Life changed for the girls who went to school by zipline

15 years ago, a photographer captured a moment when Yu Chunhua and Yu Caimei in Nujiang Lisu Autonomous Prefecture, Yunnan Province, were leaning against each other as they rode a zipline across the Nu River to school. The frail little girls hung over the raging river attracting a lot of public attention.


Nowadays, bridges were built over the river. One of the girls becomes a nurse, the other plants lanxangia tsaoko at home. They cross the river either by car or by motobike, instead of zipline.

Zipline time: life was hard.

Yu Chunhua and Yu Caimei are cousins living in Majimi Village, Nujiang Prefecture, where has a mountainous area of more than 98%. Because of crisscross mountains and rivers, it's difficult for people to get around. Chunhua and Caimei, who were born in 1998, said that their family had little income and often ate corn porridge without meat all year round.  

In addition to living in poverty, what the girls remember most is the zipline. For villagers, the easiest way to get to the doctor, market or school is on the zipline, or they have to walk for hours on mountains.

Chunhua remembered that she was scared when she took the zipline for the first time, but she braved the river to go to school. Villagers used to have accidents while crossing the river. A villager broke his back when he fell onto a rock in the river while taking the zipline. “It is difficult to calculate the loss of personnel and property due to the small overload capacity and high risk of the zipline.” An official from Nujiang transport department said.


In 2007, nine-year-old Chunhua and Caimei took the zipline as usual, which was recorded by a photographer. “Must be taking hundreds of times a year,” Chunhua said, “people outside might think it’s exciting. If there is a bridge or a road, who would risk doing that?”

Bridges brought better life.

Photos of Chunhua and Caimei drew attention. Especially after the story of Deng Qiandui, the “zipline doctor”, was reported in 2011. The difficulty of crossing Nu River aroused public concern. Government decided to help people replace the zipline with bridges. 

In 2013, the Ministry of Transport and the former Poverty Alleviation Office of the State Council organized a nationwide survey of zipline transportation, and decided to carry out a project to replace 309 ziplines with bridges in Sichuan, Guizhou, Yunnan, Shaanxi, Gansu, Qinghai and Xinjiang to help people in remote mountainous areas bid farewell to the “zipline time”.

Under the support of the country and all walks of life, Chunhua and Caimei’s hometown also ushered in changes. The construction of the bridge was started on March 20, 2018 and completed on December 30, 2018, which completely ended the “zipline time”.

In Nujiang Prefecture, 42 pairs of zipline have been transformed into 36 bridges. “Crossing the river by zipline” has became a history. More than 140 bridges of various types have been built across Nu River, Lancang River and Dulong River. Walking through the canyon, different types of bridges keep coming into eyes, as if walking into a bridge themed museum.

Poverty alleviation, the taste of happiness

With the bridges and roads, countless villages like Majimi village have solved many problems in education, medical treatment and industrial development. 

Villagers in Majimi were lifted out of poverty by 2020. They planted more than 733 hectare of lanxangia tsaoko, which became a source of income for Yu Caimei and other villagers.

"Life is getting better than before." In spare time, Caimei plays TikTok and takes some scenery to show, and chats with Chunhua on Wechat. She hoped that the lanxangia tsaoko she planted would bear more and more and sell at a high price, and her life would be better and better.

After graduation, Chunhua worked in a clinic in Kunming before quitting her job and returning to her hometown to help her family grow lanxangia tsaoko. In 2018, she passed the entrance examination of the township hospital. "Last year, my family's total income was nearly 100,000 yuan. I hope my e-commerce business will become better and better, and I will pass the nurse qualification exam. "Yu said.

In their spare time, the two girls walked on the bridge, stopping from time to time to look at the old zipline. "It's a life I never imagined." They said.

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(Editors: Christine, Rachel)

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