In a remote settlement in rural China, one man is reaching the end of a lifelong mission. For decades, his home and his kin have been struggling to survive. Finally, though, after more than 35 years of trying, Huang Dafa’s masterpiece is complete – and the village of Caowangba can thrive once more.
Caowangba is located in Guizhou, a province in the south west of China. It’s a region famous for its countryside villages as well as its abundance of natural resources. However, back in 1959 Caowangba and its inhabitants suddenly found themselves running dangerously low on what they needed to survive.
That year, a devastating drought hit the village. As a result, all of the nearby sources of water for drinking and irrigation began to dry up. Soon the villagers were forced to share a single well between their families – and that was often not enough.
Consequently, every day the residents of Caowangba would form a queue at the village’s sole remaining well. “There was a rule that nobody could take too much,” recalled deputy chief of the village, Xu Zhou, in an April 2017 interview with China Daily. “If they did, someone else may not have any for breakfast.”
Unsurprisingly, conditions were tough. Often the villagers went without adequate drinking water – and, perhaps inevitably, arguments frequently broke out over what little was left. Furthermore, the local rice paddy, a vital source of sustenance for the villagers, also began to suffer.
“We had a 330-square-meter rice paddy that was parched to the point you could put your foot in the cracks in the dry season,” Zhou continued. “It was a serious problem. So, we started looking for a serious solution.” Thankfully, Dafa had an incredible idea.
Although nature had failed to bring water to Dafa’s village, he was determined to find another way. Hence, his attention turned to the three karst cliffs that cut Caowangba off from the rest of the world. Could he find a way to overcome these vast obstacles and thus bring vital water to his village?
Amazingly, Dafa decided that the solution was to build a six-mile canal cutting straight through the mountains themselves. However, without the luxury of expensive modern tools and equipment, Dafa knew that the entire process would need to be completed by hand.
Consequently, at the tender age of 23 Dafa embarked on the project that was to become his life’s work. At first, he struggled to persuade his fellow villagers to join him in the daunting task. However, they eventually realized that something had to be done, and work on the impossible channel began in earnest.
Even with the support of the other villagers, though, Dafa’s dream would prove an almost insurmountable challenge. Indeed, in order to carve the canal through the cliffs, the men first needed to scale the towering mountains. Then they attached themselves to trees and rappelled down into the depths below.
In fact, Dafa himself was the first man to brave the terrifying working conditions. Teetering at the top of a cliff almost 1,000 feet high, he tied himself to the trunk of a tree – then promptly launched himself over the edge. “If I didn’t, nobody else dared,” he said.
Despite their initial reluctance, then, Dafa’s bravery eventually inspired the rest of the men to follow suit. And for the next decade, they slaved away in dangerous conditions to cut a channel through the rock. Sometimes, the workers even spent the night in caves on the mountainside rather than returning home to their families.
However, heartbreakingly, the villagers’ ten years of labor turned out to be in vain. Although they succeeded in digging the channel, it remained dry. Sadly, their inadequate grasp of the mechanics of irrigation and engineering had doomed the project to failure.
Amazingly, though, the villagers did not give up. Instead, they began to utilize the tunnel as a convenient way to travel through the mountains – rather than having to trek all the way around them. Meanwhile, Dafa took himself off to the nearby town of Fengxiang, where he started to study engineering.
Later, newly qualified, Dafa decided to persuade the villagers to try again. And remarkably, he succeeded, meaning that in the early 1990s work began once more. Even more incredibly, during 1995 water finally arrived in Caowangba. However, the sacrifices that Dafa made in return for success were great.
Because Dafa was so vital to the project, he was unable to get away – even in the case of an emergency. Tragically, both his daughter and his grandson died while he was away working on the canal. “He wasn’t home,” recalled Dafa’s son, Huang Binquan, “even when my sister was on her deathbed.”
Despite Dafa’s personal sacrifices, though, there can be no doubt that his actions have saved Caowangba. In fact, as well as bringing water to the village, his work also heralded the introduction of electricity and even a new road. Today, then, Caowangba is a vibrant, thriving community.
What’s more, Dafa’s work has also brought water to three other local villages lying along the path of the canal. In total, it provides more than 1,000 people with an essential lifeline, helping their isolated communities to thrive. Meanwhile, in his hometown, Dafa is regarded as a hero.
For many, Dafa’s story calls to mind the ancient Chinese myth of Yugong. In this legend, an old man lived between two mountains – and often complained that he needed to walk around them to get to the nearby river. Finally, he resolved to flatten the great peaks. Yet although he knew that he would soon die, he promised that his sons and grandsons would carry on the task until the path was clear.
According to the story, the gods overheard Yugong and, impressed by his determination, decided to move the mountains themselves. Sadly, Dafa was blessed with no such divine intervention. Instead, it was sheer perseverance that allowed him to achieve the impossible – a feat for which the villagers of Caowangba are likely to remember him for generations.