Across China: High-speed railway revives ancient tea road

China Economic Net

Wuyishan: Sitting cozily in his burlywood house, tea grower Wu Erlong spooned up some tea, took a small sip, and sniffed the aroma on the spoon.
“These are freshly-made tea leaves. The quality is quite good,” said Wu, a resident of Xiamei Village in the city of Wuyishan, east China’s Fujian Province.
Wuyi Mountains were the southern starting point of an ancient tea road that stretched about 13,000 km all the way to Russia. It began to thrive in the 17th century, and Xiamei was an important trading port en route.
But the road eventually lost glory due to war and the rise of Indian tea and maritime transportation, with the steep mountains acting as an insurmountable wall, barricading local people’s path to prosperity.

Lumbering used to be the main source of income in the village for quite some time.
“There are about 1,333 hectares of forests in our village, most of which are of high economic value such as moso bamboo and firs. Every year, about 33 hectares of woods were logged, leading to water and soil degradation and other ecological problems,” said Li Gui, Party secretary of the village.

A railroad running across the Wuyi Mountains opened to traffic in 1997, giving a new lease of life to the remote village. Besides, a tourism company was established in 2001, where more than 90 percent of the villagers made investments.
Tea leaves grown in the Wuyi Mountains have always been of high demand among tea enthusiasts, thanks to its sound environment and unique Danxia landform. With access to rail transportation, many residents of Xiamei Village, including Wu, took to tea processing.

But, challenges were yet to cease, as it used to take more than 10 hours or days to transport tea leaves from the Wuyi Mountains to big cities. Even buyers came only once or twice a year, said Wu.
However, things took a pleasant turn in 2015 when a high-speed railway linking Hefei, capital of east China’s Anhui Province and Fuzhou, Fujian’s provincial capital, was put into service, ushering in a new era of development for the mountainous region.
“The high-speed railway brought visitors as far as from Beijing, Shanghai and many other regions,” said Yu Xingang, head of Wuyishan North Station.

In 2019 alone, Wuyishan North Station received more than 1.48 million passengers. The total tourism revenue of Wuyishan City reached 35.9 billion yuan (about 5.4 billion U.S. dollars), more than double the figure in 2015.
“During this year’s National Day holiday, the average daily number of tourists was around 1,000, and the annual tourism income is expected to reach 40 million yuan this year,” said Ye Sheng, general manager of the village’s tourism company.
“Many villagers have opened restaurants and hostels, and sold tea leaves, thanks to the booming tourism industry. The per capita income in Xiamei Village exceeded 8,000 yuan last year,” Ye added.

Some large tourism companies in Xiamen and other places have taken a fancy to the development potential of Xiamei Village and planned to invest billions of yuan in the construction of tourism facilities here, said Ye, envisioning a prosperous future of the village.