From soldiers to farmers

Updated: 2014-10-15 07:16

By Cui Jia and Gao Bo(China Daily)

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Reporter's log: Gao Bo

Willpower and the survival instinct

Before I became a reporter, my impression of life in the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps revolved around boundless fields of cotton. That's because I had to spend at least one month every year in my middle school period helping pick cotton at the Xinhu Farm under the Sixth Division, about 30 kilometers from my hometown county.

However, those childhood impressions were totally gone by the time I finished a series of interviews marking the 60th anniversary of the Corps.

During a five-day period, I visited a number of XPCC divisions: The Twelfth, which is responsible for urbanization programs; the Sixth, which focuses on the modernization of agriculture; and the Eight, which specializes in industrialization.

Actually, the 500 mu (33.3 hectares) of land devoted to experiments using drip irrigation techniques to grow rice in Shihezi city, which is also the headquarters of the Eighth Division of the Corps, is a showcase for the achievements the Corps has made in the fields of agriculture and industry.

Chen Lin, vice-general manager of Xinjiang Tianye Water-Saving Irrigation Co, explained the advantages of the drip-irrigation technique before leading us to the research center, which houses the largest laboratory of its kind in China.

Because I had heard about drip irrigation before, I knew its use could save a lot of water. Seeing the thin pipeline and the even thinner lines leading from it, I was amazed that it had been adapted several times so that it could be used for different plants and different locations. Even the matching pumps and control systems had been modified.

Like many residents of the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, I believed the XPCC workers still led a tough life because they lived in the remote, wild areas far from the big cities. That proved not to be the case, though. In fact, their lives have changed massively as a result of their unending struggles with the environment.

Ma Xiaohua, who has worked as forest ranger for 20 years, walks more than 20 kilometers every day to irrigate trees. The 42-year-old is a typical second-generation XPCC worker. His father came to Xinjiang in the 1960s and settled on an area of land known as the 150th regiment on the edge of the Gurbantungut Desert, China's largest mobile desert. The regiment was known as a "peninsula in the desert sea". During decades of forestation work, the local workers produced a woodland region of about 23,000 hectares, about 38 percent of the entire area.

I finally found the root of the Corps' shared characteristics when I interviewed two old soldiers who came to Xinjiang in 1949 to help liberate Xinjiang from the Kuomintang. Zhuo Bingzhe, 81, described the situation in Xinjiang at that time, and their 37-day trip from east Xinjiang to the south of the region.

His words were full of imagery as he explained why the original soldiers and the successive generations had such a strong desire to construct their "second hometown": People must have strong willpower to survive in such a tough environment, and when they eventually forge a better life, they must cherish it more than anything else.

"Actually, Xinjiang is my home, because I have lived here for 60 years," Zhuo said, "I am proud to see all the changes here."


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