The returnee with growing ambitions

Updated 2016-12-27 11:13:38 China Daily

Sitting atop a ridge, surrounded by green mountains and boasting an extensive view of terraced orchards, Shizizhai, a rural settlement in Gaopai village, Huichang county, has all the natural elements required for a major ecotourism attraction.

That potential is what prompted Huichang native Rao Rongsheng, a member of the Hakka ethnic group, to abandon his urban life-style and a lucrative career in the mining industry in Guangdong province in 2013, and return to his home in southern Jiangxi province, East China.

"When I made the decision, my older brother asked 'Are you out of your mind?'" the 45-year-old said.

"He couldn't understand why I had returned to a place I had been so desperate to leave more than 20 years ago. However, in the city I worked for other people and I just wanted to develop something of my own."

In 1990, beaten down by a life of chopping and selling firewood, and earning just enough to prevent the family from starving, Rao decided to seek work in Meizhou, a city in northeastern Guangdong. When he left Shizizhai, he had just 30 yuan (.30) in his pocket.

"When I set out, I was skinny and only about 1.5-meters tall. My brother said the only possible way for me to survive would be to beg for food in the street. I was annoyed, but also motivated, by his words," he said.

Boasting courage and a sharp mind, the hard-working Rao soon mastered the blasting and excavation techniques that are of prime importance in the mining industry, and by the late 1990s he had started making a decent living as a contractor.

However, when conditions improved in Huichang as a result of the burgeoning fruit-cultivation business, Rao decided to return and act on his ambition to develop ecotourism around the orchard in which his family grows navel oranges.

Since May 2013, Rao has invested his savings of 800,000 yuan to expand the orchard to 250 mu (16.7 hectares) growing a range of fruits, including kiwis and waxberries, which ripen for picking in all seasons.

He has also offered jobs to the villagers, such as pruning trees, picking fruit and fertilizing his "four-season" orchard, which generates annual income of about 1 million yuan.

However, his plans to build a mountain villa to accommodate tourists and to diversify his business operations by building fishing ponds, sightseeing paths and an organic vegetable farm - which would require the use of land owned by relatives and neighbors - have experienced a number of setbacks.

"Land means life to some conservative elders in the village. To gain approval for the use of their land, even though the economic returns would be great, is as difficult as applying for a loan from the local bank to build the villa," he said.

Despite the lack of funds and land, Rao remains upbeat because he believes the local government is on his side, encouraging and supporting private businesses based on local specialties.

Last year, the government laid a concrete road to connect the area of mountainside around the proposed villa with the highway, and has also included Rao's ecotourism business in a list of projects that will be eligible for tax breaks in the future.

"Before I returned, I only thought about developing my own orchard, but now I feel a greater responsibility to help the entire population of Shizizhai become rich," he said.

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