Improved transportation infrastructure transforms China's remote west

Updated 2017-09-01 11:01:20 Xinhua

For centuries, the only means of connection between Mashuping Village and outside world was a narrow meandering path deep in the mountains.

However, a new highway which opened this week has ended the isolation for residents of the village in northwest China's Shaanxi Province.

It now takes about five minutes to walk from Mashuping to the newly built Yanhuang Highway, which stretches for 828.5 km along the west bank of the Yellow River. The highway, which cost 6.9 billion yuan (1 billion U.S. dollars), will benefit more than 2 million people.

In the past, construction materials could not be easily transported into the village, so many villagers, like Fu Changhong, 44, lived in cave houses.

Children had to walk for hours through the mountains to get to school. If a villager became ill, they would be carried out by stretcher to the nearest road, where they could be taken to hospital by car, according to villager Zhao Hongyan.

The lack of infrastructure meant there were no business opportunities. Persimmons would rot on trees unable to be transported to markets. Due to the isolation and poverty, men struggled to find wives willing to move to the village.

"When I got married more than 20 years ago, I was brought to the village on the back of a mule. Ever since, I have regretted my decision," said Shi Bianrong.

There is a Chinese proverb that says: "If you want to get rich, you must first build roads." The Yanhuang Highway promises to provide more opportunities for the villagers.

Some plan to open guesthouses or stores on the side of the highway, which links several tourist destinations including Hukou Waterfall and Mount Huashan, one of China's five sacred mountains.

Others intend to raise poultry or start other businesses.

Poor transport infrastructure has caused China's west to lag behind eastern regions in terms of economic competitiveness.

The central government unveiled a national strategy to accelerate economic growth in the inland west in 1999, including the building of a network of highways, railways and airports.

Shaanxi now has around 5,000 km of expressways and that number is expected to surpass 6,000 km by the end of 2020, when all counties will be assessable by expressway.

The Belt and Road Initiative, proposed in 2013, aims to link the economies of dozens of countries, propelling growth and social development.

Building more roads, railways and airports has become a necessity for China's western region along the ancient Silk Road.

A new high speed railway linking the city of Baoji in Shaanxi with Lanzhou, capital of neighboring Gansu Province, began operation on July 9, connecting China's northwestern regions to the national high speed rail network.

Tongwei, one of the poorest counties in Gansu, is now connected by high speed rail with major cities such as Beijing, Guangzhou and Hangzhou.

Every Spring Festival, Wang Yadong, 55, and his wife travel from Tongwei to Guangzhou, in south China, where their son and daughter work. The journey previously took them more than 36 hours.

"Now I can take the high speed train to Guangzhou," Wang said. "The travel time has been cut to 11 hours."

Shaanxi has opened 46 international air routes and several freight train routes to Central Asia and Europe since 2013, according to Lou Qinjian, the provincial Party chief.

It has also set up a free trade zone and inland port to facilitate the building of an international logistics hub, Lou said.

More than 300 Shaanxi companies have invested in countries and regions along the Belt and Road, and foreign companies have come to the province looking for cooperation opportunities, he said.

"China's west is an important area in the latest round of opening up," said Zeng Zhaoning from Xi'an Shiyou University. "Improved transportation infrastructure has transformed the western areas and people's lives."

Fu has just purchased a smart phone to learn more about the outside world. He plans to open a guesthouse beside the Yanhuang Highway.

He also wants to visit the famous Hukou Waterfall, which is only around 20 km away from the village, but few villagers have been there.

"In the past, we had to travel more than 200 km through mountain ravines to get there. Now it takes less than an hour," Fu said.

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