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Lifestyle transformation in Yan'an

Reporter: Ryan Chua 丨 CCTV.com

10-21-2016 12:27 BJT

Full coverage: 80th Anniversary of the Victory of the Red Army's Long March

We continue our special series “Long March Footprints". Today we conclude our journey in the city of Yan'an in Shaanxi Province. It is known for its cave dwellings, where communist revolutionaries stayed and established their headquarters. Today, cave houses are still there, some people still live inside but more are moving out. Preserving the cultural heritage and moving forward,  can we do both at the same time?

This house bore witness to a pivotal chapter in China’s past. After the Long March more than eight decades ago, Mao Zedong and his forces set up their base at Yan’an, cementing the city’s place in Chinese history.

Some of the oldest residents here saw those days. 84-year-old Feng Shengyou, who was born and raised here, keeps a picture of himself with Mao taken in the 1940s. Feng and his family live in this part of town, a tranquil rural community. Around them are the yaodong or cave dwellings, the likes of which communist revolutionaries called home. They were home to Feng and his family until disaster struck.

Living here has become unsafe in recent times. In 2013, landslides caused by torrential rains destroyed thousands of cave houses and displaced residents. That prompted the local government to call on them to relocate, but it’s proved to be a difficult task.

Carved out of hillsides, cave houses are common in the Loess Plateau in many parts of northern China. They’re excavated horizontally from a central sunken courtyard. The earth surrounding it makes the temperature inside comfortable whatever the season.

Despite the risks, 82-year-old Sun Yucui says she will never leave the cave house where she was born -- not even if all her children had moved out.

"I now live here all by myself. My daughter and three sons have been against my living here since the flood because they think it’s too dangerous and they’re afraid they would not be able to take care of me. But I’m really used to this way of living. It’s warm in winter and cool in summer. New apartments are nice, but not for my taste. Besides, here I can look out for myself, even growing food for the whole family," Sun said.

For Sun, living in an urban area is simply unthinkable. She spends most her time tending her land, a small plot just outside her house where she grows her own food. Many residents like her enjoy their way of life -- farming in spring and harvesting in autumn. Yanan’s agricultural riches has meant good business to some of its people.

At this store that replicates a typical yaodong community, Bai Yingsheng’s company sells dates, millet, beans, and other homegrown products. He was a farmer years ago, but he wanted to do more than till the land. His goal -- introduce local specialties beyond Yanan’s borders.

"It’s always been my dream to promote the products of my hometown to the whole country, and even abroad. The quality of local products varies a lot. I feel I have the responsibility to pick the best raw materials through a strict procedure and with high standards. I try my best to win customers’ trust. This is meaningful for the local government, but more importantly, for farmers here," Bai said.

Bai’s company has grown steadily through the years and is now a major contributor to the local economy. Today it sells its products online, making the most of China’s e-commerce boom.

Now Yan’an is making a name for itself not only through its agricultural products. In recent years the city has also been working to turn cave houses, an indispensable part of local life, into cultural treasures.

Many cave houses are being restored and preserved for cultural tourism. Like this cave-style hotel in Yangjialing village, the hotel has over 200 rooms designed to give visitors an opportunity to experience local life.

"Tourists are attracted to the cave house culture here, with ornaments engraved on windows and heated brick beds in every room. Besides that, we have gym, karaoke, and free wi-fi. So it’s indeed a combination of traditional and modern styles," Gao Xia, manager of Yangjialing Cave Hotel, said.

China celebrates Yan’an as the birthplace of the communist revolution, which made it the nation it is today. It’s a past that China continues to looks back to as it faces the challenges of the present and prepares for the future.

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