ZHENGZHOU, Nov. 27 (Xinhua) -- It's getting cold, but villagers in the remote Xihecun Village in central China are still busy catering to tourists.
"The old houses have become family inns where homeowners open their doors to short-term lodgers, and villagers have become tour guides," said Zhang Yimou, a tourism official from the village in Xinxian County, Henan Province.
"Our agricultural products have also become hot commodities," he said.
In the past three years alone, 106 of 118 previously impoverished families have been lifted out of poverty, and the rest are expected to do so by the end of this year, according to official figures.
Xihecun has more than 800 years of history, and boasts distinctive brick architecture. A stream meanders through the village, and hundred-year-old trees line the village roads. It has been named one of the most beautiful villages in Henan.
But tucked away deep in the mountains, the village's economic development has been nothing but slow. In 2014, 410 out of 1,222 registered residents still lived under the national poverty line. Even the buildings had an air of desolation.
"Life was really tough in the past," villager Zhang Sizhong said. "Back in 2004, my wife and I had to work in Shanghai to repay our debt and support our child's education."
The couple made about 800 yuan (121 U.S. dollars) per month at that time, and each of his family members spent just 4 yuan on food every day.
Beginning in 2013, the local government decided to boost the village economy through tourism.
"Top design experts from the prestigious Tsinghua University and China Academy of Fine Arts were invited to renovate and transform the old buildings, and the overall layout of the village," Zhang Yimou said.
A rural cooperative was also formed to help transfer the collective land to develop modern agriculture with organic rice paddies and traditional Chinese medicine. A tea garden was also created for tourists, according to Zhang Yimou.
More than 360 hectares of land has been transferred, according to a report on web portal Sohu.com. So far, a variety of unique hotels have sprung up, including some with transparent glass roofs where visitors can see the sky at night, and others made of containers.
"We also introduce tourists to traditional techniques like oil-making, and spinning and weaving," the official said.
Zhang Sizhong opened his own family inn in 2015, and his business is booming,
"On the busiest day, we had about 16 tables of tourists," he said. "We employ six staff, but on that day we were still short of hands."
In the past four years, the village attracted more than one million visitors, generating a revenue of more than 30 million yuan. About 1,200 locals work in the tourism industry, and their average annual salary per capita increased by about 6,000 yuan.
"I am confident that with proper planning, rural areas can have great futures," Zhang Yimou said.
Since the start of the reform and opening up, China has lifted more than 700 million people out of poverty.
China has lifted more than 60 million people out of poverty in the past five years, with the poverty rate dropping from 10.2 percent to less than 4 percent.
China has set 2020 as the target year to finish building a moderately prosperous society in all respects and eradicate absolute poverty in rural areas.