Villagers living up a remote 800-meter (2,624-foot) clifftop in southwest China that became famous for the precarious ladders connecting it to the world have been moved to a new urban housing estate.
Atule’er, a 200-year-old village in Sichuan province, made headlines around the world when photographs emerged in 2016 of schoolchildren descending the cliff on unsteady rattan ladders – or “sky ladders,” as locals called them.
The two-hour climb was the villagers’ only way to access the outside world, and they had to carry farm produce down the cliff to sell at the nearest market miles away. In recent years, local authorities replaced their hand-made ladders with a steel one that featured handrails, drastically shortening their travel time.
Climbing 'sky ladders' to school
This week, however, 84 households of Atule’er left the ladders behind for good, resettling in apartment blocks closer to the town center of Zhaojue county, 75 kilometers (46 miles) away, China’s state-run news agency Xinhua reported.
Their new apartments range from 25 square meters (269 square feet) to 100 square meters (1,076 square feet), and have modern kitchens, toilets, running water, electricity and gas, according to state broadcaster CGTN.
“I’m very happy that today I got a very good house,” villager Mose Laluo told CGTN.
“After moving to the county, life will be very convenient for my family. My children will go to school easily, and hospital services will be convenient too.”
Not all villagers have been relocated, however – about 30 households are planning to stay.
Atule’er has become a tourist attraction in recent years. In 2019, 100,000 visitors generated nearly 1 million yuan ($140,878) for the village, according to Xinhua. Further development will service that industry, with officials planning to build a cable car to carry tourists up and down the cliff, the state-run news site Paper.cn reported.
Before the coronavirus hit, the Chinese government had pledged to lift all of its 1.4 billion people out of poverty by 2020.
The clifftop villagers’ resettlement is part of that broader drive, and they are not alone. Some 18,000 impoverished residents – or more than 4,000 households – have moved into the sprawling new urban housing development from 92 remote villages in the region, according to Xinhua.
The relocated Atule’er’s villagers were technically already out of poverty, with an average per capita income of 6,000 yuan ($845) last year – above China’s official 2019 poverty line of 3,747 yuan ($527). But the drive is also aimed at improving the living conditions of rural people with low incomes.