Rising at 7:30 am, sorting out materials, cooking, working, watching Xinwen Lianbo, visiting the homes of farmers and herdsmen, and going to sleep at 11:00 pm is the daily routine for the stationed work force in Balang village, Sangri county, Shannan Prefecture, in the southeastern Tibet Autonomous Region.
"Although the conditions are far worse than Lhasa, such as water shortages and cold temperatures at night, we felt much warmth when the villagers brought us barley wine and biscuits they made during the Tibetan New Year," Dekyi Yangzom (Deyang), 35, a deputy head of the workforce said in a half-bedroom and living room while smiling.
She is just one of the 21,000 officials from various government bodies or institutes dispatched to the 5,453 villages across the region since last October. Under the three-year project called "Qiangji Huimin" (a plan focused on increasing grass-roots construction benefitting Chinese people), all the officials are required to live in the villages for at least 25 days each month.
They bring advanced management skills to the local village committee, and provide farmers and herdsmen with assistance to build up family wealth, and enhance ties with the central leadership.
Deyang, along with her 15 colleagues from the United Front Work Department of Tibet's CPC in Lhasa, has been designated to the four villages in Sangri county, which houses 17,000 people and 98.5 percent are Tibetans. Yu Yuehua, deputy head of the department, is the leader of the four stationed groups.
Balang village, with a population of 943, is the largest in Sangri county. Deyang and three other colleagues live at a two-storey village community. Their beds sit in the corners of the office room, while another corner of the community room is their kitchen.
The village, surrounded by rocky mountains, can be reached after driving for about two hours along a winding tarred road southeast from Lhasa. The road crossing the village was originally built in 1964 along the Yalu Tsangpo River.
But due to a light bus schedule and at least two transfers, it always takes about 5 hours for Deyang to return home to Lhasa where her parents, husband and 7-year-old daughter live.
"We are luckier than others. In some villages in mountainous regions, there are no roads at all. The officials have to walk for hours to reach the village," said Hu Fangsong, 59, the head of the work force in the village.
Flying flags and hanging the portraits of leaders
On October 13, Hu and his colleagues said goodbye to their families and headed for their designated village after hearing about the mobilization meeting for the project at the Potala Palace square in the morning, one day after they received notice that they had been chosen as the first batch of project supervisors.
Their first job was to distribute among the households national flags and framed portraits of Chinese leaders spanning four generations, namely Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin and the current President Hu Jintao.
In December, the United Front Work Department of Tibet's CPC announced "nine must-haves" in all temples, including national flags and leader portraits.
In an interview with reporters, Padma Choling said the activity was voluntary, not compulsory, as Hong Kong-based Ming Pao reported in March.
In the house of 27-year-old farmer Rinchen Sazhon (Rinsa), a leader's portrait was seen hanging on the wall opposite to the door in their living room, with a family photo hanging to the left.
In a small room decorated with carved woodwork in Tibetan patterns, a light shone dimly. Rinsa turned on a yellow bulb and talked to GT reporter, Deyang, from the stationing team and a college student village official named Nyima who had been working in the village for three years.
When asked why he put a portrait there and whether he and his family members knew who was in the portrait, the thin Rinsa revealed a shy smile, and nodded.
"Of course I know. Their faces are often on TV. But my grandma might only recognize Chairman Mao," he said in the Tibetan language.
"Some people might mistake that we are in the villages to control the people. This is totally wrong. We are asked to stoop down. All projects and decisions are made through negotiating with the village committee," said Deyang.
Drinking water shortages are a persistent problem in Balang village. Although the government has introduced tap water to the village and installed five taps, the taps are always dried up and villagers have to get their water from wells or from taps located miles away.
Hu Fangsong, 59, who came to Tibet about 37 years ago from Tai'an, Shandong Province, has been spending days inspecting irrigation channels and neighboring landscapes.
"We have made plans to start a project valued at 500,000 yuan to bring tap water from the mountains to every house," Hu said.
They have applied for 670,000 yuan from the Tibet Agricultural and Pastoral Bureau to reclaim farmland of 100 mu (6.7 hectares) for the villagers to grow corn collectively and share the profits.
The work force has mapped out the courtyard economy for the villagers, encouraging them to raise chickens, pigs and plant fruit trees. They have decided to spend 70,000 yuan to buy Tibetan baby chickens and pigs for the experienced villagers, and then expand animal farming to the other villagers.
In addition, they have trained and sent 33 young men from the four villages to be security guards at a company in Lhasa.
The average annual income for each villager per capita was 4,413 yuan last year, including 2,165 yuan in cash, much lower than a farmers' net income of 14,700 yuan in Beijing.
However, there are exceptions. Along the road, there are several stores engaged in different businesses. Buchung, a repair shop owner for agricultural machines can make 80,000 yuan a year. Dekyi, who had been a restaurant waitress returned in 2004 and opened her own restaurant. Just from mainly receiving customers passing by on the road, she can make up to 100,000 yuan a year.
"Years ago there was no electricity or roads. Villagers were always hungry. We couldn't feed our families. Farming through manual work and the low efficiency couldn't generate enough grain," said Tenzin, who has been head of the village committee for 26 years.
But now, nearly every house has been built with bricks subsidized by the government, seeding and harvesting machines are widely used, and each family home has a television, which can get up to 50 channels. And the farmers can have 30 percent of the cost of their farm machinery paid for by the government, according to Tenzin.
Effects and defects
"Their presence is better than not having them. I hope they stay," said Rinsa, a man from a poor family in the village.
Rinsa is the pillar of his family, with an 84-year-old grandmother, a mother, an ill wife and a 4-year-old daughter. Through making 2,000 yuan per month as a carpenter in the off season, and raising one cattle and harvesting barley of three mu (0.2 hectare) a year, his income and grain harvesting can just barely help his family make ends meet.
"Without any savings, I cannot buy any farming equipment. This is my biggest problem," he said.
"I hope I can save some money for my daughter. I studied too little, I want my daughter to study as much as possible," he said. He dropped out of school in the eighth grade and shared the family responsibilities due to poverty conditions. In Tibet, from preschool to senior school, education is free. But living fees are still a burden to poverty-stricken parents.
"First, the long-term stationing will somewhat affect their normal work. We've heard that some institutes like hospitals have had a labor shortage after dozens of workers were dispatched to villages," Wang Chunhuan, deputy director of the Marxism Theory Institute with the Tibet Academy of Social Sciences (TASS), told the Global Times.
"Another major defect is fairness. Those stationed forces from the institutes like banks and water resource bureaus must have advantages in using projects and getting funds. As a result, for those officials with few connections, it must be hard for their projects to be approved," said Guo Kefan, deputy director of the Contemporary Tibetan Research Institute with TASS.
Hu Fangsong has admitted there are some problems, saying that they have to mobilize all connections and make every effort to ensure the projects are approved.
"The funds arranged for the 1,200 forces in Shannan was only 45 million yuan. The competition is fierce to vie for the limited funds. Thus we also have to seek other channels to attain money for our projects," Hu said.
When asked whether they looked forward to returning to Lhasa, Hu said, "It would be a lie to answer no. But as long as we are assigned to the position, we will fulfill our duties."
For the three-year project of "officials stationed at the villages," the basic tenure for the officials is one year. By October, workers like Hu and Deyang will be replaced by their colleagues.
"What about three years later? We hope there's a long-term mechanism in place between the officials and the public, which is vital for a solid administration. Such a system is worth being adopted nationwide," Wang said.