By Hou Jueliang
“I forget all the places I’ve been to and seen, and only my hometown lives on in my memory lane,” go lyrics that always remind me of my hometown, my mother and my family.
It is human nature to miss home while residing in a place far away, and the feeling is universal. I have been living in Beijing for a long time, but my hometown is in southwestern China’s Sichuan Province, which is quite far— nearly 1,800 kilometers away. In the past, I had only returned home once in many years because transportation was inconvenient, and my salary was too modest. At that time, if I missed my hometown, all I could do was point at it on a map as if I were there or meet my family in my dreams.
A Closer Hometown
Sichuan, occupying most of the Sichuan Basin, is surrounded by mountains: Qinling and Bashan mountains in the north, Yunnan- Guizhou Plateau in the south, Minshan Mountains in the west, and Wushan Mountains in the east. In ancient times, Sichuan was renowned for its seclusion because it was engulfed by mountains and transportation was underdeveloped. Li Bai (701-762), one of the greatest poets of the Tang Dynasty (618-907), was a native of today’s Sichuan and once sighed: “It is easier to climb to Heaven than take the road to Sichuan.”
Before 1949, Sichuan lacked any railway and had only a few roads. Transportation largely depended on waterways, and the artery of outbound traffic from Sichuan was the Yangtze River.
After the People’s Republic of China was founded in 1949, Sichuan began to build railways across the province to connect large and medium-sized cities. New railways were constructed year by year to expand to other provinces to interconnect with the national railway network from all directions.
Over the past decades, transportation has developed rapidly thanks to reform and opening-up. Double tracks were built along the original railway lines, and high-speed rail has been introduced. Even more delightful was the completion of Three Gorges Hydropower Plant, which allows for the passage of large ships and solidifies the water transportation network. A road transportation network that is compatible with the water transportation network has also taken shape. Thus, a complete transportation system that includes water, air and land transport has been established.
In the past, it was an unpleasant journey to return to my hometown, a village on Bashan Mountain. From Beijing I needed to transfer from a train to a bus, and at that time it was difficult to buy both train and bus tickets as well as finding a hotel. Normally, it took about a week to return to my home village, and I often asked myself why my hometown was so far away because the trip home was really tough—not only time-consuming but also costly.
Today, things have been getting better every day. Roads in Sichuan have been developed and connected to the outside world, making my journey home much easier. It only takes about two hours to fly from Beijing to the airport near my hometown. My relatives and friends wait for me at the airport and drive me directly to my family’s farm. Just as in plains areas, roads in the mountains are now connected to everywhere and accessible by counties, villages and even households.
This makes my journey back home much more convenient. To illustrate, I can eat breakfast in the morning in Beijing and then have dinner with my relatives in my hometown, which has changed my past feelings dramatically about my hometown being so far away. Now the long distance hardly matters. All these are part of the changes that have taken place in China since the reform and opening-up policy was adopted, and my trip home provides a thumbnail sketch.
Before the reform and opening-up policy was implemented in China, I felt ambivalent about going back home: I wanted to go home, but I was afraid of doing it because I always felt a little uncomfortable to see so much poverty: no trees on the mountain, no fish in the river, no food at home, no money in the pocket. Villagers came to see me in rags and apologized, “We are really glad you came home, but we can’t even offer you a meal because we farmers are getting poorer and poorer.”
At the time, rural areas were still engaged in cooperative and collective production and public ownership, which led to suppression of the enthusiasm of farmers due to low grain yields. Other supplementary jobs to earn extra cash were forbidden, so farmers suffered greatly.
After the introduction of reform and opening-up, farmers began to sow their own fields and reap their own crops, and productive forces were liberated. Farmers found their own ways to amass wealth through labor and escaped poverty. They have been climbing towards higher and higher living standards after solving food and clothing shortages.
Thanks to reform and opening-up, my hometown has gradually become richer. In the past, I was afraid of going home, but now I am eager to go to witness the evolution of my hometown with my own eyes. Two years ago, I went back and saw my brothers and nephews.
Sitting in the yard at night, my nephew and I chatted. The words of my nephew helped me deeply understand the unprecedented changes that have taken place in rural areas.
My nephew said to me sincerely, “Uncle, please don’t send me money again.”
I asked, “Why?”
He said, “Now the policies are so good that farmers can live well. We are exempt from the agricultural tax, farming is subsidized, medical insurance covers part of our medical bills and children’s tuition and lunch are free. Farmers will also receive pension when they get old. There is adequate food now. We have a grain reserve of several thousand kilograms at home and we even cannot finish so much food. So we feed our pigs with corn. We raise three pigs a year. We slaughter one pig to welcome Chinese New Year and sell the other two.”
I believe what my nephew said. He has extra money and extra food in droves. I don’t need to live so frugally in order to afford to send money to them. Not only am I happy for my nephew’s improved living standards, but also for the improved living of all farmers in my hometown.
Thinking about the past and looking towards tomorrow, my mood has changed because I am no longer afraid of the long distance to my hometown, and I no longer worry about the poverty there.