Across China: "Dark sky" industry delivers bright future for village-Xinhua

Across China: "Dark sky" industry delivers bright future for village

Source: Xinhua

Editor: huaxia

2023-06-20 16:05:45

This aerial photo taken in July 2022 shows an exhibition hall with the theme of starry sky culture, as well as a stargazing camping base in Changhong Township of Kaihua County, Quzhou City, east China's Zhejiang Province.(Xinhua)

HANGZHOU, June 20 (Xinhua) -- When Chen Yingquan, a 50-year-old farmer from east China's Zhejiang Province, worked in the city, he often recalled the night sky views in his hometown -- where standing on a slender balk in the fields and looking up, he could see the Milky Way shimmering on the dark canvas.

His hometown, Zhenzikeng Village in Kaihua County of Zhejiang, is located in a national park at the source of the Qiantang River. The park was included on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Green List of Protected and Conserved Areas last December.

As China's urbanization process accelerated during the past decades, the young people in this village, like many traditional Chinese villages, moved to the cities, leaving the elderly to live in their ancestral homes.

Chen, who has now returned to his hometown, found the village had witnessed the opposite trend in recent years.

"More and more young people drove to the remote village to camp, just to see the starry sky," Chen said.

Zhenzikeng Village administers four unincorporated villages, among which Gaotiankeng Village, free of light pollution, boasts a transparent sky and excellent conditions for astronomical observation. This year, the China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation set up a dark sky reserve in the village.

"Looking into the star-studded sky, which is long-lost and of breathtaking beauty, you can imagine that there are many creatures in the dense forest running and flying in the dark," said members of the Hangzhou Astronomical Society on social media after they returned to the city following a visit to the village.

However, the village once faced "the dirty, chaotic, and poor" situation, with mud roads and piles of garbage.

In June 2003, Zhejiang launched the Green Rural Revival Program, which planned to renovate about 10,000 incorporated villages and transform about 1,000 central villages among them into examples of moderate prosperity in all respects. Thanks to the promotion of the program, great achievements have been made in the area of human settlements in the village during the last two decades.

In 2016, Changhong Township in Kaihua, which administers Gaotiankeng Village, aimed to turn the village into a stargazing resort. To this end, the township focused on cleaning up the rural areas to improve the local ecological environment and support "dark sky" economy development.

Kaihua invested nearly 30 million yuan (about 4.19 million U.S. dollars) to establish a planetarium integrating science popularization and astronomical observation in the village.

Dong Keli, an official of the township, said the village has over the years also built a dark night park and an exhibition hall with the theme of starry sky culture, as well as a stargazing camping base, creating a rural living space featuring the integration of stargazing, tourism and art.

The featured "dark sky" industry is transforming the ancient village from a state of decay to vibrant revitalization, attracting around 30,000 visitors a year.

The increase in tourists has provided a new business opportunity for elders like Yu Kunhua in Gaotiankeng. Yu, in her 60s, used to run the village's only small shop. She has now opened a homestay, which can secure her a yearly income of about 80,000 yuan.

Currently, an ancient village protection and development project promoted by the Changhong Township government is underway in the village, and it will be completed by the end of this year.

Dong said on the premise of not changing the overall style of the ancient village buildings, they will only carry out unified modernization of interiors to make the buildings more comfortable to live in.

Local authorities are renting more than 40 of the 88 ancient dwellings in the village to create a star-themed homestay cluster, and have integrated more star-related concepts, such as star streetlamps, and a starry sky bookstore and bazaar, to further promote the village's development and increase the income of locals through the cultural tourism industry.

"By then, more than half of the ancient houses will have been transformed from decaying empty houses into income-generating assets," Dong said.

The change of the economic development mode has also greatly improved the local ecological environment. In the ponds in front of every house in Gaotiankeng, wild groupers now swim freely in the water.

"Without quality water, the groupers can't live," Chen said.

"We have passed the stage of development at the expense of ecological resources. Now everyone here, from the cadres to the masses, knows that deforestation and hunting are not allowed," Dong said.

"We hope that social capital can join in the project investment in the future to drive the sustainable development of the ancient villages here," Dong added.

This photo taken on June 6, 2023 shows well-preserved ancient dwellings in Zhenzikeng Village of Kaihua County, Quzhou City, east China's Zhejiang Province.(Xinhua/Duan Jingjing)

This file photo taken on Sept. 20, 2014 shows the starry night sky in Zhenzikeng Village of Kaihua County, Quzhou City, east China's Zhejiang Province.(Xinhua)