Watering plants, laying bricks, and painting walls -- former journalist and director Zhang Zhengang has been working on his dream house over the past four years in a small mountain village of Anhui Province.
The award-winning journalist from the southern Chinese city Shenzhen made a life-changing decision in 2007 that surprised everyone -- he bid farewell to urban life in the metropolis and moved to Huangshan, a mountainous area in east China's Anhui, to pursue a country life and conduct his rural vitalization trial.
As China's urbanization picks up pace, it is a common phenomenon for people to abandon dilapidated houses in rural areas and buy apartments in cities, with many villages being left behind and forgotten.
Zhang has been thinking of how to bring these villages back to life. Converting old buildings into galleries, restaurants or homestays seems to be a way out.
Shiji Village of Yansi Township, located deep in mountains, is one such place. Although the village enjoys beautiful scenery and a great environment, over half of its population works elsewhere due to its remote location and lack of resources.
"Lucid waters and lush mountains are invaluable assets if they are properly exploited," said Zhang. Over the past few years, he has helped local people design and rebuild their houses and communities.
In 2017, he rented a piece of wasteland in the village with a dilapidated house and pigsty on it.
"The house had been abandoned for six years by its owner and was about to collapse. The land had become a dumpsite somehow, which smelled terrible when I bought it," Zhang recalled while showing an old picture.
In order to build a dream house, Zhang learned almost all the skills needed in house construction, including carpentry, plumbing, bricklaying, electric work and more.
Today, the house has a brand new look after Zhang refurbished and redesigned the area. The main building, which now includes four bedrooms and a bar, sits opposite a painting studio, with a garden in between. The pigsty has been converted into a bedroom as well.
Old objects such as stone pieces and wooden frames from the old building and even tree stumps, usually discarded by local people but collected by Zhang, have found new decorative roles in Zhang's house -- a way to preserve local culture. Abandoned cement blocks, broken tiles and bricks were also used to build walls and pave roads.
The new building is expected to open to the public by the end of this year as a guesthouse, art gallery or even a performance space, said Zhang.
"We're very grateful to Mr. Zhang because it's him that reminded us of the beauty and value of our village. Sanitation conditions in the village are much improved, and more and more tourists are coming," said Jiang Zhengchun, a 64-year-old local resident, who is following Zhang's lead and rebuilding his house into a homestay.
Rural vitalization is in full swing throughout China after the country eradicated absolute poverty. Talent with various backgrounds including fresh university graduates and those who are interested in rural development have been called on to jump on the bandwagon of rural vitalization.
Under the leadership of Zhang, many people have returned to Shiji to renovate their homes. At least four households have decided to run businesses of restaurants or homestays. The small mountainous village is gradually "waking up" as more people come and stay.
"We have consulted Zhang many times on how to beautify and energize local villages. We're truly inspired by his concept of cultural preservation and harmony between humans and nature, which have been implemented in some of our rural reconstruction projects," said Wu Wei, deputy head of Yansi Township. Enditem