NANJING, March 23 (Xinhua) -- After scanning the health QR codes, Wang Yanhong and her friend had their body temperatures checked and clothes disinfected before entering the Qianduo Cole Flower Scenic Area in the city of Xinghua, eastern China's Jiangsu Province.
As a postgraduate student from the University of Shanghai for Science and Technology, Wang has been stranded at home in the city of Nantong for over two months since the new semester was suspended due to the novel coronavirus outbreak.
"We chose to visit this tourist spot for its natural beauty and because it is only a couple of hours' drive away," said Wang. "The staff here take many measures to avoid mass gathering and potential cross-infection, so we are not worried about safety."
From March to April, much of the countryside across southern China is carpeted in yellow cole flowers, making this traditional crop evolve into a must-see sight.
Covering an area of about 3 square kilometers, the Qianduo Cole Flower Scenic Area is reputed as one of the most beautiful spots to enjoy cole flowers set amid a network of lush green rivers and lakes across the country.
Cole flowers here are planted on the "duotian," which is the local name for "raised field," formed in ancient times when local farmers living near rivers and lakes dug up the soil from the riverbeds to form farmland where they could grow crops and vegetables.
The Xinhua Duotian Agrosystem was selected as one of the "globally important agricultural heritage systems" by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations for its unique water-land utilization method in low-lying land and its splendid raised field landscape.
Tourists can meander through the picturesque seas of flowers by boat and catch a glimpse of the village culture. "We require tourists to sit at one-meter intervals to reduce gathering," said Lu Guozheng, a boat driver working at the scenic area.
"The tourism industry has been severely affected due to the epidemic, but we will hold on until the epidemic ends and are also confident in the tourism market in the future," Lu said.
The tourist area receives 2,000 visitors a day on average, about one-twentieth of the number in normal years.
Yan Zhonghe, deputy general manager of the scenic spot, said the tourists' number has been rising since the reopening mid-month. "As the epidemic subdues, we estimate the first tourist peak will come at the beginning of April," Yan said.
Lu has been benefiting from the local ecology since the local government began to develop rural agricultural tourism in 2008.
"First, I can get a monthly salary of about 3,000 yuan (423 U.S. dollars) as a boat driver. Secondly, the government will pay us subsidies as we transfer our land to develop tourism. Thirdly, we can also make profits by processing rapeseeds when it grows mature," Lu said.
Rural tourism also drives the development of the catering business in the surrounding areas. Liu Feng, a local farmer, has renovated his house into a small hotel to offer local special dishes and accommodations for tourists.
"Tourists come to taste our local rice, fish and taro in particular for their fresh and delicious taste," said Liu. "During this special period, we pay more attention to food security and take a slew of epidemic control measures such as providing serving chopsticks and disinfecting the house twice a day."
China's oilseed rape crop covers more than 7.33 million hectares each year, ranking second in the world, and the total rapeseed output exceeds 13 million tonnes, the world's highest.
"The mutual development of agriculture and tourism can boost the economy of rural areas in China," said Zhang Hui, a professor from Nanjing Forestry University. "The epidemic provides a gap period for some rural scenic spots to upgrade and highlight characteristics to attract more tourists with better services and environments in the future," Zhang added.