“If you cannot help us fix the road, then don’t bother us again,” Li Chaoyang was told during his first visit to Hekou Village in east China’s Anhui Province.
A provincial civil servant, Li has been serving as a village Party secretary since 2014, and Hekou was his second posting.
In early 2015, the top authority of the Communist Party of China (CPC) launched a program to send tens of thousands of officials to the countryside to improve rural governance and aid in poverty relief.
The officials, also entrusted with the task of strengthening the CPC from a grassroots level, were sent mainly to underdeveloped areas to serve as village chiefs.
The candidates were chosen from a wide range of fields, including government departments, universities, state-owned enterprises and civil associations.
Their postings ranged from one to three years. Assisted by local village committees, poverty relief offices and agricultural bureaus, they learned rural work principles and built relationships with local residents.
China has set a target to eradicate poverty by 2020, but it is an arduous task given that there were 43.35 million people living in poverty at the end of last year.
With 141 of the village’s 432 households living under the national poverty line, Li faced an enormous workload. Fixing the road was merely his first endeavor.
His hard work began to paid off when provincial authorities approved a subsidized road construction project. Seeing the new road being laid, the villagers began to have faith in Li. Li’s second battle to win over residents’ trust was introducing a photovoltaic power generation project to raise incomes.
At first some villagers were skeptical of how sunlight could make money. But now the families who take part earn 3,000 yuan (US$440) each year by selling solar power to the government. To win people’s trust, you must earn it.
Over the last two years, Li has encouraged villagers to form various cooperatives to put their knowledge and hard work to good use in various areas, for example cultivating mushrooms, planting tea and raising cattle.
“I feel my life has bright prospects and the direction towards prosperity is now clear”, said Ma Hongxi, 61, member of the mushroom cooperative, who spoke highly of Li’s efforts.
Li’s experience was echoed by Ma Guoze, an official with the Heilongjiang provincial government in northeast China. After arriving in poverty-stricken Linsheng Village, Ma Guoze immediately summoned a Party meeting, but suspicion was waiting for him.
“At first, no one believed in him. How can a nerd from the city know anything about rural areas?” Gong Wanfu, a CPC member in his seventies recalled of his first impression of Ma.
However, Ma achieved some progress and slowly gained the villagers’ trust and respect.
He has also helped reinvigorate the local Party organization and admitted a new CPC member.
Ma organized projects to widen roads, install street lights and develop vegetable greenhouses. Each household was able to earn an extra 1,500 yuan each year through innovations in land rent policies.
Overcoming poverty cannot be achieved by empty words but must be carried out step by step.
From 2013 to 2016, the population living below the poverty line has decreased by 10 million annually, and the officials working in some 128,000 villages nationwide have played a vital role.