A tourism revolution - Travel

Hou Xiaobing (center), a resident Party secretary assigned to Lijiazhuang by the United Front Work Department of the CPC Central…

Hou Xiaobing (center), a resident Party secretary assigned to Lijiazhuang by the United Front Work Department of the CPC Central Committee, introduces the village's revolutionary history to visitors at the former site of the department in April.[Photo by Wang Zhuangfei/China Daily]

Young Party member returns to his department's roots to help historically important village in Hebei province further boost its appeal to travelers, Wang Ru and Gao Yamei report in Shijiazhuang.

When Hou Xiaobing first arrived in Lijiazhuang village in 2019, he was surprised to find the area had become a popular destination for tourists, thanks to its revolutionary history.

Located not far from Xibaipo village, Pingshan county, Hebei province, where the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China based itself during the War of Liberation (1946-49) against the Kuomintang regime before it marched to Beijing in 1949, Lijiazhuang in the same county also witnessed revolutionary history as the United Front Work Department was based in the village at the time.

In 1959, the village separated into four villages and moved in order to build Gangnan reservoir, to protect people who lived in the lower reaches of Hutuo river from floods. Lijiazhuang village today is the largest of the four, located in the mountains near the reservoir with a good natural view.

This news comes from: China Daily

People visit a memorial hall of the department's former site in Lijiazhuang, Hebei province.[Photo by Wang Zhuangfei/China Daily]

Almost coming to full circle, 29-year-old Hou was assigned Party secretary to Lijiazhuang by the United Front Work Department of the CPC Central Committee.

"I had known about the village's revolutionary history, but I didn't expect it to be such a popular tourist destination with such a good environment and a large number of visitors. I was a little confused as to what my role would be when I first arrived," he says.

So, he spent some time researching the situation there, visiting villagers' homes to learn about difficulties in their lives and trying to help. During the process, he gradually realized the weaknesses in the village's tourist development.

"With good ecological and cultural resources, the village has tourist elements like revolutionary tourist sites, homestays and fruit-picking gardens, but they are separated. The village did not have a mechanism to link all of these and vitalize them, so I wanted to establish such a mechanism," says Hou.

As a result, Hou led the village to cooperate with an outside enterprise to renovate 10 vacant houses of villagers, building them into homestays with different features. The homestays are managed by the enterprise in a unified way, and villagers enjoy an annual income of between 30,000 yuan ($4,680) and 70,000 yuan.

This news comes from: China Daily

People visit a memorial hall of the department's former site in Lijiazhuang, Hebei province.[Photo by Wang Zhuangfei/China Daily]

However, he felt that the situation did not enable villagers to participate in the management of homestays themselves, so he later also proposed a second method, whereby the enterprise helps to design and renovate villagers' homes, and villagers manage the homestays by themselves after receiving training provided by a rural tourist cooperative. The profits gained from the homestays are shared by villagers, the enterprise and the cooperative.

Villager Han Huiru's home was among those renovated into such a homestay, providing accommodation and homemade local dishes to visitors. "A large number of people come to our homestay, and many of them are regular customers. They say they like our food and the environment. Sometimes, we are so busy that we have to hire people on a temporary basis to help us," says Han.

By choosing this route, villagers gain more experience in managing homestays, and the 27 homestays in the program can help people earn between 50,000 and 200,000 yuan a year, according to Hou. His goal for the future is to help the villagers improve their service awareness.

Speaking about the core feature of the homestays, Hou says: "Externally, they maintain the village's rural aesthetic, but inside they are equipped with all modern conveniences.

This news comes from: China Daily

Lijiazhuang village boasts a good natural view.[Photo by Wang Zhuangfei/China Daily]

"At the end of the day, Lijiazhuang is the villagers' home, not just a scenic spot for tourists. So, when we upgrade the homestays, we try to keep their respective characteristics, instead of making them all the same," Hou adds.

He also transformed two deserted cave dwellings into a shop selling local products like honey, tea and vinegar, which hires villagers who have just shaken off poverty to run the business in turn. The income belongs to the village to help those who have difficulties, and those on duty can get subsidies for their work.

Hou plans to develop a mini program on WeChat through which people can buy local products, register for a time slot to visit revolutionary sites and the fruit-picking gardens, as well as book rooms at the homestays, so that these tourism elements become more connected.

Although the village was lifted out of poverty in 2018, and the average per capita annual income has reached 25,000 yuan, Hou still has concerns about the nine households which have most recently shaken off their impoverished status, for fear that they may begin to face difficulties again.

Villager Gu Yongshe, 68, was lifted out of poverty in 2016. Hou often visits his house to check on his family situation. When Hou found Gu has the capacity to work but just stayed at home, he introduced Gu to go to a nearby company to do some cleaning work.

"Gu often goes to work on time, completes his tasks well, and is very friendly to tourists. As a result, he won recognition from the company, and can earn about 2,000 yuan a month now," says Hou.

This news comes from: China Daily

A tourist poses for a photo at a homestay in Lijiazhuang in April.[Photo by Wang Zhuangfei/China Daily]

Graduating from Minzu University of China in 2018 with a master's degree in economics, Hou participated in research centered around poverty alleviation in the Tibet autonomous region with his professor from the university, and gained a theoretical understanding of China's wider poverty alleviation effort, including how to prevent people from falling back to poverty. He says that he has applied what he learned then to his practice in Lijiazhuang.

As a young grassroots official, Hou remains modest and often consults senior officials and villagers about his work. "There were so many things in the village I was ignorant of. The advice of others has helped me to avoid going in the wrong direction. I believe that, if local people can learn from me and receive my suggestions on many things, I should also remain modest and learn from them," says Hou.

His hard work has won praise from villagers. According to Han, Hou has "devoted himself to the villagers".

"He is busy doing things for villagers day after day. He usually visits our homes to check if we have difficulties, and tries to help us solve problems. He also offers us good advice on the development of our homestays," says Han.

As a member the United Front Work Department of the CPC Central Committee, Hou has deep affection for the place where the department made its base all those decades ago.

"Returning to the former base, I feel like reviewing my original aspiration and mission as a member of the Party. People in these revolutionary areas have made a contribution to history, and we should not forget them in the new era," says Hou. "With our knowledge and capacity, we should try to help them live better lives."

This news comes from: China Daily

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