Homestays and history offer new tourist riches
Chang's colleagues get ready to paint outdoors in Jixi last year. [Photo by Hu Meidong/China Daily]
Taining county, Fujian province, is boosting tourism revenue by offering its unique landforms and architecture as subjects for visiting art teachers and students.
From 2016 till last year, about 200,000 art students and teachers from across China－including those from Peking University in Beijing and the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province－traveled to the county, generating good incomes for villagers who provided them with lodgings, according to the local government.
Xiao Yaozhong owns several homestays that mainly house visiting art students, each of whom he charges 80 yuan ($12) per day. His homestays can hold about 220 students, who usually stay a week.
"I began the business in April last year, because I sensed an opportunity," he said.
"The Danxia landforms, characterized by red sandstone and steep cliffs, in addition to the county's well-preserved architecture, which dates back to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), are good subjects for students to sketch."
Average annual incomes among the area's rural residents rose from 15,700 yuan in 2018 to 17,300 yuan last year, the local government said.
Huang Liangjun, the county's painting program agent, said the local government buys outstanding works by students and displays them at exhibitions to promote the area's tourism and culture.
The county government has hired Huang to encourage educators to teach their students landscape painting in the county.
He graduated from Nanchang Normal University in Jiangxi province, having majored in arts and crafts, and has several old classmates who teach at art schools.
"Outdoor art classes require more than just a scenic spot," he said. "Any place that hosts these classes needs to have ancient buildings, beautiful mountains and water. Taining has them all, and is a good place to develop my career as an agent."
Chang Sin-yee, a Taiwan resident, has also chosen to make her career in Taining, by developing villages into places that offer more than just sightseeing.
In 2014, Chang, who has a master's in landscape design from Fu Jen Catholic University in Taiwan, began to plan and reconstruct communities in Taining's Jixi village as a way of combining reading, healthcare, agriculture and tourism.
Her team has 12 members, six from Taiwan and six from the Chinese mainland. Their goal is to transform ordinary mountain villages into "soul hometowns" that will trigger nostalgic feelings or inner peace among tourists.
To achieve this, they have renovated houses and planned entertainment facilities including a deer garden, homestays where guests can appreciate the night sky, sketch bases and cafe and book bars.
"To encourage people to stay longer and generate more income for the villagers, we need to design a range of facilities and programs using the advantages of the historical and cultural context and exquisite geological landscapes," Chang said.
"The construction work is aimed at restoring original village houses without disrupting any ecological or environmental aspects. Newly renovated homestays not only improve villagers' living conditions but also help them attract tourists."
Chang's team has integrated Taiwan's folk customs with the overall plan, meaning tourists can participate in rural activities such as planting crops and crafting goods by hand.
"The owner of a homestay, together with his or her family members, also needs to spread their lifestyle ideas to help tourists feel at home," she said.
During the past six years, Chang and her team have provided design services for more than 20 villages in the province.
"I think I am doing the right thing at the right time－we have the ideas and Fujian's villages provide us with a stage to perform on; namely green mountains, lucid waters and favorable policies. I feel inspired to sketch out a beautiful countryside future here," she said.