Xi Jinping: making lives better – the Chinese dream in rural areas
Xi Jinping visits Liangjiahe Village in Shaanxi Province ahead of the Spring Festival in 2015. [Photo: Xinhua]
Liangjiahe, a small village in the northwest Chinese province of Shaanxi, is where China's President Xi Jinping spent part of his formative years.
The roughly seven years spent as a so-called "send down youth" is believed to have instilled in the Chinese President a sense of what needs to be done to help rid China of poverty.
Here is Huang Yue with the first of a seven-short-story series "Xi Jinping: making lives better."
Addressing a banquet in his honor on a state visit to Washington, DC in late September 2015, Chinese President Xi Jinping took time to recount the situation he found himself in nearly five-decades earlier.
"Towards the end of the 1960s when I was in my teens, I was sent from Beijing to work as a farmer in the small village of Liangjiahe, which is near Yan'an in Shaanxi Province. This is where I spent seven years. Later I became the village's party secretary, helping them develop their local production capabilities. We did well, given the circumstances. But the one thing I always hoped for at that time was to create opportunities to allow all of us to eat meat, and to eat it often."
In 1969, a 15-year-old Xi Jinping was among 17-million students who took up then-leader Mao Zedong's call, leaving the cities to work in the countryside.
Despite being the son of a "first generation" Chinese leader, the young Xi Jinping, according to the locals in Liangjiahe, was not afraid of getting his hands dirty.
File photo of Xi Jinping in 1972. [Photo: Xinhua]
65-year-old Shi Chunyang, who grew up in Liangjiahe, was a year younger than Xi Jinping when they worked on a major project together.
"When we constructed a dam in winter, Xi Jinping rolled up his pant legs and smashed through the ice on the river without hesitation. He just went ahead and did it, regardless of the potential risks, health or otherwise he might face."
An avid reader, Xi Jinping kept busy during his off-hours in Liangjiahe pouring over the newspapers.
It was here that he read about a methane-generating pit in rural Sichuan.
Travelling to Mianyang County in the north of Sichuan at his own expense, Xi Jinping was able to learn the basics of natural gas extraction.
Returning to Shaanxi, he led the team which built a rudimentary natural gas project in Liangjiahe.
"It took a lot of effort to build our first methane-extraction pit. We saw the water rising on both sides of the pit, but there was no gas coming out. So after a while, I poked at the water, and the scum at the top of the water blew up in my face. But it worked. The swamp gas was there. We were able to hook up pipes. From there, we were able to create methane stoves."
It was initiatives like this which eventually propelled a young Xi Jinping into a leadership role as the Party Secretary of Liangjiahe Village during his 7-years in the countryside.
Looking back, the now-President of China says it was this experience which continues to spur him on, even today.
"It's really an amazing thing to see the power and determination of the people. It makes you truly understand how the people and society works in China. There were a lot of practical ideas that were spawned from that period of time. Even now, those ideas still tend to resonate with me."
A lot has changed in the 50-years since Xi Jinping toiled as a teenager in rural Shaanxi.
However, China's President has not forgotten his roots.
Just over four years ago, Xi Jinping made a point of returning to Liangjiahe ahead of the 2015 Spring Festival to visit with the same people he called friends five decades earlier.
"Zhanger, Yinger, Yingchun. Where are your parents?"
Unflinching about his time as a so-called "sent down youth," Xi Jinping recounted his return - and his time - in Liangjiahe during his state visit to the United States.
Chinese President Xi Jinping delivers a speech at a welcoming banquet during his state visit to the United States, September 22, 2015. [Photo: Xinhua]
"Liangjiehe is different now. When I went back, they had paved roads. All of them are now living in houses made of bricks and tiles. Basically everyone in the village has acc,ess to the Internet. The elderly have basic old-age pensions, and all of the people in the village had medical care coverage. Children are in school. And, best of all, meat is readily available. This has made me keenly aware that the Chinese dream is, after all, a dream of the people. If we want to fulfill that dream, we need to be able to meet the desire of the people to have a better life."