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Herbal medicine, tourism bring hope of wealth to SW China's ethnic regions

The planting of herbal medicine and tourism with strong ethnic flavor have brought new hope of wealth for villagers in southwest China's poverty-stricken ethnic regions, where the harsh natural environment has made it difficult to grow crops.

In Yaoshan Village of Guizhou Province, local residents, all of Yao ethnic group, have found jobs in the blooming tourism sector.

By staging the traditional vocal and dancing performances of Yao, villagers attract flocks of tourists who go there to find "something different."

"Tourism has given a boost to sales of handicrafts and agricultural products in the county," said He Zhengguang, head of Yaoshan village.

"We are not blessed with the natural condition suitable for growing crops, but we are blessed with the ethnic culture that others do not have," he added.

In Guizhou, where 49 of China's 56 ethnic groups can be found, villages like Yaoshan are developing their own new ways of development.

"As of 2008, tourists visiting villages in Guizhou brought a total revenue of 10.5 billion yuan (1.5 billion U.S. dollars) since the 1980s," said Fu Yingchun, head of Guizhou Provincial Tourism Bureau.

Fu said the "ethnic flavor" is the ethnic regions' core competitiveness since it was irreplaceable.

Guizhou, where there is extensive stony desert and barren land, is always seeking a path of development different from the country's other provinces.

Where it is hard for crops to grow, it may be suitable for herbal medicine to flourish. In Dafang County, Jiang Yunming, 55, along with his fellow villagers, are benefiting from growing herbal medicine.

Jiang, who used to be too poor to pay his children's tuition fees, now earns tens of thousands of yuan annually by growing honeysuckle, an important ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine.

"It took me more than 10 years to finally find the road to wealth," Jiang said.

The provincial government of Guizhou has helped villagers like Jiang to turn geological disadvantages to economic advantages by providing them with small amount of loan and skill training.

"There are different paths to prosperity," said Gao Xincai, a professor with local Guizhou University. "The important thing is to find the best one for each region."