There’s an anecdote about a Chinese legend Yu Gong, who is thought to have spread apart two mountains since his house separated from the nearest village by them. He decided to carve a passage through the hills, and despite the mockery from the people around, he kept on digging. The legends say that his determination even inspired the God since by divine intervention, the mountains moved, clearing the way for Yu Gong. Today, the Chineses saying “yu gong yi shan” – “the old man that could move mountains” – is based on this very story.
While this probably is a folklore with no factual support, there is a real life Yu Gong in China who was not satisfied with the living conditions of his home. His name Huang Dafa, and he’s the chief of Caowangba, a small village hidden deep in the mountains of Guizhou Province, China. The man is a living legend as he spent nearly 36 years digging a 10-kilometer-long water canal right through the heart of three mountains to bring water to his village!
His village was drought-ridden with no crops and irrigation due to the scarcity of water, leading to famine-like conditions in the area. Anyone barely had enough drinking water, and apart from a single well, all water sources had dried up. So to turn the fate of the people around, he began his ambitious project in 1959 when he was just 23 years old. 36 years of blood, sweat, and tears later, the project has turned the village into a hustling and bustling and thriving region.
“There was a rule that nobody could take too much. If they did, someone else may not have any for breakfast. These conditions motivated us,” deputy chief Xu Zhou recalls. “Forget irrigation. 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. It was a serious problem. So, we started looking for a serious solution.”
Of course, he had to face any obstacles along the way, the ridicule of villagers being the least of them. After 1o years of digging, he and his team of young men realized that their 100-meter tunnel through the mountain didn’t reroute the water body since their knowledge of waterways and irrigation was not up to the mark.
But that didn’t get Huang Dafa down, as he went back to the drawing board and spent a few years studying waterway engineering in Zunyi’s Fengxiang town.
He came back with renewed vigor in the early 1990s and restarted the project. This time Huang Dafa remained on the site 24/7, guiding the work each step of the way. His complete immersion into the project did not even leave him anytime around his daughter and grandson who passed away.
“He wasn’t home, even when my sister was on her deathbed,” his 53-year-old son, Huang Binquan told China Daily. “The construction teams wouldn’t know how to proceed if he wasn’t there.”
In 1995, the 7,200-meter-long water canal along with the 2,200-meter-long branch channel was finally complete, with the water flowing into Caowangba. Not only his village, but three other villages got sources for irrigation. They were all thankful for the project completion by Dafa, and the waterway was named Dafa Channel, in honor of the man of steel.
“I was determined to bring water to Caowangba. People have had plenty of food since. Full stomachs mean peace of mind,” 82-year-old Huang Dafa said recently. “If we can do something (for progress), we should. We shouldn’t wait for things to happen. Dozens of years of my life could have passed without anything happening.”
This important waterway changed the lives of over 1,200 people and increased the rice production from 25,000 kilograms to 400,000 kilograms a year.
In 1995, Hunag Dafa also managed to bring a road and electricity to the village as well, which undoubtedly made him a sort of demi-god for the people.
“I decided to do three things for the villagers: draw water to the village, build a road and get access to electricity,” he says proudly.
Even though he’s well into his 80s, the village chief still gives a lot of time in surveying the canal regularly and rest of the operations around the village to ensure smooth running.
These are the things we can do with grit and determination!