The story appears on

Page A4_5

April 13, 2024

GET this page in PDF

Free for subscribers

View shopping cart

Related News

Home » In Focus

Pristine landscapes at the core: Pursuing a new model of economic development

ON a recent Sunday morning, I came across a long scroll of watercolor painting sprawled on a wooden path in a canola field Hemu Village in west Shanghai’s Qingpu District.

The 20-meter-long scroll was a fruit of 11 children’ paid tour to the picturesque village, said a young man, a teacher of a nearby painting school. His pupils had left for a barbecue with their parents in another corner of the field.

In the middle of the canola field, a young woman teacher of another painting school was also guiding her students, all aged under 10, to study her exemplary work.

“We regularly bring our students here to observe nature,” she said. “We charge participants a certain amount of fees, and in turn pay the village for the use of the canola field. Certainly you don’t have to pay anything if you just come as a tourist.”

A better village

The popularity of the canola field, which spans 1,000 mu (about 66 hectares), provides just one footnote to how Hemu has evolved from a lackluster rural place to a vibrant village in the past three years, aided by a redesign of its economic and natural landscapes.

When I first visited the village, which is about an hour’s walk from my home, about three years ago, there were few tourists, let alone pupils from painting schools. Some decrepit farmers’ houses dotting nearly 200 hectares of paddy fields were hardly attractive. Untended canola flowers were scattered here and there, failing to form a continuous esthetic landscape for potential tourists.

When village officials told me three years ago they would try to attract investors to help revive a historical riverfront marketplace in the center of the 3.3-square-kilometer village, I wasn’t sure whether or how they could make it. After all, the old rural marketplace flourished long ago — in the 1920s — and then gradually slipped into oblivion due in part to socioeconomic changes, including the once rampant urbanization that siphoned off a substantial workforce and many commercial activities away from the countryside.

But on that day, my doubts were washed away.

Certainly, there were still no paved parking lots or fancy shopping malls, but visitors from downtown packed the village. Hundreds of city men and women, young and old, crowded the revived riverside marketplace, flanked by renovated farmers’ houses, many of which had been adapted into tea houses, restaurants or cafes. One cafe even offers a free cup to any customer who donates a proper book.

No fancy urban amenities, but sporadic vegetable markets along the rivers, picnic places in the canola field and dining outlets adapted from authentic farmers’ houses all gave many visitors a “wow” moment on the day.

A group of tourists living around Hongqiao Railway Station, about 12 kilometers from Hemu Village, said they came by Metro Line 17.

“A low-carbon excursion indeed,” said a bespectacled middle-aged woman from the group.

“And we like locally grown fresh food as well as a stroll in the countryside.”

As we chatted casually under a tree with a wide canopy by a riverside bridge, an old farmer came and spread her freshly picked vegetables on the ground. The bespectacled woman and her fellow visitors bargained with the farmer for a few minutes and then, in one fell swoop, bought everything, from lettuce to spinach.

“Wow! I thought it might take me half a day to sell all my stuff,” the farmer exclaimed with a grin.

What I saw was a traditional Chinese village which had become more attractive and accessible to urban tourists without losing its rustic landscape: Wood paths, thatched pavilions and riverside food markets — all created mainly in the past three years with the help of investors — exist in harmony with farmers’ houses and the arable land.

A few remaining factories, a previous source of additional income for the village, were being dismantled to reduce industrial pollution that once tainted the rural image. In addition to the creation of eco-friendly tourist facilities, a digital industrial park was also being built on the border of the village and a nearby town neighborhood.

New development model

In many ways, Hemu Village embodies a new model of economic development that puts rural pristine landscapes at the core. This is largely in contrast to the past when urbanization more often than not ate into the countryside, creating industrial pollution in the process.

Under the new development model, emphasized in the central government’s No. 1 document for this year, released in February, low-carbon rural tourism and eco-friendly digital industrial parks that tap into bucolic farming landscapes should be encouraged.

And it’s not just about reviving a village. It’s more about reviving the ancient Chinese wisdom of working and living in harmony with the land. Such a wisdom applies to a city’s overall development, especially when it comes to urban regeneration, an effort to spruce up those areas of a city which are temporarily blighted by poor housing and decaying streets, among other things.

