For Mao Xianglin, village committee chief of Xiazhuang village, Wushan county in Chongqing, the most important project during more than four decades was building a road for the village.
The 8-kilometer-long road links the village, located at the bottom of a valley, to the outside world. Before it was built, it usually took the villagers more than a full day to access the outside world. Now it only needs a one-hour drive.
Sixteen years ago, Mao led more than 100 villagers to build this road with their bare hands. Six lives were lost during the process. He then led them to overcome poverty.
Now he aims at developing tourism in the village to boost income for the villagers and give the younger generation opportunities.
Xiazhuang village is surrounded by cliffs in all directions-it resembles the bottom of a water well. These cliffs rise to more than 1,100 meters.
The previous way out was an old path that had 108 turns, and it took villagers at least 4 days to get to the nearest town and return.
There are around 400 villagers living at the bottom of the "well". More than half have never left the mountains.
In 1997, when 38-year-old Mao started to work as the Party secretary of the village, he made a huge decision-to build a road for the village.
"We can't stay poor forever, even though it's hard, I'll lead us to try,"Mao said to the villagers, according to a report by the Xinhua News Agency.
"We dig 1 meter more, and make the road 1 meter longer. If our generation can't finish the road, the next generation will continue to build it," he says.
In that winter, all young villagers brought tools and food up to the mountains. They lived in caves and they had to tie a rope round their waists and tie it to a tree to avoid falling off the cliffs while sleeping.
To finish the road as soon as possible, Mao lived in the mountains for three months.
The construction work was way more difficult than they imagined. Villagers had to use a large bamboo basket hanging precariously hundreds of meters above the ground to blow a small hole before using hoe or hammer to dislodge the rocks.
Yang Xiangshuang remembers it well. Once when he stood on the edge of the cliff, he was so terrified that his legs were shaking, as gravel and stones fell on top of him.
He remembers that when there was a dangerous situation, Mao was always the first to go.
Within the first three months of the construction, two villagers died when they were hit by falling stones and plunged into the valley.
The loss was deeply felt by Mao and he asked the villagers whether they should continue or not. They all said yes. Mao was touched and said even though it might take them 10 more years to build, they must finish the road so that the next generation can live a better life.
Four more villagers lost their lives during the construction.
In 2004, after seven years of hard work, the 8-kilometer-long, 2-meter-wide road was finally completed. It's more than a road, it's a route to overcome poverty.
Mao then led the villagers to grow oranges. Even though at first, the 33-hectare orange fields were almost all destroyed by pests, he didn't give up. Neither did the villagers.
"We are not afraid of failure, and the key is to find out why the pests were able to cause such havoc,"Mao says. Specialists were brought in to teach the villagers how to grow the fruit. Last year, the orange yield was nearly 40 metric tons.
According to Mao, as it's about time to harvest orange, the yield this year will be higher than last year.
The young villagers have taken the baton to revitalize their hometown. Mao Lianzhang, a 29-year-old, came back to Xiazhuang to start an e-commerce business selling oranges and watermelons. Peng Gan, a 27-year-old, returned to the village to be a teacher after graduating from college.
By the end of 2019, 269 villagers had overcome poverty. The poverty headcount ratio has been reduced to 0.29 percent and the average per capita income has reached 12,000 yuan ($1,829).
Mao has a bigger dream-to not only let the villagers go out, but also bring tourists in-19 rural houses in the village have been transformed into homestay for tourists.
"In a couple of years, when tourism continues to develop, our income will double again," Mao says.