Minning Town: A Tribute To The History Of Poverty Alleviation In Northwest China

Written By: Zhiying Published: 03/02/2021

Recently, a drama about a group of farmers reclaiming wasteland in Northwestern China has won the hearts of the whole country, gaining a high score of 9.4 on Douban. The drama is concise (with only 23 episodes) yet intriguing; the characters are lively and enriched. The show has also presented the wild beauty of the Northwest landscape. More importantly, this drama is precisely based on China’s poverty alleviation project from the last century. This article is going to introduce you to this very inspiring Chinese TV Drama, share the stories of the main characters, and the history of poverty alleviation in China. 

The story starts with the migration of the Ningxia aborigines from Yongquan village to a different area and building their new homes from scratch, following the Government policy called ‘diaozhuang’ (Chinese: “吊庄”) which was a land reclamation policy to build new communities on wasteland. In the process of solving the construction of basic living needs such as water and electricity in the new area, the new national policy was introduced, allowing Fujian’s  (a more developed province in Eastern China) personnel resources to carry out targeted poverty alleviation in Ningxia Province, and establishing an experimental community called Minning Town (named after the two cooperating provinces: “Min” is short for Fujian Province, and “Ning” is short for Ningxia Province). The following sections are the stories of the main characters. {SPOILERS AHEAD}

Defu’s story

Defu is the secretary of the local branch of CPC, responsible for mobilising and resettling the migrants. He is the eldest son at home, and a foundational worker trusted by the villagers. During the “mushroom rush” – a period when the villagers were taught to grow mushrooms for a living, he was asked by the mayor to speak at a commendation meeting to present the achievements of the poverty alleviation so far. Nonetheless, at the time the mushroom market was not yet found, and a large number of mushrooms were being left decayed in the fields. Hence, the villagers were facing huge losses. After some struggle, Defu chose to expose this situation at the meeting in an attempt to appeal to the attention and help of the governmental officials, which was, of course, not granted by the mayor. Undeniably, this behaviour was risky as he could ruin his political career by doing that. But to live up to the people’s hope of him, he chose to take the risk. However, the speech had successfully caught the attention of the leaders of the Poverty Alleviation Office, who recognised highly of Defu’s courage and commitment, and helped the villagers out of the dilemma in time. 

Shuihua’s story

Shuihua used to be Defu’s girlfriend from school. However, her father married her to another man called Yongfu for a mule when arranged marriage was very common. She was strongly against it and tried to run away at first. However, she accepted it in the end and built a home with Yongfu. Unfortunately, Yongfu lost his leg while digging a well for her. Therefore, the burden of living was all on her. In the process of exploring a way to make a living in the village, Shuihua joined the group of mushroom cultivation and became Defu’s brother, Debao’s helper for free so she could learn the techniques. She took care of all the dirty and labourious work. Due to Yongfu’s disability and depression, he often said hurtful things to her. However, Shuihua did not take them to heart and bought him a wheelchair with the first money she earned. She told him that their lives were tied together whatever happened, which made Yongfu cry with shame. Shuihua is truly an example of millions of Chinese working women who are intelligent, kind, and strong-hearted.

Maimiao’s story

Maimiao is the daughter of the Headmaster of the primary school in the village. Contrary to her father’s hope, Maimiao did not want to carry on her father’s career as a teacher and aspired to discover her destiny in a bigger world. Following the recruitment of a Fujian enterprise, she joined an electronic appliances factory and became an assembly line worker. Growing up in the desert, for the first time, she arrived in a warm and humid place in the south and saw the sea. However, faced with harsh scolding from her supervisor and discrimination of workers from other provinces, she felt lonely and kept writing to her boyfriend back home. But at the same time, with the determination of making her hometown proud, she worked hard and always encouraged the fellow workers. Due to her and her friends’ hard work, they successfully passed their job approval trial. When a fire broke out in the factory, Maimiao tried bravely to rescue the supplies and almost got hurt. From then on, her supervisor changed her attitude completely.

Professor Li’s story

Professor Ling is a world-leading biologist specialised in the cultivation of mushrooms. He gave up the favourable living conditions in the USA and came to Ningxia to develop the “double-headed mushrooms”, a new kind that was known for the better taste, productivity, and nutrition. In an attempt to monitor the growth of the mushrooms, he slept by the mushroom shed regardless of the cold night temperature. When the mushrooms were unsalable, he and the fellow workers built the cold storages immediately and saved part of the farmers’ harvest. Meanwhile, he led his team setting off to different parts of China to find the buyers. 

This character is based on a real person, Lin Zhanxi – the inventor of the Juncao technology. He could have stayed abroad and had a well off life, but he chose to return to the motherland and dedicated himself to the establishment of China. Before him, the cultivation and collection of mushrooms had fully relied on the forest resource, growing and collecting them on the chopped trees. This was unsustainable. Given that, Lin’s contribution has marked an important step in the aspects of environment, agriculture, and diet of the country and worldwide.

In reality

The show features the history of poverty alleviation in the 1990s, which is the second stage of poverty alleviation since the founding of the country (1978-1985 is the first stage, the “comprehensive system-reform” stage; 1986-1993, the “large-scale development” stage & 1994-2000, the critical “problem-solving” stage). Benefiting from the economic reform since the 1980s, most of China’s rural areas have developed rapidly owing to their geographic advantages. However, some still were restricted by the geographical and other limitations, such as the dry, vast, and isolated Northwestern regions including where the show depicts. A considerable part of the low-income population cannot maintain their basic survival needs. To solve this problem, the Chinese government has carried out a planned, organised and comprehensive developmental poverty alleviation nationwide since 1986. After eight years of efforts, the rural poor population has decreased from 125 million to 80 million; the proportion of the poor in the total rural population has dropped from 14.8% to 8.7%. The story of Minning Town is only one of the millions of similar stories. More information about the achievements of the national wide poverty alleviation can be found in this article produced by Mango Press.

What can the world learn from Chinese poverty alleviation?

The story of Minning Town should be able to inspire a wider global working-class audience. It first shows and warns us what poverty could lead to: women are forced to get married to make up for the material shortage; agricultural products face the risk of no market; the younger generation dispatch to richer areas for jobs and leave the elderly and children in the village uncared. More importantly, the show also teaches us that the destruction of poverty is a task that is to be carried out by the workers and what can be done to assist: 

  •         Fully unite and integrate human resources of various provinces, and extensively mobilise the whole society to participate in poverty alleviation and development.
  •         Provide technical support in addition to financial aid. To quote an old saying, “Knowledge is the best charity.”For the follow-up poverty alleviation projects, it is necessary to develop specialised industries based on the advantages of the specific location and to promote rural tourism, so farmers & workers are supported in the long run.
  •       Science rejuvenates the country. We should not only encourage intellectuals to join in the construction of under-developed rural areas, promote production through science and technology, but also educate the indigenous population with knowledge and values.
  •         Improve the environment. As Xi Jinping said: “Green mountains are golden mountains”. Ningxia is actively participating in afforestation projects, which is in attempts to not only prevent sandstorms and improve water conservation, but also to make the ecological environment more livable for humans and wildlife. 


If western shows like Breaking Bad sum up life for everyday struggling Americans then Minning Town shows what life was like for everyday, hardworking (and sometimes struggling) Chinese workers. The show is a lesson for all in how a community can work together to build a better life for themselves, It is an example of the collective spirit of socialist societies, and it is quite entertaining too! You can watch the complete series of Minning Town on YouTube now!

Mango Press


Score and comments on Douban

Juncao Technology

Tips on poverty alleviation

The story of Professor Ling