The Chinese legend of Yu Gong speaks of an old man whose house was separated from the nearest village by two mountains. So he started digging away at them to make a direct route to the village. People mocked him for what they called a futile effort, but he responded that while his descendants could dig for generations, the mountains couldn’t grow any higher. Moved by his determination, the gods moved the mountains, clearing the way for Yu Gong. Today, the saying “yu gong yi shan” – “the old man that could move mountains” – is used to describe ambition in the face on insurmountable odds.
But while the mythical Yu Gong was helped by divine intervention, Huang Dafa, village chief of Caowangba, in the mountains of Guizhou, could only rely on his will and the power of persuasion to build a long water channel through three karst mountains. His ambitious project began in 1959 and required 36 years of hard labor to complete. Today, his village is thriving thanks to constant running water, and he is celebrated as a real-life version of Yu Gong.
Before the impressive water channel, droughts cracked the soil around Caowangba and residents barely had enough drinking water. Apart from a single well, all water sources had dried up, and everyone could only take so much water, because taking too much from the well meant that someone else would be left with no water at all.
“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.”
But there weren’t too many options available, apart from moving away or doing nothing, and nothing was not an option. That was Huang Dafa’s main argument when he set out to convince the village that they had to bring water all the way from Yebiao village, a few kilometers away and separated from Caowangba by three mountains.
At first, people told him it was impossible, that the water would never reach them, but there was no other alternative, and Huang Dafa believed it could be done. He managed to convince a few young men and work on the ambitious canal began in 1959. He was only 23 at the time. But the conditions were hard, and Dafa had to lead his people in the most difficult and dangerous of tasks.
Huang recalls being the first to tie himself to a tree trunk at the top of a 300-meter-high cliff and take a leap of faith over the edge. “If I didn’t, nobody else dared,” he says. But even after witnessing his courage, some people refused to follow his example, because it was just too dangerous.
Villagers spent 10 years digging a 100-meter tunnel through a mountain peak using only hand tools, for nothing, because the water wouldn’t flow as they intended. Huang realized that while their determination was strong, their knowledge of waterways and irrigation was not, so he spent a few years studying water-system engineering in Zunyi’s Fengxiang town.
He returned in the early 1990s and asked the villagers to try again. They agreed and work on the monumental water channel began once more. They made good progress, but only because Huang Dafa was always on site, guiding their efforts. That took a heavy toll on his personal life, as his daughter and his grandson passed away while he was working in the mountains.
“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 and a 2,200-meter-long branch channel were finally completed, and water began flowing into Caowangba. It traverses three other villages, supplying them with running water, and three mountains. It was named Dafa Channel, in honor of its mastermind.
“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.”
ECNS reports that the impressive waterway has benefited 1,200 people and has bumped up rice production for 25,000 kilograms to 400,000 kilograms a year.
In 1995, the year that the water canal was completed, electricity and a new road reached Caowangba village. All three projects were led by Hunag Dafa. “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 is now in his 80s, the former village chief still spends a lot of his time checking the canal regularly to make sure it is in working condition.
This amazing story of determination reminds us of another man who proved he could move mountains. Dashrath Manjhi, from India, spent over two decades chiseling away at a mountain with hand tools to make a road for his community, after the Government refused to. He is popularly known as The Man Who Moved a Mountain.