New houses and the newly paved road in Abuluoha. Dong Ning
Abuluoha is surrounded by mountains on three sides and a river on the other. Up until this year, the village had been accessible only by two passages: a four kilometer trekking path down the steep mountain and a sliding cable that extended over the river. Due to its remote location, the village was chosen by local authorities as the isolation site for 300-odd leprosy patients in the 1960s. Today, that disease has long been eradicated in China, and the once isolated, dilapidated hamlet has been transformed completely with modern amenities and technologies.
Connecting to the Outside World
On July 10, Qiesha Cier’s eldest son, who was working out of the region, came home with his girlfriend, creating much excitement among the community of only 65 households. “The girl is from another region. They are planning to get married,” the father said. Old customs still hold strong in the village, one of which is the groom must give betrothal gifts to the bride’s family worth RMB 100,000-200,000 or more. This sum can often deplete the savings of an average family and plunge it deep into debt. “The girl’s family doesn’t request the money, as it is not the custom in her region. This is a great relief for my family,” Qiesha Cier said.
When the son Qieci Shigan left home for Yantai in Shandong Province last October, he did not expect the drastic changes that would occur in his hometown over the following six months. “I walked for more than four hours across the mountain when I left, but when I returned, I took a bus all the way to my home,” he said.
At the beginning of this year, a cableway was set up that spanned across the valley where Abuluoha is located, ending the history of villagers climbing on steep cliffs for four hours or more to reach the outside world. On June 26, a paved road connected the only officially established village in China not accessible by such a road with the rest of the world. Four days later 33 households in Abuluoha, including 29 low-income ones, moved into government-funded new homes. Qiesha Cier’s family was one of them.
“The two-story, 80-square-meter new house, with flush toilets, a TV set, and a washing machine, did not cost us a cent. It was beyond my imagination that my family would move out of our rundown adobe cabin into this big house,” Qiesha Cier said, still feeling surreal.
Dream Comes True
In April Qiesha Cier’s wife, Jizi Mozi, came down with uronephrosis. “Before taking the cableway, I called in an ambulance to wait for us at the other end of the cable. As soon as we got off the cable car, the ambulance drove us to the hospital,” Qiesha Cier recalled.
In the past, a trip to the hospital could take at least five hours. Without a paved road, people of Abuluoha had to ride a horse down the precipitous slope behind the village. The long, bumpy journey was excruciating even for people in good health. “Too often pregnant women went into labor and gave birth before actually reaching the hospital,” said Jili Ziri, the Party chief of the village. It was the shared wish of villagers to have easier transportation.
This issue was brought to the attention of provincial, municipal, and county governments, who decided to open up a “lifeline” through the mountain to Abuluoha. The mission was given to Sichuan Road and Bridge Group. High altitude, brittle rocks, and landslides… the construction project had to overcome many geological challenges. “The more digging was done, the more caving in occurred. Excavators were smashed or fell off the cliff. For a time, we just couldn’t move forward,” said Chen Ju from the engineering quality department of the company.
Finally, in last November the construction project came to a stand still after encountering so many problems. In order to resolve the challenges, Sichuan Road and Bridge Group assembled a dozen senior engineers, and came up with a new plan – build a 3.8-kilometer road along which there are one steel bridge and three tunnels that extend over a span of 1.2 kilometers, a rare design for a country road.
After a year of hard work, the road was completed on June 26, 2020. “A period of one year and tens of millions of yuan on a 3.8-kilometer long road. Was it worth so much manpower, resources, and money? This is a question asked by many people,” said Jieli Ziri. Some people who commented on the news online proposed that the money spent on the road could have been used for relocating the village to another site, which is less costly. And the leftover funds could have been distributed among its residents. “We had to look at multiple factors when assessing the feasibility of relocation. When the villagers like these who have lived in isolation for decades are suddenly moved into a new environment, they would find it difficult to adapt. What’s more, most of them have no skills to earn a living away from the mountain. After the resettlement fund was exhausted, they might fall back into poverty,” the village chief said.
“China will get rid of (absolute) poverty by the end of the year, we cannot fall behind,” Jieli Ziri said, then added, “From last year to August of this year, the per capita income in our village has risen to RMB 9,000, above the threshold for poverty villages.” This is the best change that the people of Abuluoha are delighted about this year.
Starting last year the village began to develop new agriculture projects in the area that included growing three hectares of oranges and eight hectares of mangos in addition to walnuts and red peppers. Mango plantations are scheduled to expand to 33 hectares next year, and hence become a main source of income for local people. This year the village committee organized training on how to drive excavators and trim walnut and red pepper trees. Many women who stay at home while their husbands seek employment out of the region have learned new skills.
With its vicinity to the scenic Jinsha River canyon, Jilie Ziri plans to open a BNB business in some riverside houses with government support and outside investment. To attract tourists, who can now easily come to the village via the newly built road, he hopes to develop a variety of activities that include mountain climbing, outdoor adventure, and folk culture experience. These, he believes, will provide the village with a source of sustainable economic development.
The village chief was impressed by the words of President Xi Jinping when he visited a Yi ethnic minority community in the Daliang Mountains in Sichuan during the Chinese New Year in 2018, “No ethnic group, no family, and no individual citizen should be left behind in our pursuit for a better life for the people.” For the people who live in Abuluoha, this promise has materialized.