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The "University Sample" of Poverty Alleviation on the Land of Western Yunnan——A chronicle of Tongji University's targeted poverty alleviation in Yunlong County

November 3, 2020

While holding the hand of Tongji University President CHEN Jie, Nanny YANG said excitedly: "People from Tongji University built the bridge and paved the road for us, so we don't have to worry about going out anymore!" Ms. YANG is from Yong'an Village, Nuodeng Town, Yunlong County, Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture, Yunnan Province. She continued by saying:

The highway is just on the other bank, but there is no bridge that allows us to cross the river. Thus, every time when we have to go to the town for business or other affairs, we have to take detours and wade through the water which sometimes takes us two or three hours longer. During the rainy seasons, we are just encircled in the mountains for four to five months. Now we have the bridge. We can cross the river and approach the highway within several minutes.

On a fine autumn day, CHEN and his team sat around and chatted with the villagers in Nanny YANG's house, viewing the newly-opened Yongji Xinqiao Bridge in the distance through the window. Outside Nanny YANG's house, the grape vine on the shelves was laden with emerald green fruits and the pomegranate trees were full bearing.

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At the opening ceremony of Yongji Xinqiao Bridge, Tongji University President and villagers posed for a group photo

In Yunlong County, the name of Tongji University has long resounded in villagers' ears, no matter how old they are. Since 2013, according to the unified deployment of the Ministry of Education, Tongji University has been designated to help Yunlong County, Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture, Yunnan Province. Thanks to the joint efforts of Tongji University and local villagers, the impoverishment rate in Yunlong County has dropped from 28.1% in 2014 to 1.35% in 2019. On May 16, 2020, it was declared that Yunlong County had been removed from the list of poverty-stricken counties.

At the crucial moment of poverty alleviation, Tongji University gave full play actively to its intellectual and disciplinary strength and offered targeted policies in system planning, education, medical service and industry supporting. By doing so, Tongji has written a "university example" of the battle against poverty in western Yunnan.

Precise planning to improve public services to help the heartland

Yunlong County is an ethnic minority area located in the westernmost part of Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture in Yunnan Province, the hinterland[1]  of the "Three Parallel Rivers" longitudinal valley area in the southern part of the Hengduan Mountains, with a total land area of 4,400 square kilometers, of which more than 98% are mountains. Due to its poor conditions, people there have been blocked in the mountains for generations and Yunlong County used to be a key area for poverty alleviation.

During a tour of the Dali Prefecture in Yunnan Province, General Secretary XI Jinping pointed out: "new rural construction[2] ” must respond to the reality and follow the principle in the development of rural areas, to make full use of the advantages of the countryside. We should value the unique characteristics of rural areas, including rural landscape and natural views, to reserve a place for people to send their feelings of nostalgia[3]

How to blaze a trail of urbanization suitable to Yunlong County? Tongji University first thought of its own traditionally advantage discipline-urban and rural planning. Tongji took the lead in sending experts in the field of planning, environment, materials and new rural construction to Yunlong country for a field trip, to clarify the realistic obstacles and bottlenecks in the process of poverty alleviation and development in Yunlong County. They reached a mutual understanding with people from Yunlong County on targeted poverty alleviation guided by urban and rural planning, that they should stick to the plan with a clear focus and implement targeted measures from various aspects.

In July 2013, Tongji University organized the preparation of the Yunlong County Master Plan and the Yunlong County Caojian Town Master Plan. The plan aims at turning Yunlong county to be a beautiful and comfortable city with unique Bai characteristics as a service center for the region, where service facilities including tourism and culture industry, instead of large-scale industry, drive the development of the surrounding areas. This urbanization policy invests limited funds to core driving areas and livelihood projects without pouring money into the construction of large-scale infrastructures.

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President CHEN Jie checking the working draft of West Luoping Tunnel

Under the guidance of clear planning, for eight years both sides stuck to the plan and stayed committed to developing Yunlong County with every single effort.

