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They helped to build a modern-day China

Wu Bu’an, a village farmer in Qibao Town, is now in his 70s. In 1978, when the village of Jiuxing decided to embark on raising ducks, Wu was put in charge of the mission.

Some people worried at the time that the project would fail and the village would be worse off financially. Wu gave them hope.

“Wu doesn’t talk much, but he is a quick learner and is willing to work, sparing no effort,” said village director Li Deshun.

Wu first learned the skills of raising ducks from an expert in another village.

Feed the ducks. Walk the ducks for exercise. Collect the eggs. It all seemed simple on the surface, but Wu finally concluded that improvements could be made, so he began experimentation.

For one thing, Wu thought ducks, like humans, need some rest time. So he adjusted their exercise walks to give them breaks. It lifted egg production.

Wu also improved their feedstock. Previously, a powder made from shredded fish was used, but it proved to be too costly. So Wu replaced the fish with shrimp. That fattened the ducks to the extent that it was hard for them to swim. He experimented further until he reached a formula that worked.

To protect the ducks from animal predators, Wu sometimes slept in a cabin in the duck yard.

“When ducks get startled, they can panic and stomp on the eggs,” Wu said. “We could never be too careful at night.”

Wu significantly improved the egg volumes and lowered the death rate of the ducks.

In 1979, he was named a Shanghai Model Worker. “It was no big deal, just raising ducks,” Wu said humbly.

Xin’an Market, one of the largest produce wholesale markets in Shanghai, started out in the 1990s as a small wet market. Its dramatic transformation is down to the work of two men, Jiang Zhongde and Zhang Mingqi.

The pair founded Minzhong Investment Management Co in 2003 when the market was designated to undergo a reform.

“We looked at the bigger picture beyond just reviving the market,” Jiang said.

The company created premises for stallholders, warehousing and administrative offices. It also reformed the personnel system and set up food inspection checks that traced market commodities back to their source.

The thriving market spurred company expansion. Minzhong now operates markets for construction materials, and fruits and flowers, in addition to a gas station.

The Xin’an market, which is open 24 hours a day, had sales of some 2 billion yuan (US$308.88 million) last year. The market has 2,000 stallholders who hail from 18 provinces, Jiang said. Rents are kept low so that the vendors can make better profits. The stallholders’ children attend schools nearby.

“It’s 100 years since the founding of Communist Party of China and it’s also the 20th anniversary of the Xin’an Market,” Jiang said. “We view this as a milestone and are determined to stay true to our aspirations.”

Gu Fugen was director of Maqiao Culture Station for 30 years before he retired in 2005. The site holds the unearthed remains of a Neolithic civilization, one of Shanghai’s earliest communities.

Gu is now doing research on a book he wants to write on the social and economic development of the modern-day town of Maqiao. So far, he has accumulated 240 significant local events.

When China began its policies of reform and opening up in the late 1970s, Maqiao began delving into its own unique history. Gu managed to find a significant photo from that era.

It was taken in 1958, when then Premier Zhou Enlai visited a soldier’s family in Maqiao. He sat with them on the threshold of their house for a chat.

The photo was nowhere to be found in Maqiao. Gu pulled strings to find the name of the photographer and tracked him down in downtown Shanghai to get a copy of the picture.

He also visited Shanghai Library, the National Library and any other site holding possible Maqiao-related archives.

“There is no shortcut in research,” Gu said. “When I find a clue, I have to pursue it to the end.”

Gu has been photographing the changes in Maqiao for the past few decades, accumulating material useful in his book.

He was also one of a group of people who saved the Maqiao lion dance, which is listed in national intangible cultural heritage, from extinction.

The old inheritors of the lion dance tradition died and younger performers aged. Gu interviewed people who practiced in the art, carrying an old recording device.

In the end, he preserved 11 local traditional performances, including the lion dance, the boat-swinging dance and the clam dance.

Li Rongxiang, now in his 80s, is proud of the badge he was awarded for his 50-year membership in the Communist Party of China.

A graduate of Tsinghua University, Li signed up to be a part of national defense construction team in the northwesternmost Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in 1965. He worked on experiments related to nuclear development for about two decades.

His job entailed risks. Li never gave them a thought. He sometimes had to retrieve field records within 7 minutes of a test bomb explosion. He and his colleagues, outfitted in heavy protection suits, rehearsed the procedure so thoroughly that they never failed to secure the data.

In 1985, Li was awarded the top prize in the State Science and Technology Awards for his work related to collating data after underground nuclear explosions.

Due to long-term exposure to radioactive elements, Li had to leave the base in Xinjiang in 1984.

He said “I was sorry to go but proud of the contribution I had made to my country.”


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