Hemu Village’s success — in achieving a balanced growth of agriculture and low-carbon industrial and commercial businesses — has a positive spillover effect.

Just across a crystal clear rural river sits a small, dilapidated neighborhood called Beisong. As I discovered, a large but outdated factory that once produced high-pressure containers had been dismantled. According to local government planning and my interview with a former employee of the factory at the spot, the site will become part of an enlarged digital industrial park connected with the one that’s taking shape in Hemu Village.

Looking at his decaying house first built in the 1950s and revamped shortly afterward, a 75-year-old man told me: “We hope to move to a new residential area as soon as possible, provided we are properly compensated for our relocation.”

His 70-year-old wife, who was washing clothes using muddy groundwater by a small canola field, echoed.

The old man said he came from downtown Shanghai to work at Beisong in 1958 and retired from the high-pressure container factory a few decades ago.

For the elderly couple and a few old neighbors, an earliest possible relocation to a new residential neighborhood would be ideal, because Beisong has deteriorated into an “urban village” — a compressed urban settlement built wholly or partly on former farmland.

As the local economy and life gradually lose their luster, such dense settlements have become less and less ideal for sustainable growth or living.

“Beisong used to be a boisterous but brisk market of food and fertilizer,” a 72-year-old man, who hawks handicrafts all year round, said when we chatted outside his rented room. “But now it’s different. Most residents have moved out.”

He came to Qingpu District from a village in neighboring Zhejiang Province more than 40 years ago, and has stayed at Beisong for about 30 years.

“Muddy or metaled roads used to be narrow when I first came here, and small shops selling everyday commodities somehow flourished to cater to customers who came on foot,” he recalled. “But now, look at the wide Huqingping Highway that passes by us. Things have changed.”

About 3 kilometers to the west of Beisong lies another “urban village” waiting to be rejuvenated. A few weeks ago, as I trudged through the detritus in the dilapidated neighborhood first built in the 1970s for homeless fishermen, stray cats and dogs greeted me with curious eyes, as if wondering why I was there — an almost abandoned site.

A 74-year-old woman was one of the few last residents who stayed. I came upon her around a corner as she was rolling vegetables in a plastic basin to make them into pickled food. Seeing that I was walking somehow unsteadily — I suffered a strain of lumbar muscles — she enthusiastically motioned for me to sit in a round chair. Then we chatted for about two hours. I relished the spirit of such an old neighborhood, a spirit I was so familiar when I was a teenager 40 years ago.

“I was born here, I grew up here, and I worked in a nearby fishery until I retired a few decades ago. I like the way we live here. Everything is quiet and slow. But life here has indeed lost its luster as the fishing business dwindles. Most of my neighbors have moved to new apartments, and I’m ready to move before the end of this year,” she said.

“According to the local government’s compensation plan, I will be given two new apartments,” she said merrily. “One apartment is 60 square meters, the other is 100 square meters.”

Now she lives in a two-story apartment of about 60 square meters with her daughter-in-law. Her son does some odd jobs in another city.

Still, she felt a bit melancholy about leaving.

“I’ve been here all my life,” she said.

We chatted well after lunchtime had passed. In the end, she said while waving me goodbye: “Things change, and life should get better.”

Like Beisong, this rundown neighborhood for former fishers will be revamped this year. Also like Beisong, the fishers’ neighborhood is situated close to a vibrant village. Just across the Huqingping Highway lies Fangxia, a 2,500-year-old village which has become one of Shanghai’s first batch of “forest villages” for its well-preserved trees that line its vast farmland.

The section of the Huqingping Highway that passes from Beisong to the fishers’ neighborhood is part of a historical area close to the Songze archeological site in Zhaoxiang Town. The Songze site dates back 6,000 years, where the first batch of residents in what is today’s Shanghai was discovered.

In other words, the “urban villages” along this section of the highway are surrounded by a plenty of booming villages which have been nourished by thousands of years of Chinese agrarian civilization.

Having experienced vicissitudes of urbanization, they are now ready to rediscover their pastoral landscape in future development. It doesn’t mean they will become rural villages again, but rather they will represent a new type of growth China has been exploring: putting pristine landscapes at the core.


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend