the villagers about law enforcement.
"I am not well-educated, so by following them (the regional-level officials) I can learn how to better manage the village. They have also provided me with new ideas about bringing more income to the households," said Memeturson Kader, the village head. "I've learned that small conflicts need to be dealt with immediately, before they can escalate. It's good for both villagers and us (the authorities)."
Chaqulak means "shuttle" in Uygur and the villagers still are weavers, just like their ancestors more than 1,000 years ago. The officials are now organizing those villagers who are experts in weaving and bookkeeping, plus truck owners, to sell the cotton fabric they produce to buyers in large cities and provide extra income. "Whatever efforts we make, it's all done in the name of the village committee. We let the committee members take the praise, so they can bond with the locals better," said Cao. "After all, we have to leave the village eventually, and it's always better to teach a man to fish rather than simply giving him a fish."
Every morning the team gathers under a big tree in the courtyard of the village administrative office for their daily meeting. The six officials from Urumqi have turned one office into a dormitory and they sleep on bunk beds there so they are accessible to the villagers at all times. They are also required to keep a diary of public opinions every day.
"We've swapped air-conditioned meeting rooms for the shade of the tree and our business suits for camouflage uniforms. I've even lost weight and become fitter because of all the physical work, such as fertilizing the wheat fields," explained Ediula Ebidula, an official from Xinjiang Islamic College.
The daily routine includes visiting households, working on the farms, and gathering the villagers together to explain policies and the progress made in realizing their suggestions. The job even includes playing basketball. "We invited the young people to play basketball with us after dinner, so we can better understand each other. It's fun and works much better than sitting in the house and talking," said Cao. The officials have bought sports clothing for the teams and are planning to take the youngsters to play a game in a stadium.
"At the very beginning, the villagers felt a little uncomfortable around us because they didn't know why we were here. They were pretty wary at first, but now we've gained their trust. I could feel that after we helped them solve a number of problems almost as soon as we arrived," said Zhou, after taking tea and nan bread with his friend, Ruz Kali, one of the village imams. "We really are all friends now."
As part of their stay, each regional-level official is required to help five families, make three friends, train one young person and educate one other who has been involved in illegal activity. "We fully support the legal religious activities in the village, and I really respect the imams, because they are very wise," said Zhou, who majored in the Uygur language at the university and whose fluency in the language came as something of a surprise to the villagers.
In 2010, the police discovered several young people in Chaqulak reading illegal publications, which they confiscated. "Villages are on the frontline of the fight against terrorists, separatists and extremists. Educating people to stay away from illegal religious activities, such as having contact with extremists, actually helps to keep the region stable," said Zhou.
He said that when he's explaining about the law or government policies he always tries to avoid using big words and instead substitutes simple, but vivid, phraseology. "The people don't understand if you read straight from the official documents, and so I often make jokes during my public speeches to keep them interested."
"I thought they (the officials) would just come and then leave and wouldn't actually stay here because our village is so poor," said Tueson Imin, who had just been briefed on the latest developments in the plan to renovate the road. "But not only have they stayed, they are trying their best to help us.
"They are like friends to us and not at all like officials," said the 63-year-old, who was born in the village and has lived there all his life. "They gave me their mobile (phone) numbers and told me not to hesitate to call anytime."
Zhou said that he has grown to respect the villagers and looks up to them. "The most important thing about living with them is to understand how they think and how they feel. It's something all policymakers need to know. I have learned so much from them, such as the value of hard work, honesty and sincerity, so I never treat living in a poor village without clean drinking water as a hardship. I am here to serve the villagers."
Ediula, is known as a "three-doors" official, a synonym for "diligent." His daily routine runs like this: From the door of his home, he heads to the door of his office, from there he heads to the door of the canteen and from the canteen back to his home. Having been raised in a city, he had never been to a village before arriving in Chaqulak. "This experience will be of great benefit to me, not only in my career, but also in my life," said the 33-year-old official. "Coming to the village has given the officials and villagers a great opportunity to understand each other, and that's the foundation of trust."
Mao Weihua contributed to this story.
Contact the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org
(China Daily 05/15/2012 page1)