Lin'an district in Hangzhou, east China's Zhejiang Province, has attracted a wave of village managers passionate about rural areas and skilled in strategic planning and operations. These individuals are dedicated to developing rural tourism and revitalizing villages, thereby infusing new energy into the district's rural development.
In May 2017, the Culture, Radio, Television, Tourism, and Sports Bureau of Lin'an district introduced the concept of "market-oriented village operation." The bureau then began recruiting village operators from across the country. These operators are tasked with leveraging local assets to foster tourism and economic growth within their communities, essentially acting as local development managers and strategists.
After Lin'an began to recruit village operators, Chen Weihong, then deputy head of the Culture, Radio, Television, Tourism, and Sports Bureau of Lin'an district, extended an invitation to Zhang Xiaoyun, who was running a travel agency at the time. Zhang and her team visited three villages in the district, including Yangxi village, which particularly captured her interest.
Following Chen's suggestion, Zhang embarked on a comprehensive management strategy for the village, renowned for its rich culture embodying loyalty and filial piety. The village is also home to a millennium-old ancestral hall.
Chen convened meetings with tourism experts, members of the Party branch of Yangxi village, the villagers' committee, and Zhang's team to discuss the village's development. They agreed to develop the village into a scenic area that highlights loyalty and filial piety, transforming the ancestral hall into a base for educational tours, thus converting the village's cultural resources into tangible products.
To benefit the villagers, Zhang's team developed a new operational model. Zhang partnered with professional educational tour organizations to annually refresh courses on loyalty and filial piety and launch activities such as making crunchy sesame seed candies — a local delicacy — and crafting straw sandals. Meanwhile, Zhang introduced new experiential programs like miniature train rides and outdoor sports, and designed tourism routes that link the village to nearby attractions.
These measures have markedly boosted tourist visits to the village. For example, a man named Li, who faced employment challenges outside the village due to disabilities, has become a successful vendor. During the village's peak travel seasons in spring and autumn, Li's daily turnover can reach 7,000 yuan ($980).
Chen Chunjiao, who quit her city job, returned to Yangxi village to continue her father's legacy of making crunchy sesame seed candies. She initiated a hands-on candy-making activity and partnered with a business to market the product. Her dedication led to the craft being recognized as an intangible cultural heritage of Lin'an district, making her the fourth-generation bearer of this heritage. Embracing e-commerce, she has expanded her market to include overseas customers.
"Development has injected fresh vitality into our village, and my candy products have become more popular," she said.
Chen Jianzheng, Party head of Yangxi village, said the comprehensive operation of the village has transformed its cultural resources into a thriving cultural industry. In the first half of 2023 alone, the village's educational tour program, themed on the culture of loyalty and filial piety, attracted over 20,000 elementary and middle school students. This program generated more than 260,000 yuan in collective economic income for the village, the official added.
Lou Min operates the Longmen Mijing Scenic Area, which encompasses three administrative villages: Shimen, a renowned ancient village, Longshang, and Dashan. These villages were considered "hollow villages" before 2017.
Lou signed cooperation agreements with the villages and jointly established a company to manage their operations, aiming to develop a comprehensive tourism industry chain. Her team has decided to focus on tourism themes such as health and wellness and educational tours, and has built medium to high-end bed and breakfast hotels.
By tapping into local resources, including culture, folk customs, and cuisine, Lou's team has created a series of popular photographic spots in the villages. For example, an old street in Shimen village, once deserted, has been revived with activity. The villages have seen an increasing influx of tourists.
Today, the scenic area boasts multiple attractions, bed and breakfast hotels, venues like a folk culture experience hall, and other tourism-supporting facilities, making it a popular tourist destination. Additionally, various festivals and activities, such as the Longmen Secret Sauce Festival, have helped to disseminate local culture and enhance the scenic area's brand influence.
"After the first Longmen Secret Sauce Festival, a woman named Zhang, who won a cash bonus at the festival, excitedly shared with me that she had never imagined making money by selling homemade sauce," Lou recounted.
"In 2023, we welcomed over 2 million visitors, generating tourism revenue of over 90 million yuan and directly providing jobs for more than 300 villagers. We increased the collective operating income of the villages by over 4 million yuan and the income of villagers by more than 70 million yuan. We also attracted 68 young people and talents back to their hometowns to start businesses and brought in 150 million yuan in private investment," Lou added.