Liu Shuanzhu, 57, has been Party chief of Xiwenxing village in Qinshui county, Shanxi province, for more than two decades; in his own words he has dreamed of helping the villagers become rich.
But as a remote village without coal mines or other resources and with each villager owning less than 0.067 of a hectare, Liu's many attempts to change the financial status of the residents failed to pay off.
Of the 200 residents, more than 95 percent carry the surname Liu. They are the descendants of Liu Zongyuan, a well-known thinker and writer during the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), and the fortress-style village was once the most prosperous in the region.
Xiwenxing is flanked on three sides by mountains and a river flows along the other, providing a natural defense.
However, the passage of time and economic development have seen the village's glory disappear. Liu said his heart broke whenever he saw large numbers of young people move out of the village to seek work in cities, leaving their ancestors 400-year-old well-designed and carved houses abandoned and either collapsed or in urgent need of repair.
Now, Liu's long-held dream has finally started to become a reality; the residents are moving into brand new 170-square meter two-story houses complete with indoor toilets in a new village, and many of the young people have started to return.
Still standing proud
Unlike many other villages where old houses were demolished as new houses were built, the historic buildings in Xiwenxing are still standing and are in good shape.
For these improvements, the residents have Sun Jucai, the head of a construction company in Henan province, to thank. Sun visited the old village by chance in 2000, and was astonished by the scale, design, architecture and history he found there.
"As a person who enjoys reading books about ancient architecture and history, I felt obliged to do something to save this heritage. After several discussions with local county leaders, I reached an aGREement with the local government," he said.
The aGREement meant that while Qinshui county government built a new village for the residents, Sun was allowed to invest in the renovation of the old buildings and infrastructure with a view to turning old Xiwenxing into a living tourist attraction.
"Luckily I happened upon the village in the nick of time, if I hadn't, all 13 courtyards would have been destroyed," he said.
Sun has invested more than 50 million yuan ($8.2 million) in the village during the past 10 years and visitors can now see eight fully restored courtyards.
With Sun's help, Xiwenxing recovered its original face and has become one of China's best-known historic villages and a top tourist attraction with an entry price of 48 yuan.
"With the increasing popularity of the village, visitors have come from far afield to see it. Some of the young people have returned to work as tour guides or as support staff. The village committee plans to help residents open a number of 'home hotels' and restaurants in the future," said Liu.
"Without people living inside, a village loses its soul, so I plan to pay the wages of several villagers and invite them to move back," Sun said.
Excluding those that work in the cities, one-third of residents work in the old village, earning much more than they ever could by farming. "Now every family has a motorbike and several families have even bought cars," smiled Liu.
Lou Qingxi, director of the ancient architecture research center at Tsinghua University, has visited Xiwenxing many times and believes that tourism is a good way to develop traditional villages.
"Zhouzhuang town in Jiangsu province is a good example. As a tourist spot, the fabric of the traditional village has been well preserved. The villagers are getting richer through the tourist trade and living standards have improved. In addition, more people have an opportunity to learn about this charming old water town," said Lou.123Next Page