Xi Story: Tailoring development to the local landscape
5 mins read

Xi Story: Tailoring development to the local landscape

BEIJING — In June 1988, Xi Jinping was transferred to Ningde, a backward mountainous prefecture in east China’s Fujian Province, to serve as the local Party chief.

As one of China’s 18 poorest areas back then, Ningde was, in Xi’s eyes, “almost a world to itself – hard to get to, with little information from the outside world, and an economy based on small-scale agricultural production.”

People in Ningde expected the young leader to bring in more investments and projects to lift the prefecture out of poverty. But rather than seeking external assistance, Xi set out for a field trip.

Within a month, he set foot in every county of Ningde, talking to local residents to learn about their lives and difficulties. He encouraged the people of Ningde, which is 90 percent mountainous and home to 643 islands, to explore a development path suitable for local conditions.

The solution Xi put forward was to adopt an all-encompassing approach to agriculture, which is “on the mountain one lives off the mountain, and by the sea one lives off the sea.”

Despite his busy inspection schedules, Xi made time to read the local annals, from which he learned that a section of eastern Fujian’s coastal waters was once teeming with wild large yellow croakers, a prized delicacy in Chinese cuisine. However, overfishing and the lack of aquaculture technologies had put the fish at risk of extinction.

“This is an important resource for eastern Fujian,” Xi told local officials. During his tenure in Ningde, Xi supported local efforts in artificially breeding large yellow croakers, which later became a major local industry that helped residents shake off poverty.

Today, Ningde produces eight out of every ten large yellow croakers found on Chinese dining tables. Over 300,000 people are engaged in large yellow croaker farming and related industries, with the annual value of the industry chain exceeding 10 billion yuan ($1.4 billion).

Xi’s pragmatic approach is a crucial part of his reform methodology, with which he has steered the country’s rapid progress over the past decade as the Chinese president, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission.

Particularly, it underpinned China’s successful campaign to eliminate absolute poverty, with targeted poverty alleviation as a central strategy.

From 2013 to 2020, he sent out some 255,000 work teams and 3 million officials across the country to provide one-on-one assistance to help impoverished farmers find the most suitable way out of poverty.

During these eight years, Xi himself conducted over 50 inspections on poverty alleviation work, including visits to all 14 regions with high levels of extreme poverty.

He carefully looked into local industries, especially those with the regions’ specialties, talking with farmers in greenhouses, on field ridges, under fruit trees and in front of farmhouses.

For some places, conditions were so harsh that only relocation could help the locals become better off. In Atulie’er, a mountain-locked poor village in Sichuan Province, scaling the 800-meter-high cliffs with handmade ladders used to be the only way for the villagers to reach the outside world.

“I saw that children had to climb the unsteady vine ladders on the cliffs with no safety measures whatsoever. It made me feel heavyhearted and concerned,” Xi said in 2017.

In 2020, all 344 residents of Atulie’er left the “cliff village” and moved into brand-new apartments. The villagers have started to plant olives and navel oranges, and the cliffs have now been turned into a tourist attraction — all these moves generate substantial income.

Throughout China’s quest for development in the new era, Xi has always stressed the need to find measures that best suit actual conditions.

“We must base everything we do on actual conditions and focus on solving real problems arising in our reform, opening up and socialist modernization endeavors in the new era,” he said in a report delivered to the 20th CPC National Congress in 2022.

Under his guidance, China has unveiled multiple master plans for different regions, such as the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, the Yangtze Economic Belt and the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, drawing tailored blueprints that have brought great changes to the Chinese economic landscape.

In developing the new quality productive forces, a concept he introduced as one of China’s future reform goals, Xi also called on localities to take into account their own resource endowment, industrial foundation and scientific research conditions.

“It is necessary to prevent a headlong rush into projects and the formation of industry bubbles, and avoid adopting just a single model of development,” he said at this year’s annual national legislative session in March.

At a symposium ahead of the third plenary session of the 20th CPC Central Committee, which is to be held from July 15 to 18 to primarily study issues concerning further comprehensively deepening reform and advancing Chinese modernization, Xi highlighted the need to take “indigenous approaches.”

“Every region has its own merits, and development must reflect local conditions,” he said after listening to advice on reform and modernization from business leaders and scholars at the symposium in May.