Right after 9 am, 78-year-old Pengcuo goes shopping in a free market nearby. Although it is only a hundred meters away from his home, he prefers to take a detour of hundreds of meters, just to enjoy the sunshine, fresh air and the flowing of river water. For him, they are "three treasures for senior citizens in the morning."
"To enjoy the sunshine, breathe fresh air and listen to the flowing of a river is good not only to my body, but also to my mind," said Pengcuo, a resident of Maerkang County, Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture in the northwest of Sichuan Province.
The county town that offers Pengcuo the "three treasures" has just been granted the title of "Civilization County Town" in China. As the capital of the prefecture, it has 50,000 residents of 15 ethnic groups, with Tibetans making up 70 percent of the total population.
"Do you know what Maerkang looked like 50 years ago?" asked Pengcuo. "It was not only poor, but also dirty and messy."
As it is written in the "Historical Record of Maerkang County," before 1951, there were only one monastery, one government office and 20 shabby houses of mud and stones in the county town. Scattered among them were tents built by bypassing peddlers and laborers.
Pointing at the Maerkang Restaurant, Pengcuo said the place, which used to be a river shoal, was dotted with tents with businessmen selling guns, ammunitions and opium. At night, the place was well lit, thus being known as the "tent street."
Pengcuo was sold to a family in Maerkang as a slave by a human trafficker 70 years ago. He had no idea of who his parents were, or what his name and where his hometown was. He vaguely remembered that he passed Guan County (the present-day Dujiangyan City), Chengdu when he was taken to the county by the trafficker.
He still showed a sense of bitterness when talking about the story even 70 years after he was sold to the county town.
After liberated, the county began to launch the democratic reform by abolishing the feudal serfdom. It was in the same year that Pengcuo was freed from the status of a serf as Maerkang County entered the new era from the dark Middle Ages.
If urbanization is a major indicator and component of modernization, the changes in Maerkang County town are considered the best examples of the modernization theory.
In accordance with "The Historical Record of Maerkang County," great changes have taken place in the place since 1949.
The county town had a population of less than 2,300 in 1949, which has shot up to 50,000. The annual output value of agriculture and industry surged to 700 million yuan from 2.52 million yuan 60 years ago. The per-capita disposal income also increased to 15,000 yuan from 72 kg of grain. The county town, once dotted with tents, has become a city with modern buildings.
Jingasong, a native of Ribu Township, Maerkang County, illustrated these changes with his own experience.
About 50 years ago, there was no road linking Ribu to Maerkang County town. It took nine days to travel to the county town on foot and climbing mountains.
"When going to the county town, you have to take food, beddings, guns and bullets with you as there were not only wild animals but also bandits along the way."
"But now, a wide asphalt road was built, with buses available. It only takes two hours to reach the county town by bus," said the 69-year-old man.
Jingasong, proficient both in various Tibetan dialects and the Han language, has been a volunteer in several hospitals in the county town since he retired eight years ago, serving as an interpreter for doctors and patients.
"I have never imaged that I could live in such a clean and harmonious county town. So I'm trying my best to help others and make more people feel the warmth of the city," said the senior excitedly.
"It took Maerkang County town 50 years to transform itself from a 'tent street' into today's civilization county town. The past 50 years have witnessed the great changes brought about by the democratic reform," said the director of the Cultural Office of Maerkang County.
When a stranger immerses himself in the unique culture of Maerkang County town, he will find that the county town enjoys the reputation not only for its clean and modern environment, but also for its citizens' quality, ethnic flavors and harmonious society.
Over the past four years, people of Tibetan, Qiang, Hui and Han ethnic groups have been dancing on a square in the county town. No matter where you are from, you can always join the group in dancing with them.
After the May 12 massive earthquake hitting Sichuan Province, Maerkang sent a rescue team to the quake-stricken area as soon as possible and also helped relocate, evacuate and transfer 70,000 people affected by the devastating quake.
"We did a lot to win the title of 'civilization county town.' In so doing, we have one purpose only, that is, to enable all citizens to share the results of the democratic reform and China's reform and opening-up drive," said Geng Shaojiang, head of the Publicity Department of the Maerkang County Committee of the Communist Party of China.
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