Villagers' company reaps rewards

Updated:Jul 24,2019 11:04 AM

With the Qixi Festival coming up, a tourism company set up by villagers is preparing for its busiest time of the year as couples descend on Lovers' Valley in the shadows of Huangshan Mountain, Anhui province.

The festival, also known as Chinese Valentine's Day, falls on Aug 7, the seventh day of the seventh lunar month.

Zhu Weibing, deputy general manager of Feicuigu Tourism, which was established more than 30 years ago by residents of Shangzhang village, Tangkou township, is expecting strong tourist numbers.

The 15-kilometer-long valley, also called Feicuigu, is best known for an incident that happened in 1986 when 36 young travelers from Shanghai became lost there.

They helped each other get out and when they returned to Shanghai, 20 of them became couples and proposed changing the name of the area to Lovers' Valley.

But Zhu thinks two other visits more fundamentally changed life for Shangzhang villagers and gave them the courage to establish their own tourism company.

In July, 1979, Deng Xiaoping, who initiated the reform and opening-up in 1978, visited Huangshan Mountain, when it had received few visitors and infrastructure was virtually nonexistent. Deng encouraged local officials to develop the area for tourism to create better lives for the local residents.

"The visit was considered the beginning of China's modern tourism development," said Fang Ying, deputy head of Huangshan Culture and Tourism Bureau.

In 1979, the mountain received about 104,000 visitors. That figure is now reached in two days during the busy season, said Wang Guoyin, deputy director of the general office at the Huangshan Mountain Tourism Zone Administration.

Multiple paths to the mountain top, including cable car lines, and hotels have been built since Deng's visit.

Zhu Weibing's father, 78-year-old Zhu Dianxiong, said in the 1980s Shangzhang villagers started to think about their futures, beyond a small annual income of no more than 200 yuan.

In 1985, a college teacher who trekked in the valley told the villagers they should develop tourism because of the natural beauty there.

He suggested naming the valley Feicuigu, or "Emerald Valley", as the water in the brooks and pools was crystal clear and as green as emerald.

Inspired by the suggestion, the villagers started to prepare the registration forms for their tourism company in 1986.

"Local officials were surprised by the idea because they knew of no precedent for farmers to start a tourism business," said Zhu senior, whose high school education made him the most educated villager.

He drafted all the required documents under the officials' guidance with the villagers identified as the company's shareholders according to each family's farm plot. The documents banned chopping down trees and bamboo, and called for the building of access roads to remote areas.

The company was formally founded in August 1987, charging visitors to the valley a 1 yuan entrance fee.

By the end of the first year of operation, the company had earned more than 100,000 yuan from the entrance fees.

The company paid combined salaries of 80,000 yuan to the villagers who participated in the road construction, along with bonuses, which made them excited and confident about the future, said the elder Zhu, adding the company reserved some cash for future development.

Last year, the company earned more than 50 million yuan ($7.27 million) from entrance fees, with each tourist charged 90 yuan.

Village shareholders received a bonus of more than 10,000 yuan each, while many of them have also earned income from inns and stores run from their own residences.

The rest of the earnings are held for future investment and capital. Other benefits for the villagers include retirement pensions and subsidies for young villagers to attend college.