By Li Yan, People’s Daily
By relocating local fishermen who lived on boats to a hospitable living environment on the shore, Xiaqi village in southeast China’s Fujian province has ushered in opportunities for development and embarked upon a distinctive path of rural vitalization.
The once little-known village nestled near the sea in Xiabaishi township, Fu’an city of Fujian, is now famous for helping residents move ashore.
Over 20 years ago, however, Xiaqi village seemed nothing like an ordinary village. By tradition, villagers stayed on boats and fished for a living against the winds and waves all the year round.
For these boat dwellers, a small wooden boat could be the home of several generations of a local family.
“My family, which had six members, lived on a boat that was less than 14 square meters in area. The cargo hold was filled with fish we caught and daily necessities. At night, we would curl up on the deck.” recalled Jiang Chengcai, a resident in Xiaqi village.
The interior of the boat was always wet in windy and rainy days, according to Jiang, who added that they were often faced with the risk of losing their lives as the boat could be turned over when typhoons came.
“I remember that my parents used to tie me to our boat with a rope when I was little for fear that I might accidentally fall into the sea, as they needed to go fishing and couldn’t take care of me,” said Zheng Yue’e, the Party chief and also a native of Xiaqi village.
All the fishermen in the village had eagerly wished that one day they could move into new houses on the shore, sleep well at night, gain access to electricity and have enough food.
Their dream for a new life became possible in 1997, when relocating local fishermen ashore was listed as an important task of the poverty alleviation policy in Fujian, and the first batch of resettlement projects were initiated in Xiaqi village.
“It felt strange when I first started to sleep on a stable bed board instead of a jolting boat. Seeing the bright lights and feeling the walls in my new house, I realized that my over 30 years of life on the boat was finally behind me,” Jiang said. He was so excited that he lost sleep the first night he lived in his new house on the shore.
From 1997 to 1999, Xiaqi village built 339 houses and relocated 2,310 fishermen in batches. So far, all 3,571 local fishermen who lived on boats have settled on the shore, and bid farewell to their old life, while Xiaqi village has also started to glow with new vigor.
Fu’an city not only resettled local fishermen, but has taken efforts to increase their income. By rolling out 22 favorable policies, the local government has encouraged former boat dwellers to vigorously explore aquaculture, fishing, marine transportation, commerce, tourism, and other industries to shake off poverty and march toward prosperity.
After moving ashore, Jiang has participated in training organized by the village on razor clam raising, and later signed contracts with local government to use about 6.7 hectares of mudflats for the business together with over 20 fellow villagers. They earned an average annual income of 70,000 to 80,000 yuan ($10,860 to 12,412) from raising razor clams.
Later, Jiang led more than 30 villagers to setting up a construction and engineering team, which undertook pile foundation projects in Xiabaishi township and its neighboring areas. These efforts have made Jiang one of the front-runners in the village in pursuing a better life.
Zheng was elected the chief of Xiaqi village in 2012. Since then, she has made it an important task of her work to create wealth for villagers by developing sea-based industries.
Taking advantage of local resources, she guided villagers to large yellow croaker cage farming, seafood wholesale and processing, among other industries.
Meanwhile, Xiaqi village has continuously improved infrastructure and beautified the living environment. With its brand new look and distinctive history, it has attracted many tourists who come for sightseeing and recreation.
In 2019, nine registered poverty-stricken households in Xiaqi village were lifted out of poverty. Today, the per capita income of the village has surged to over 23,000 yuan from less than 1,000 yuan in 1997.
With the implementation of projects, including those launched to build cold stores of a seafood distribution station and a street featuring seafood in the future, Xiaqi village is expected to take an even wider path of rural vitalization through developing marine industries, while local people will continue to take big steps toward a better life.