After teaching for more than two years in a college in Hefei in East China, Shahboz Babaev, an Uzbek lecturer in economics, decided to travel deep into the mountains to see how the country's targeted poverty alleviation efforts work in rural areas.
Babaev, 28, has a keen interest in China's poverty relief program since he started teaching economics and management at Anhui Finance and Trade Vocational College. This fall, he visited the Dabie Mountains, one of the poorest areas in central China, where he met with local people and heard about their stories of struggle and success.
On his second day of the trip, Babaev arrived in Huoshan county in Anhui province.
To promote rural tourism in the mountains, local governments recently built a 259-km-long country road, which connected different scenic spots in the area. Most of the 26 households at the relocation center, which is close to a reservoir, are now engaged in the tourism business.
Passing by a farmhouse, Babaev stopped for a cup of tea and chatted with the owner, a middle-aged woman named Dai Jinping.
"I used to live in the mountains, but I moved to the relocation center in 2014 and opened a small restaurant," said Dai, who used to live in poverty but now earns up to 60,000 yuan ($9,058) a year.
Motivated by the success in her restaurant, Dai wanted to expand her business and open a homestay for tourists.
In Jinzhai county, Babaev visited an internet celebrity who had amassed tens of thousands of followers by selling local agricultural products on the popular video-sharing app Douyin, also known as TikTok.
Sitting in front of his smartphone, Zhang Chuanfeng touts dried sweet potatoes to his viewers.
Zhang might seem like an average businessman reaping success in China's booming live-streaming industry. But his road to success has been bumpy, partly because of his dwarfism. At a little more than 1.4 meters tall, Zhang looks like a junior-school student.
Babaev was surprised to learn that Zhang was already 38, with a 9-year-old child.
"When I went out to look for jobs, nobody wanted me because many people think I am disabled," he told Babaev. "I was turned down again and again."
In 2017, the local government started developing e-commerce, and encouraged villagers to seize the opportunity. Like many others, Zhang rented a shop and started selling products online.
To add to the variety of products in his store, Zhang would hop on his tricycle and go door to door with other townsfolk to collect honey, tea leaves, dried sweet potatoes and noodles from local villagers.
Last year alone, he sold products worth more than 5 million yuan and made a profit of 500,000 yuan. So far, he has helped more than 40 families increase their earnings.
At Zhang's invitation, Babaev went to the farm to help harvest sweet potatoes. While there, they did a livestreaming session on Douyin, where Zhang now has nearly 100,000 followers.
"I'm very excited today because it's my very first time to do livestreaming," Babaev told the viewers on Douyin.
Babaev said Zhang's success story is very inspirational. He invited him to visit his school and share his entrepreneurial experience with the students.
"It's important that the government helps, but ultimately it's up to the individual if he or she wants to succeed," said Babaev.
China has been plagued by poverty for thousands of years. By the end of last year, there were still over 5.5 million people living below the poverty line across the country.
However, China has pledged to eliminate absolute poverty by the end of 2020. Since 2012, the country has helped over 90 million shake off poverty.
"The Chinese government is willing to help those in difficulties, even if they are deep in the mountains, even if the investment is huge, which I find very touching," Babaev said
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