Village restoration plan boosts residents' quality of life, helps add income

From restaurants and home-stays to shops and educational bases, old houses in Chenzhou, Hunan province, have been given a new lease on life after restoration and conversion, attracting throngs of tourists from across the country.

Chenzhou's Beihu district is home to hundreds of ancient houses, but more than 35 percent of them have fallen into disrepair, according to local officials.

In February, the Chenzhou city government launched the Awakening Old Houses initiative, with Beihu's Huatang town as a pilot region.

The initiative includes a slew of favorable policies and incentives for people to reuse the old houses.

Among the tenants is Xiao Xiuling, a farmer who grows black rice in Huatang town.

Xiao rented two old buildings dating back more than 100 years and has transformed them into a restaurant and an exhibition hall for local agricultural products.

As one of the first batch of participants in the project, she received a three-year rent exemption as well as multiple training courses.

"When I first saw the two derelict houses, they were filled with dust. There was even some moss in the corner," Xiao said.

"Then, we renovated them based on their original designs and structures. That's why the houses now retain a classic architectural style while brimming with vitality," she said.

Xiao's restaurant is now doing well. The exhibition hall has also gained recognition from visitors.

Local resident Li Yuai said she was glad to see her idle house was converted into a tourist attraction of the town.

"Our family had lived in the house for decades. As the younger generation moved to their own residences, it had to be abandoned," Li said.

"The house got restored thanks to the initiative. Besides, we can collect rent and dividends every year," Li said.

According to local authorities, Huatang town has about 300 old houses available for lease. So far, 80 of them have been rented out through the program.

The abandoned houses are not only a safety hazard but affect residents' quality of life and hamper rural development, said Tan Hao, the town's Party secretary.

As the initiative has progressed, dilapidated houses have been repaired; outdated sanitation facilities have been removed, Tan said, adding that people's living conditions have greatly improved.

Currently, the initiative is expanding to other regions in Chenzhou and being implemented according to local conditions.

A young man named Li Haohan in Yongxing county carried out extensive renovations to 10 abandoned houses and then built a rural revitalization demonstration base, which offers a wide variety of leisure activities and farm products.

During peak seasons, the base can receive 3,000 visits every day, according to Li.

In Hexie village of Guiyang county, 19 old houses have been revitalized and transformed into cultural venues for activities such as Hunan opera performances and ancient papermaking skill showcases.

"The old houses' rebirth has brought opportunities for our village to boost its collective economy," Hexie village's Party secretary Huang Kai said.

Local residents have embarked on a new career integrating culture, agriculture and tourism, Huang said.

He added that the village plans to enhance the old houses' reputation and launch more tourism projects in the future to further raise farmers' incomes.