At the end of the southern Daba Mountains, there is a village surrounded by tiers of mountain ridges topped with large peaks. Here is the home of Zhou De, the first Vice President of the People’s Republic of China. This village is Yilong County within Sichuan Province.
Yilong is between latitude 30 ° 11'-31 ° 39 ', longitude 106 ° 14'-106 ° 52'. The county has jurisdiction over 69 towns, 844 administrative villages, and 5845 agricultural groups. The total population is about 975,000 with the agricultural population around 903,500, which makes up the 242,4333 agricultural households. The county has a total land area of 169,170 hectares, of which 43,275 hectares of arable land so 0.048 hectares of arable land per capita. The county is hilly with ravines cutting through randomly, making the terrain very complex. The topography is dominated with steep mountain ranges that are 309-793 meters above sea level. Yet, this place is still a traditional agricultural county, known for its farming.
Perhaps Yilong is just a drop in China’s great big ocean, but Yilong’s population of one million and poverty issue have aroused great concern from the Chinese government. In 1985, there are a total of 175,000 households in poverty (accounting for 87.3% of agricultural households), totally 711,850 people (accounting for 89.2% of the agricultural population). Perennially, 42.8% of households lack food; 79.4% households lack water; adults average 4.8 years of schooling; 18.7% of children are out of school; deficit is at 6000 million RMB; and, there is not protection of wages. Poverty is always shadowing over this land. Thus, Yilong has been classified as a poverty-stricken county by the country in 1986, one of the two counties in poverty aided by the Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation.
The causes for Yilong to be in poverty are due to a number of factors, of which there are four fundamental factors: (1) Conditions are poor. There is a shortage of resources, poor transport facilities, and communication problems. Yilong is situated on top of two watersheds for the Qu and Jialing River. Frequently, there is drought and damage from wind, hail, and floods. Because only water from natural precipitation can be used, agricultural production remains stagnant. Thus, the lack of water is a very prominent problem. At the same time, more than 80% of arable land is barren, thin, and infertile with water, soil, and fertilizer run-offs. This land is in such poor quality that an average grain yield per hectare is only about 6000 kilograms. (2) The structure of agricultural industry is not ideal. The traditional pig industry accounts for a large proportion. Because of having only one product and dated technology, farmers ended up paying high costs for low output, receiving little if any profit. (3) Education and health are both lacking. Because the majority of the population has little education, science and technology are difficult to advance here. The county’s average amount of years of education is 5. Out of 1000 people, only 74 students have graduated from college. Only 19395 people have graduated from middle school, and the illiterates and semi-illiterates account for 24.9 percent of the total population. There is little education in technology; even worse, the people are naïve about new inventions, hindering improvement further. The saying “working during the day, resting at night” still remain relevant to farming for most people. (4) Infrastructure is poor and economic development is impaired. Because the availability of finances is already low, the county is unable to improve anything. Only about half the roads are able to withstand the sun and the rain. 70 villages do not have road access. Irrigation has long been neglected, leading to floods that collapse houses, ruin crops, and kill trees. The lives of the farmers become even more difficult.
The people of Yilong are not exactly poor. The national and county governments have carried out a project directed to aid Yilong’s 1 million people. The project has a series of tireless measures to ease poverty and eventually eliminate it. At the end of the year 2000, the county’s 36 poverty-stricken towns, 234,000 poor people, farmer groups, and economy have received well-rounded development. However, two problems still exist. One still lies with the villages located deep in the mountains where conditions are even worse. How to assist them still remains in question. Another is how to allow Yilong to catch-up with the market-oriented economy. Both make the task of eliminating poverty more arduous.