Yong'an's story is a typical example. Yong’an, a village in Yunlong County, is located on both sides of the Bijiang River. The running river which divides the village into two parts put people to great inconvenience. In 2019, President CHEN Jie visited the village with his team and decided to stress the improvement of infrastructure and human settlements, giving priority to the construction of bridges along the river. They raised more than 2.6 Million RMB to build the Yongji Xinqiao bridge. The bridge was officially completed and opened to traffic in June of this year, allowing 500 villagers from Yun'an Old Area, Luoba Mountain, and two other groups to get around easily and freely.

After a year, President CHEN and his team returned to Yong'an Village to check their work. Impressively, he said:

When I first came to Yong'an Village last May, we have to make our way up the mountain with an SUV, bouncing along the dusty road beside the cliff. It's impossible to use other vehicles. When we were driving up the mountain, the condition of the road was so terrible and dangerous that clouds of dust completely hided the cars ahead of us. But this year, we visited the village again by van up the mountain where all the roads had been hardened. Last year, folks rode donkeys to the market with their produce, which were loaded on the back of the donkeys. This year we saw cars parked in villagers' yards. All these are fruits of our sincere cooperation.

Yongji Xinqiao bridge paves the way for the villagers of Yong'an to a prosperous life, and the four expressways that will open to traffic soon will give wayto the economic and social development of Yunlong County. The lack of high-grade highways has been a bottleneck in Yunlong County's development, especially in terms of industrial development. In order to promote the layout of cities and towns, the Yunlong County Master Plan revised the Yunlong section of Yunnan provincial expressway network and carefully designed the high-grade highway network of the county area. Growing from scratch, the highway network of Yunlong County gradually developed with the help of Tongji University. In November 2016, highway from Dali to Yangbi to Lanping was officially launched, which covered the area of Yunlong County for the first time. In 2022, four highways spanning Yunlong County will be open to traffic and Yunlong County will become the transportation hub of West Yunnan. By then, the traffic problems of Yunlong County will be solved completely.

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Tongji's Party Secretary FANG Shouen talking with doctors from Tongji Hospital who volunteered to work in Yunlong County

In June at Yunlong County People's Hospital, the bi-annual Tongji-Yunlong Medical Week was held in full swing. Doctors from Tongji Hospital Affiliated with Tongji University provided the villagers with various medical services, including surgical demonstrations, teaching rounds, discussion of difficult cases, and specialized free treatment. Over the past seven years, Tongji, Dongfang, Shanghai Pulmonary and Stomatological Hospitals (all affliated with Taongji University)have sent more than 170 experts in 17 batches to Yunlong for medical service and trained more than 3,200 local doctors to create a medical team for Yunlong County that will remain permanently. County secretary of Yunlong County DUAN Dongmei said:

The best buildings you can see in Yunlong County right now are schools and hospitals. With the help of Tongji University, the hardware facilities and medical strength of the people's hospital in our county continue to improve. Now our hospital is a well-known brand with a great reputation instead of a "poor student". Having witnessed the constructing of the highway network, the improving of medical service and the developing of civil places, people in Yunlong County are gradually becoming happier and more satisfying.

President CHEN Jie and his team talking with the doctor from the People's Hospital of Yunlong County.

Rooting out poverty by developing local industries

Tucked away in the mountains north of Yunlong County, Nuodeng was once the center of the Salt Horse Road; beautiful land with stunning scenery of a Tai Chi figure. With a nearly 2,000-year history, the salt well in Nuodeng is a gift from nature and the perfect combination of salt and ham has made Nuodeng ham famous all over the world after the "A Bite of China" broadcast. Apart from Nuodeng ham, which is reputed as the "Most tasty ham over one thousand years,"Yunlong County's featured organic products, such as Maidiwan pears, Yunlong tea, Nuodeng black pigs, and Yunlong bantam chickens have also obtained national geographic mark product certification successively. Moreover, there are many original ecological green agricultural products, such as walnut, black fungus, and honey products that originate from Yunlong County. As long as Yunlong people make full use of these special agricultural products and promote them, the products will become the "golden key" for Yunlong people to get rid of poverty[4] .

However, the geographical environment of high mountains and deep valleys in Yunlong county restricts the pace of agricultural products getting out of the mountains and into thousands of households. The meat of Yunlong pheasants is soft and tasty, but the transport cost is too high for cooperatives and farmers to afford. Chestnut tea has a strong but mellow flavor, but the promotion is not enough to drive the tea farmers to increase their income. To this end, Tongji’s College of Architecture and Urban Planning and the School of Economics and Management have optimized and improved the industrial planning scheme for Yunlong, clarified the key points of industrial development, highlighted the development of plateau ecological agriculture, and promoted the value-added of basic industries by means of Internet + and brand promotion.

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Tongji's Party Secretary FANG Shouen visiting poverty-stricken villagers in Yunlong County

The research group visited the workshop of Fengnong Agricultural Development Co., LTD., a leading local enterprise, and inspected the newly built coarse grain processing production line to learn the sales situation of agricultural products during the COVID-19 epidemic. Since 2016, Tongji University has taken sales poverty alleviation as traction and carried out precise assistance in raw material processing and production, online and offline sales, and post-management services to promote the integration of the Fengnong Company. Their efforts drove more than 70 local enterprises, cooperatives, and thousands of poor people to connect the farmers with the consumers and promote the development and growth of local industries. In 2020, Tongji University will continue to increase its support by investing 900,000 RMB to support the construction of specialized planting and breeding cooperatives. In August, Tongji University will organize local management cadres and rural industry leaders to carry out special training in The School of Rural Revitalization of Tongji University (Huangyan).

Yunlong County is named after the Lancang River, which is covered with clouds and mist at night and rises like a dragon in the morning. The stunning landscape of mountains and valleys attracts tourists from different places. There are 13 ancient villages in the county that are listed in the National Traditional Villages List, among which Nuodeng Village is one of the oldest villages in Northwest Yunnan and has the reputation of being a thousand-year-old Bai village.

In 2016, Yunnan Province proposed a three-year action plan to develop full-scale tourism. Under the policy guidance of the advantage, the Tongji planning team prepared the Yunlong County Territorial Tourism Plan, digging deep into the value of human resources, re-integrating the advantages of natural resources and revitalizing the resources of the tourism industry. The plan focuses on building a county tourism service center, the Natural Tai Chi Scenic Area and the Nuodeng Ham town. At the same time, they decided to speed up the infrastructure construction and promotion of the Salt Horse Road National Trail and establish a unique village tourism guidance system. At present, the infrastructures of Nuodeng Ancient Village, Natural Tai Chi Scenic Area, Hutou Mountain and other scenic spots are gradually being constructed and improved, with a total investment of 229 Million RMB. The number of tourism employees increased significantly, with an average annual visitor growth of about 30%, and the county received 1,268,700 visitors in 2019, achieving tourism revenue of 980 Million RMB, up 63.5% year-on-year, accounting for 13.8% of GDP, with the tourism economy showing a strong backward-looking advantage.

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FANG Shouen, Tongji's Party Secretary and DUAN Dongmei, county secretary of Yunlong County, attended the opening ceremony of the distance learning classroom for Yunlong County.

Rooting out poverty of the spirit and help students to realize their dreams

On July 18, 2019, Yunlong County received an uproar at a good news from Yunlong County No. 1 Middle School:

After three years of hard study, Yang Jingbi, a farm student from Guanping Township, Yunlong County, was admitted to the Engineering Experimental Class of Tongji University with the cooperated help from Shanghai, Yunnan, and the Special Plan of National Higher Education fulfilling the Yunlong No. 1 Middle School's dream of Tongji University.

This news brought much encouragement and surprise to the people of Yunlung County, as they were all too familiar with Tongji University and its teachers and students. Volunteer teachers, student summer camps, village cadres, research experts, and others from Tongji have earned a great reputation in Yunlong County for their heartfelt help.

General Secretary XI Jinping highlighted the significance of encouragement in poverty alleviation, and he said that poverty-stricken areas can develop spontaneously by efforts, favorable policies, and making full use of their own advantages to compensate for the disadvantages brought about by poverty. In 2014, Tongji University set a volunteer teaching center in Yunlong Tuanjie Middle School, and later in 2016; another center was set in Changxin Junior High School. Over the past six years, 30 Tongji graduate students have been providing volunteer teaching services in Yunlong County, making up for the shortage of local teachers and promoting the improvement of local education and teaching quality.

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President CHEN Jie and his team with Yunlong Branch of Tongji University graduate student volunteer teaching group

Rural revitalization cannot be achieved without cultural construction, and poverty alleviation through education should pay more attention to cultural inheritance. Back in 2013, PENG Jing, a student from Tongji University, came to Nuodeng Village for the first time to carry out her research for her summer practice project. She noticed that Nuodeng was rich in local cultural resources, while the local teenagers knew little about their hometown and didn't care much about their[5]  development. Although local educational facilities had been improved greatly due to the efforts of various parties, there was an extreme lack of quality courses related especially to the local culture. Therefore, PENG set up the Charity Team of Beautiful Nostalgia, carried out a series of educational activities for a six-year period with rural culture education as the starting point, published the Book of Rural Culture of Nuodeng, and formed an operation kit that could be promoted and copied. In the summer of 2018, the Charity Team of Beautiful Nostalgia led 22 children in the village to hold an online and offline exhibition called “My Future and My Home,” in which the children took the role as Nuodeng ambassador to introduce the culture of their hometown to the audience; an exhibition that attracted more than 300 visitors and 60,000 online followers.

In the spring of 2019, a dream classroom main base was completed in the 129 Auditorium of Tongji University, thousands of miles away from Yunlong County, to deliver high-quality educational resources to the countryside and promote rural revitalization through educational poverty alleviation. The first dream class of interconnection among three places was launched from Tongji and entered Ruijin Yeping Middle School of Jiangxi province and Yunlong Tuanjie Middle School of Yunnan Province for simultaneous distance teaching. The dream class integrates rural basic education and local characteristic culture, and carries out three stages of courses, namely "searching for the countryside," "knowing the countryside," and "keeping the countryside." Through problem-oriented courses, the students are trained to put what they have learned into practice, tell rural stories for their children, and accompany them to stay as guardians for their hometown. Over the past year, the dream classroom has carried out more than 100 lectures for more than 5,000 students.

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Tongji's Party Secretary FANG Shouen talking with students of Yunlong Tuanjie Middle School

Targeted poverty alleviation through education is the core measure to break the intergenerational transmission of poverty and turn "passive" poverty alleviation into "spontaneous" poverty alleviation. In 2020, Tongji will continue to build two smart classrooms for Yunlong No. 1 Middle School, introduce network technology into the classroom, reform the teaching methods, and enable Yunlong students to get better education.

More dream classrooms are put into use in schools in Yunlong County, and more dream courses are transmitted to local students together with the love and care of Tongji across thousands of miles. Kids in Yunlong County   share the same dream: to be a student at Tongji University when they grow up. Tongji University not only gives the children a dream to pursue, but also injects the endogenous  power of poverty alleviation into Yunlong County.

The difficulty of every work is greatest when it is on the edge of success. At present, China has made decisive achievements in poverty alleviation and education poverty alleviation has also reached its final sprint. Universities are in the process of poverty alleviation and intellectual support, and they will write their papers on the land of China with their practice.

Source. People.com - Education Channel