Dazhai brought in from the cold

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 September, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 19 September, 1994, 12:00am

THE erratic fortunes of Dazhai - an agricultural pacesetter in China during the 1960s and 1970s but subsequently left out in the cold - are again looking up.

No longer serving as a rural model, the village has turned instead to industry, commerce and tourism.

Its gross domestic product last year exceeded 10 million yuan (HK$9.03 million), 90 per cent of which came from non-agricultural production. Per capita income was 1,350 yuan, Xinhua (the New China News Agency) reported yesterday.

The village of about 100 households and 500 people in the poor and remote Xiyang county of Shanxi province was an important agricultural model under Mao Zedong.

A famous slogan of the times declared: 'To learn from Dazhai in agriculture, and to learn from Daqing in industry.' Xinhua said about 10 million people from China and abroad had visited the village during the 1960s and 1970s to learn from the Dazhai experience of turning barren slopes into high-yielding terraced fields.

But the slogan was abandoned in the 1980s when China dived headlong into economic reform and modernisation. Dazhai lost favour and was deserted as a backward place.

There were also reports that many of the village's 'glorious' agricultural advances had been fabricated or exaggerated.

But the little village is experiencing a revival, according to Xinhua.

Instead of coming to learn from Dazhai, people are now coming in search of investment and business opportunities, or as tourists.

Xinhua reported a growth in joint ventures with investors from overseas and other provinces. Migrant workers were also being attracted to the remote village.

A five-storey industrial complex had been built at the entrance of the village, housing joint-venture factories making shirts and woollen clothes, all of which are sold under the brand name 'Dazhai'.

Apart from trading on the famous name of Dazhai, residents were also trying to profit from another famous local name - Chen Yonggui.

Chen had been made a national hero during the agricultural boom years and was promoted to the vice-premiership before falling out of favour. He died a poor farmer in 1986 in Dazhai.

Xinhua said specialists from Shanghai and Taiyuan had been invited to renovate Chen's grave and to map out a plan to develop Dazhai as a touristic attraction.

Village committee chairman Jia Chunsheng said Chen's spirit - to fight against hardship and rely on one's own efforts - remained a treasure of the Dazhai people.

But he added: ' We have also had to rely on knowledge, scientific management to help change Dazhai.' About two years ago, a special agricultural technology training centre was established in the village, Xinhua said.

Guo Fenglian, Dazhai's 'iron woman' of the 1960s and 1970s, had also returned to help groom the small village's industrial and commercial development.

'I dream of the things I have in my mind in the daytime - cement factories, building houses, planting trees, and even tourism,' Ms Guo was quoted by Xinhua as saying.