When Xie Liang was preparing to return to his original post after finishing his one-year assignment as a poverty relief cadre in Alingchao village in Qahar Right Wing Middle Banner, Inner Mongolia autonomous region, 57 villagers signed a petition requesting he stay.
"China has promised to eradicate poverty by 2020, and I wish I could stay till the last minute," said the 45-year-old Xie, now Party chief of the village, who residents say is key to Alingchao's economic development over the past three years.
Xie was working at the Communist Party of China History Research Center in the region when he learned in March 2015, about the poverty relief mission in Alingchao - a village where half of the population worked outside and 62 out of 104 families left in the village were impoverished. He offered to take on the task.
Xie arrived in the village in May of the same year.
After carrying out research, Xie decided to boost the economy by developing collectively owned businesses.
"Developing businesses in the village could boost its economy and lift the villagers out of poverty," he said.
But first, Xie had to win the trust of the local people. When he learned that some sick villagers would not go to a doctor for fear of racking up medical bills, Xie invited doctors to their homes and paid the bills himself. Xie set up a sheep farm and helped farmers sell directly to retailers to cut out middlemen.
In 2015, the market price for lamb dropped dramatically and the villagers encountered poor sales. Xie went to supermarkets in Hohhot to promote sales. He even asked his friends and relatives to buy the villagers' lamb.
Gradually, Xie won the villagers' trust and respect. Guo Yongzhi, an Alingchao resident, described Xie as a man who cares little about personal gain. "Xie has told the villagers that now Alingchao is his home," he said.
But just when the village's cooperative began to pick up, Xie's assignment in the village came to an end and it was time for him to return to Hohhot. The villagers signed a petition to the CPC History Research Center in Hohhot to ask if Xie could stay. It was agreed that Xie could stay to complete his unfinished projects if he also carried out part of his original role.
"On most Friday evenings when I finish work at Alingchao, I have to hurry back to Hohhot to carry out work for my other role. Weekends have become a rare thing for me," he said.
Xie began to explore more ways to enrich the villagers. After more research, Xie used a poverty alleviation fund to buy black donkeys to further improve the cooperative's rate of return. He also set up a flour mill and a sesame oil mill.
In three years, nearly half of Alingchao's poor families have been lifted out of poverty, with the average income rising from 2,600 yuan ($413) to 4,600 yuan a year.
But Xie said his mission is unfinished. "We will further develop the collective business in the village to benefit more and strive for the zero poverty goal set for 2020," he said.