Ningbo advances rural vitalization with “courtyard makeover”
By Xu Jiawei, Li Yicheng
In villages of Ningbo, east China’s Zhejiang province, it’s common to see exquisite and beautiful courtyard houses standing alongside small bridges and flowing creeks. With fields blanketed by golden ripening rice and wheat, it presents a gorgeous scene reminiscent of a quintessential canal town in the lower reaches of the Yangtze River.
In recent years, Ningbo has been working to promote the building of livable towns and beautiful countryside. It focuses on protecting and developing traditional villages as well as treating rural domestic sewage. By building “beautiful courtyards,” Ningbo aims at closer integration between the culture and tourism sectors.
In Qinshan village, Jiulonghu township, Zhenhai district of Ningbo, every household grows flowers, making beautiful scenery a sight at every doorstep. The beautiful courtyards in the village are the fruit of the joint efforts made by Qin Lei, a master Chinese floral artist, and local villagers. In 2018, Qin returned to his hometown and became an art consultant for local rural revitalization. He established a floral art workshop in the village to help villagers obtain skills and increase income.
“At first, the villagers thought learning flower arrangement was useless. So we invited villagers who enjoyed flowers to join us first. Their courtyards became beautiful, which inspired their neighbors to follow suit. Thus, the enthusiasm of the villagers was greatly increased,” said Qin.
The flower arrangement business not only increased income for villagers, but also attracted large numbers of tourists to come and enjoy the scenery. Many villagers transformed their houses into B&B hotels. In addition to lodging in the beautifully renovated courtyards, tourists can visit various attractions around the village such as a wetland park and a cultural museum depicting local history. On top of that, new forms of cultural tourism and leisure businesses like campgrounds and floral art workshops are also starting to thrive. Today, B&B hotel rooms in the village are often fully booked on holidays, and the village has genuinely attained shared wealth and beauty.
Introducing artistic approaches, encouraging villagers’ participation, and stimulating the endogenous motivation for rural revitalization are important means.
In April this year, a team led by Professor Cong Zhiqiang from Renmin University of China was invited to Nanxi village in Shenzhen township, Ninghai county, where it worked with “Sister Nanxi,” a group of women who are good at decorating courtyards, to artistically revitalize a rural house that had been abandoned for nearly 20 years. Finally, they successfully created a beautiful courtyard called Nanxinan Courtyard that integrates leisure, dining, and entertainment all in one place.
“We originally just intended to plant some flowers to improve the overall environment of the village. I didn’t expect that after the artistic transformation by Cong’s team, and with the donations of old items from villagers, the small courtyard has become more and more beautiful, and has attracted many tourists,” said a member of “Sister Nanxi,” whose real name is Liao Zhongfang.
The Nanxinan Courtyard made Nanxi village a hot destination among tourists, so the “Sister Nanxi” started providing catering services in the courtyard, launching a series of signature dishes to make the courtyard even more popular.
Since its opening on May 27 this year, the Nanxinan Courtyard has received nearly 20,000 visits and generated direct economic benefits exceeding 170,000 yuan ($23,249).
The courtyard has also created various new opportunities to boost income. The village collective and villagers have partnered with social capital, pioneering new business models through equity shares, leasing, partnerships, and more. This has expanded the services offered such as camping, barbecue, team-building, research activities, and connected nearby B&B hotels, agritainment facilities, and hot spring resorts. Integrating the culture and tourism sector has truly transformed the Nanxinan Courtyard into a model of shared prosperity.
The building of beautiful courtyards in Ningbo has scaled up from individual homes to entire communities. Dongdan village in Xiangshan county has leveraged its coastal location to build 55 differentiated B&B hotels and constructed a trendy beach for water sports, attracting many tourists. Lijiakeng village in Haishu district meticulously preserves its ancient architectures, allowing visitors to discover the rich history and culture of local ancient architectures and Tang poetry. Zoumatang village in Yinzhou fuses beautiful courtyards with traditional opera performance, taking visitors to an immersive world of Chinese opera.
So far, Ningbo has built 354,800 beautiful courtyards, including 400 awarded as “the most beautiful courtyards” at the municipal level. There are also 60 featured belts and 60 model villages for beautiful courtyard construction. This has effectively driven local economic development and ecological progress.