Changes in SW China’s Liangshan Yi autonomous prefecture in the eyes of a British young man

By Song Haoxin, People’s Daily

When asked where he likes going in China, Toby Symonds, a British young man, said without hesitation that Chinese countryside is so beautiful that foreigners should definitely visit it.

In September 2008, when he was a junior history student at the Newcastle University in Britain, Symonds came to study in the Sichuan University in Chengdu, capital of southwest China’s Sichuan province, under an exchange program.

“When I first arrived in Chengdu, I couldn’t speak Chinese and was a complete stranger in the city. But the city soon impressed me with its hospitality and inclusiveness, so I adapted quickly to the life in China,” Symonds told People’s Daily in a coffee shop in downtown Chengdu.

His experience of studying in China as an exchange student, though short, made Symonds fall in love with the country and its exuberant vitality and optimistic people.

After finishing his studies in Britain, Symonds returned to Chengdu to start a business with his friends while writing.

In recent years, Symonds has paid close attention to the development of education in China and made field trips to a lot of places across the country because of his work, during which a girl of Yi ethnic group named Moshixiwu has left a deep impression on him.

In 2013, Symonds went to Siwei village, Shangtianba township, Leibo county, Liangshan Yi autonomous prefecture, Sichuan province, for the very first time, and visited the family of Moshixiwu.

At that time, Siwei village didn’t have electricity, and Moshixiwu’s family lived in an adobe house lit by a kerosene lamp. Like other children in the village, Moshixiwu’s biggest wish was to have an electric light in her house. “If we had electric light, we wouldn’t be afraid of the darkness at night,” Moshixiwu told Symonds.

Last summer, when Symonds visited Moshixiwu’s family again, he found that their adobe house was replaced by a new one with rich cultural elements of the Yi ethnic group, and that several children were watching the Tokyo Olympic Games on TV. The new house was bright and equipped with various kinds of home appliances, including refrigerator and washing machine.

Liangshan Yi autonomous prefecture is endowed with rich hydroelectric resources. However, due to poor infrastructure, easy access to clean and safe drinking water used to be a challenge to local people.

Thanks to China’s strategy of targeted poverty alleviation, the State Grid Sichuan Electric Power Company has made continuous efforts to improve local infrastructure and help translate the prefecture’s advantage in hydroelectric resources into economic advantage, eventually driving the economic development of the locality.

Local villagers told Symonds that they have got access to electricity and their lives have become better and better in recent years.

By 2019, Siwei village lifted all households out of poverty, shaking off the shackles of poverty that tortured it for decades.

As economic development picks up speed, educational conditions of the prefecture have also been continuously improved, something Symonds has seen first-hand.

“I went to quite a number of counties when I visited Liangshan Yi autonomous prefecture again this year. And I found that those places which were very poor and had few schools in sight now have many modern school buildings. Children run freely on spacious and safe playgrounds, and schools are filled with students’ laughter and sound of reading,” Symonds said.

“Now my dream is to go to college,” Moshixiwu told Symonds with a happy smile when she talked about dream with him again.

Watching the busy street outside the window, Symonds brought his thoughts back from memories and told People’s Daily his new understanding of China’s journey to moderate prosperity in all respects, or “Xiaokang” in Chinese.

“In the past, I thought ‘Xiaokang’ is a phrase used only to describe urban life. The changes in Liangshan Yi autonomous prefecture made me realize that ‘Xiaokang’ exists not only in urban areas but also rural areas. Only when all rural residents achieve ‘Xiaokang’ can China truly realize the goal of ‘Xiaokang’,” Symonds said.

“When I saw the great changes in villagers’ lives, especially when I knew that children like Moshixiwu have more beautiful dreams after they got better material and educational resources, I had heartfelt respect for the greatness of the Communist Party of China (CPC),” he said.

In Liangshan Yi autonomous prefecture, he finally understood why the CPC often said raising the living standards of rural residents was critical to achieving moderate prosperity, according to Symonds.

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