* Homestays have agglomerated in Bohai Township, suburban Beijing, surrounded by forests, chestnut farms and the Great Wall, along with ecological and environmental protection and a tidier village appearance.
* With the joint efforts of government and villagers, the township is now home to 187 boutique bed-and-breakfasts (B&Bs), creating more than 400 jobs and securing over 6 million yuan (about 845,094 U.S. dollars) a year in homestead rental income for locals.
* Tourism creates comprehensive value by boosting primary and tertiary sectors. Locally grown chestnuts and mushrooms are served in dishes for tourists, and their cultivation is becoming more technical and standardized.
BEIJING, Oct. 6 (Xinhua) -- Villagers in suburban Beijing have been busy harvesting chestnuts this autumn. New features in recent years are locals hosting tourists in B&Bs, young people returning to their hometowns to develop businesses, and working teams engaged in rural revitalization.
Boasting a forest coverage rate of 93 percent, a 500-year chestnut plantation history, and a 19.8-km Great Wall section, Bohai Township in the capital's Huairou District received over 900,000 tourists in the first seven months of this year.
Photo taken on Sept. 8. 2022 shows Dongtai Village of Bohai Township in Huairou District, Beijing, capital of China. (Xinhua/Zhao Chenjie)
However, about a decade ago, the township faced the problems of dirty and disordered appearance, dusty and bumpy roads, and lagged crop production with limited marketing outlets.
"The dirty water was poured on the street, the road surface was full of cracks, and firewood was messily piled up in the yard," recalled Wang Wentian, a chestnut farmer at Dongtai Village in Bohai.
"We were quite envious of people from nearby villages who earned money through developing tourism," said Wang Dajiang, Party secretary of the village. "We tried to make a change, and improving the environment was the move."
With the joint efforts of villagers and local government, electricity replaced coal as heating energy in 2018, and a sewage treatment station was in place by 2019. Asphalt roads have been connected to doors, and solar-powered street lights have illuminated people's way home since 2021.
Wang Bojun, 34, son of Wang Wentian, quit his job in urban Beijing in 2016, and returned to his hometown.
"I firmly believe that rural tourism offers great opportunities," he said.
Wang Bojun cleans a table at his bed-and-breakfast in Dongtai Village of Bohai Township in Huairou District, Beijing, capital of China, Sept. 8. 2022. (Xinhua/Tian Chenxu)
In 2017 and 2018, Wang Bojun participated in a wastewater disposal project which provided villagers with jobs. Last year, he invested around 200,000 yuan to transform his homestead into a B&B. His father neither understood nor supported the gamble at first.
This summer, Wang Bojun's B&B received about three to four groups of visitors each week. "Our investment will be paid back soon as this year's revenue is expected to exceed 200,000 yuan," he said.
The improved environment of Dongtai Village and the emerging homestay facilities attract more tourists.
"We are both participants and beneficiaries of rural revitalization," he said.
"I have been a carpenter since my 20s, but I had never imagined taking up a new job when I am old," said Wang Futian, 74, resident of Liuduhe Village of Bohai Township and now the host of the "Old Carpenter" B&Bs.
Wang made a living from furniture orders and gained a reputation in carpentry from folks of nearby townships when he was young. More than 20 years ago, Wang and his wife started accommodating tourists visiting the Great Wall nearby in their farmhouse.
"At that time, 10 yuan would be sufficient for an overnight slumbering on a collective sleeping board. There was neither a toilet nor a television inside the house," Wang recalled.
As the proportion of the middle-income group in China has grown, people have developed a higher demand for farmhouse quality.
Wang Futian shows a decoration made by himself at his bed-and-breakfast in Liuduhe Village of Bohai Township in Huairou District, Beijing, capital of China, Sept. 9. 2022. (Xinhua/Tian Chenxu)
The old couple redesigned two farmhouses into B&Bs, divided private bedrooms, and established karaoke and chess rooms.
"These two homestays can host over 30 people and are usually fully booked ahead of holidays, earning us around 400,000 yuan a year," he said.
According to Peng Xingjin, director of the Bohai Township tourism service center, the township is now home to 187 boutique B&Bs, creating more than 400 jobs and securing over 6 million yuan a year in homestead rental income for locals.
"These qualified homestays have become an up-to-date industry for villagers in Bohai to generate incomes," Peng said, adding that the township has positioned its B&Bs business as a key way to advance rural revitalization.
Bohai achieved a comprehensive tourism revenue of 172 million yuan in the first seven months of this year.
Wang Futian (L) picks jujubes with his wife Huang Mengzhen (C) and employee Liu Haiyan in the yard of his bed-and-breakfast in Liuduhe Village of Bohai Township in Huairou District, Beijing, capital of China, Sept. 9. 2022. (Xinhua/Li Dexin)
Villager Liu Haiyan has worked at the "Old Carpenter" for four years as the housekeeper, receptionist and cleaner. "I used to earn merely a few thousand yuan a year by selling chestnuts. Now, I gain some 4,000 yuan each month," she said.
The used sheets and towels of the "Old Carpenter" are carried to a laundry that provides washing services for nearby B&Bs. A worker, Wang Jianrong, operating washer-dryer combos, said, "there were only two employees when the laundry was set up in 2017. Now, there are six, all of whom are locals."
Wu Shangjun, an expert with the Beijing agro-technical promotion center, began to work as Dongtai Village's first Party secretary one year ago. He brought villagers high-yield mushroom seeds.
Wu introduced stereoscopic cultivation, a planting method which grows mushrooms under chestnut trees. Wu believed that agriculture and rural tourism can boost each other.
Photo taken on Sept. 19. 2022 shows chestnut trees at a chestnut farm in Bohai Township of Huairou District, Beijing, capital of China. (Xinhua/Tian Chenxu)
Although Huairou is famous for its chestnuts, the plantation scale and the nuts' economic value are not yet fully developed.
"We felt fatigued in trimming trees and picking chestnuts, only earning 10,000 yuan a year," said Wang Yanli, a local chestnut farmer. "Few of the younger generation were willing to take it over."
Li Sipeng, deputy head of the Beijing Juyuande chestnut planting cooperative, returned to Bohai in 2017 and contributed new ideas to the industry.
With 830 households as members, the cooperative has set standardized chestnut planting and picking guidelines for the member farmers, and offered technological support.
"We are now exploring producing refined chestnut snacks for bakeries and restaurants," Li said.
(Reporting by Pei Jianrong, Zhang Yuanpei, Li Dexin, Meng Yifei, Li Chunyu, Zhao Chenjie and Qiang Lijing; Video reporters: Zhang Tuo, Li Ye, Zhao Xinhu and Tian Chenxu; Video editors: Zhou Sa'ang, Zhang Yuhong and Zhu Cong) ■