▲Yucun village in East China’s Zhejiang Province Photo: Lu Ting/GT
Yucun village in East China’s Zhejiang Province is now a popular tourist attraction that is hailed as one of the most beautiful Chinese villages, attracting thousands of visitors each day with its fresh air, clear rivers and lush mountains. The 4.86-square-kilometer village has been praised as a “natural oxygen bar” and an ideal place for a weekend escape.
It’s hard for the visitors to imagine how this verdant village looked decades ago. “The sky was always grey, every leaf was covered with dust, and white mud floated on the rivers,” Yucun resident Pan Chunlin recalled. “The air quality was so bad that we seldom opened the windows.”
Formerly a major limestone mining area, Yucun’s rich mineral resources led to considerable revenue but also heavy pollution.
While enjoying a high average annual per capita income of 3,000 yuan ($448.5) in the mid-1990s – nearly the equivalent of Zhejiang’s capital city Hangzhou – many locals reportedly suffered respiratory diseases.
Hu Jiaxing, who had been working at a local cement company for four years before leaving the village in 1990, recalled that some of his coworkers and even a few elderly residents developed pneumoconiosis, which made him scared. “My income was not bad, but I still wanted to escape,” he told the Global Times. “I didn’t want the village to destroy my health.”
Economic growth won’t last long if it comes at the expense of the environment, said Yu Xiaoping, deputy Party chief of the village. At the beginning of the century, Yucun started on a path to transform its mining-dependent growth into a more environmentally friendly model based on tourism.
“The transformation was full of difficulties,” Yu told the Global Times. In 2003, Yucun closed its three mining factories and one cement company, which had contributed 95 percent of the village’s income. Its yearly collective economic income plummeted from 3 million yuan to less than 100,000 yuan, and lots of villagers who lost their mining jobs overnight could hardly make a living.
The local government started treating pollution, developing tourism and creating jobs for locals. It repaired the roads, cleaned the rivers and supported residents in building hotels and agritainment facilities for potential visitors.
Yucun received only 3,000 tourists in 2005. It was nonetheless a promising start for the villagers, who began realizing that they could make money while living in harmony with nature, Yu said.
‘Turn green to gold’
In 2005, President Xi Jinping, then Party secretary of Zhejiang, proposed that “clear waters and lush mountains are invaluable assets,” during an inspection trip to Yucun.
The concept, also known as the “Two Mountains” theory, encouraged numerous Chinese cities and villages like Yucun to pursue high-quality and sustainable growth through protecting the environment and developing green industries.
Yucun was among the first batch of places to benefit from this growth model of “turning green into gold.”
Tianmu Mountain is one example of the lush vegetation in Yucun, with its vast expanse of bamboo forests. The village became increasingly attractive to urbanites as a travel destination after pollution was eliminated and tourist facilities gradually improved.
Pan built an agritainment guesthouse in the village in 2004 after quitting his mining job. He said the number of his customers has surged from almost zero to more than 200 per day in 2020. “Yucun has endless streams of tourists now,” Pan told the Global Times at his lively guesthouse on Tuesday, adding that he had also established a travel agency to expand his business.
Hu, who “escaped” from the then heavily polluted Yucun in 1990, eventually returned to the village in 2007 and opened a rafting company. Yucun’s growing number of tourists benefit from local entrepreneurs like Hu, who has increased the number of his rafting boats to 400 from 50 in 2007 due to the demand.
“I’m very confident about the future,” Hu said.
According to local government statistics, Yucun served more than 28 million visitors in 2019, which brought the village tourism revenue of over 38.8 billion yuan. The yearly per capita income of local villagers increased sixfold in 15 years, jumping from in 7,576 yuan in 2004 to 49,598 yuan in 2019.
“We used to be uncertain about whether Yucun – a village without well-known scenic spots or historical sites – could develop its tourism,” Yu told the Global Times. “But time has proved that we are on the right track of transforming from ‘selling stones’ to ‘selling scenery,’ and combining economic growth with ecological protection.”