HARBIN — Rolling paddy fields are not just a source of food — they are also tourist attractions where urban dwellers can enjoy the beauty of the countryside. Villages in Northeast China's Heilongjiang province, one of the country's major granary regions, have taken the opportunity to develop local tourism through rice fields.
Zhongxing village is one of them. The village is located about 10 kilometers from Mudanjiang, and the majority of its population belongs to the Korean ethnic group.
Walking to the end of the residential part of the village and seeing the idyllic rice fields in the hills, visitors are often awed and stop to take photos.
On the trails running through the fields, villagers dressed in traditional Korean costumes often perform dances for tourists, clearly visible as the bright colors of their clothing stand out against the green backdrop. Many visitors rent costumes and have photos taken in the traditional styles of the Korean ethnic group.
"The village is close to the city, and it's easy to get here. I take my family here from time to time to experience life in the countryside," said Zhang Yinghan, a tourist from Mudanjiang.
Though it would be difficult to imagine today, Zhongxing was once locally referred to as a "hollow village", as 90 percent of its residents would leave to work in cities or abroad, mostly in companies with South Korean investment or in South Korea itself, said Ge Ruifa, Party chief of Zhongxing.
Han Chunshan was among the many people who left the village to seek opportunities elsewhere. He became a successful entrepreneur and, in 2014, was the first to return to Zhongxing to start a company.
He invested 20 million yuan ($2.8 million) in the development of tourism in the village. After him, 40 more people returned home to start businesses.
Ge said the village has improved its environment and upgraded its facilities to attract tourists, and developed a tourism industry through village-company cooperation, collective management and market-based operations. Zhongxing is now a popular destination for short stays and hosts an average of 1.5 million visitors a year.
To accommodate the rising number of tourists, the village has encouraged people to build spare houses into homestays or restaurants. Many have white walls and blue roofs in a traditional Korean style.
The locals now prefer to remain in the village as they can earn money by renting out rooms, starting their own businesses or seeking local employment, and they also receive dividends from the village's businesses. The per capita annual net income has reached 35,000 yuan, Ge said.
Sui Yinglan moved to Zhongxing from Mudanjiang two years ago.
"Living in this pleasant environment, I feel very happy every day," she said.
The village has also constructed a ski park near the rice fields to provide activities for tourists in the winter.
Shangguandi village, which is also administered by Mudanjiang, is a major producer of a high-quality rice variety that requires the specific geological conditions found in the area.
Chen Yujia returned to the village in 2016 after leaving her job as a teacher in the city, having decided to promote the high-quality rice and support the development of her hometown.
"The rice is of such good quality that it should have a large market, and at good prices, it will help the villagers increase their incomes," Chen said.
She guided locals on how to become innovative in their promotion of the rice, encouraging them to explore areas such as livestreaming and cooperation with e-commerce companies. She also worked with them to introduce "grain tickets", which people can purchase and exchange for rice whenever they want.
The highest-quality rice that the village sells is now priced at over 200 yuan per kilogram, according to Chen.
Shangguandi has also turned its farming area into a large park, where tourists can enjoy the views, celebrate agricultural festivals and learn farming skills. The whole industry also benefits the surrounding villages and provides about 5,000 jobs.
"We will continue to build a better Shuangguandi and improve earnings for locals to revitalize the village and give impetus to the country's high-quality development drive," Chen said.