Ningxia government leverages on culture to alleviate local poverty
Bu Xilan (R) introduces embroidery skill to neighbours in Maping Village of Longde County, northwest China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, May 23, 2017. Rural embroidery in Longde has a history of more than 100 years. The 67-year-old Bu was awarded as a successor of intangible cultural heritage of Ningxia in 2003. She also taught the skill to her children and neighbours.[Photo: Xinhua]
Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region in northwest China is one of the poorest areas of the country.
Nine local counties, which account for nearly half of the region, are recognized by the central government in Beijing as being poverty-stricken.
But the local government in Ningxia is launching a war against poverty by tapping into the region's cultural resources.
Xu Qin is a 42-year-old embroidery worker at an art work company in Haiyuan, a county some 280 kilometers away from Ningxia's capital, Yinchuan.
She earns up to 3-thousand yuan each month.
Xu says that until recently she could not have imagined receiving such a high salary, when she was spending most of her time farming and doing household work.
"Actually, how much I earn is not at the top of my concern now. More importantly, through this job I realize I myself actually can better contribute to the society. This is what makes me happy."
Haiyuan is one of more than 500 counties across China that are officially-recognized as being poverty-stricken.
Traditional arts like embroidery and paper-cutting have long been passed by local women from generation to generation.
However, these arts have been seen as ways to kill time in winter when there was little farming work to do, rather than a source of income.
This is what Haiyuan government is hoping to change.
In 2015, local authorities established an industrial park, promising that makers of paper-cutting and embroidery products would enjoy three-years rent free if they moved into the park.
The park is currently home to around 20 companies employing around 300 locals like Xu Qin.
Last year, they generated 15 million yuan in revenue.
Haiyuan is not alone.
The Ningxia provincial government is pushing ahead with a giant program to boost the development of local cultural industries.
Paper-cutting, embroidery, and clay sculpting are seen as some of the key players in this push.
Since the program was launched more than a year ago, millions of yuan have been earmarked from a special fund to provide subsidies to companies producing art and cultural products.
Most of these companies have been small start-ups.
Provincial official Wan Yaping has been leading the program.
"Ningxia is doing its best to remedy a lack of development in cultural industries. We hope to use cultural affairs to help reduce poverty, and to build a moderately prosperous society. This also gives a great boost to the creativity of us government officials."
As part of the program, Ningxia authorities have also invested some 120 million yuan over the last two years to build cultural facilities such as stages for performing arts and libraries in almost every village in the region.
Authorities say enriching the spiritual life of the people living in poor areas is an important part of the broader poverty alleviation efforts.
Singing and dancing is becoming a daily routine for women in a village named Qingshan.
Hao Zigeng is a local village official.
"The setting up of our cultural facility center has provided a place for villagers to dance and sing, do some reading, and surf the internet. The center also serves as place where we could organize villagers to watch a drama, or watch a movie."
74-year-old Dai Tianfu is a performer of Kuaiban, an oral storytelling performance popular in northern China.
Dai owns a courtyard in his home village of Caowa.
The yard is becoming a salon for amateur performing artists from nearby areas.
Dai says apart from the yard itself, everything else such as musical instrument and audio equipment is sponsored by the government.