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An old mountain village's revival through preservation

Xinhua | Updated: 2017-09-11 17:29

FUZHOU - Travelers come to Dingwuling not just for its traditional charms, but for what it lacks.

"Tourists come every day," said 55-year-old Ding Qiaorong. "They even stay till dusk because they want to see for themselves there are really no mosquitoes in Dingwuling."

The ancient Hakka village is nestled among the mountains of Changting County in southeast China's Fujian Province. For over 700 years, mosquitoes have left it alone while visiting nearby villages relentlessly.

"Nobody can tell why," said Ding Qiaorong, who runs a specialty shop at the village entrance. "We villagers credit a stone toad. It crouches toward the village and eats all mosquitoes in it."

The villagers, who all belong to the Ding clan, have even built a small temple honoring the stone toad at the foot of the hill.

"The mystery attracts tourists," said Ding Hesheng, 60. "Actually, our village boasts many more attractions."

Dingwuling takes tourists back to the good old days. All around are tile-roofed wood or clay houses built against the steep stone hillside, which often forms the back wall. They rest on platforms of piled shale slabs.

Of more than 130 houses, only two use cement, giving Dingwuling another name: "no-cement village."

"Cement, sand and bricks were hard to carry up to the village in the past, while wood, shale and clay were everywhere on the mountain," said Ding Hesheng.

Along a narrow flagstone street in Dingwuling are various old businesses: grocery stores, a tailor shop, a barber shop, a smithy, a tea oil mill, and a tofu workshop, all necessary for a self-sufficient community.

"Now Dingwuling just looks old," said Ding Hesheng. "It has been undergoing a large-scale repair since 2013."

Five years ago, the village was so desolate and decrepit that the local government considered relocating villagers and returning it to farmland.

"Of more than 700 villagers, only 60 to 70 lived in the village then," said Ding Hesheng. "Young people had left for a better living in town."

Far from the crowds, Dingwuling was a quiet and safe spot. Its seclusion helped it to become a stronghold that bandits had to ask permission to pass through.

During peace time, however, such seclusion turned out to be a great disadvantage. Villagers, bringing lunch boxes with them, used to go downhill to work in the fields two or three miles away.

There arose a saying: "Don't marry your daughter to Dingwuling, she has to climb the hill when she wants to sleep."

Villagers started to move out in the 1980s, working and settling down in town. They came back each year to worship their ancestors, but never to rebuild their old houses. The village thus preserved its original style.

Fortunately, the trend in China toward preserving old villages saved Dingwuling.

In the winter of 2012, local government overruled a reclamation plan and decided to invest to preserve and restore the old village.

As crumbling houses stood firm again under the principle of "repairing the old as old," the deserted village began to revive.

Tourists come from near and far, usually about 500 daily and 20,000 during the seven-day Spring Festival holiday. The villagers make good profits by selling local specialties and cuisine.

"About 200 villagers have come back to live in the village," said Tong Linhai, deputy governor of Gucheng Town, which has jurisdiction over Dingwuling. "Many more will return when more infrastructure is completed in the future."

Some, however, cannot wait to seize business opportunities.

Lin Qianghui, 49, an oil painter from Changting, came to build a gallery beside a clear pond in Dingwuling two years ago. He is now decorating the interior of five-rented houses to offer hotel rooms with 30 beds.

"Dingwuling is perfect for sketching landscapes," said Lin, who operates another gallery in the coastal city of Xiamen. "Once the accommodation is ready, artists will come from all over the country."

Already, Dingwuling has been a shooting location for four films.

Local poor families also see hope for breaking the chains of poverty.

The Dingwuling tourist service cooperative recruited 13 families under the poverty line. Six of them, including Ding Qiaorong, overcame poverty last year by earning dividends and working jobs in the cleaning, retail and plumbing fields, among others.

Guaranteed a basic monthly wage of 500 yuan (77.2 U.S. dollars), Ding Qiaorong, who suffers from chronic heart disease, is encouraged to earn more from sales commissions.

"More and more tourists are coming," said Ding Qiaorong. "I'm sure to have a more prosperous business."

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