Community worker determined to revamp neighborhood despite illness丨Faces| Updated: 2024-04-19

When Xie Lan was diagnosed with lung cancer, it was at a tipping point of the Xing Jiaqiao Community renovation project, something she poured all her heart into.

Xie was born and raised in Xing Jiaqiao, a residential building cluster in Chongqing that accommodated the first 1,422 relocated residents from rural areas in the early 1990s, when the city started to rapidly urbanize and expand. Over time, the buildings became run-down and unsafe because of leaking pipes, peeling walls, and intertwined cables.

Community renovation and a better life for her neighbors became Xie's ambition since she was appointed as the Party chief of the community in 2013. When the local government launched a free renovation project for the community in 2018, it surprised Xie that most residents opposed to the plan.

Residents didn't believe that the project would tackle their problems. They heard the rumor that the buildings were to be sold and demolished for commercial use, so they demanded a more profitable relocation solution.

To win the trust of residents, Xie spent months dispelling rumors and explaining the renovation plan. She made herself available to residents around the clock. For a handful of residents who approved of renovation, Xie decided to make their home into "model houses", hoping that tangible results would convince more residents.

Her efforts paid off. Support for the project surged from 23 percent to over 90 percent, with even the most unwavering opponents changing their minds.


Xie Lan talks to a resident. [Photo/Feng Lian]

In late 2018, things took another positive turn, the first phase of renovations finally began to break ground, and that was when Xie's diagnosis of early-stage lung cancer came through. Xie repeatedly postponed a much-needed surgery because she was determined to oversee the successful implementation of this project. It was only after all the model houses were completed and the first phase began to show progress that Xie underwent her surgery.

Two weeks after the surgery, Xie went back to the construction site. It was only when her yet-to-heal surgical wound began to suppurate that the locals found out about her condition. Touched by Xie's earnest efforts, some residents traveled far to collect medicinal herbs in order to make special tea for Xie, hoping for her rapid recovery.

Li Guoping was among the residents who were first against the renovation plan, even though her kitchen wall was peeling off and she had to use an umbrella when using the toilet. She was convinced to change her mind by the model houses, where the walls were re-painted, the kitchen and toilet were waterproofed, and ratty pipes, cables, and sockets were replaced with new ones.

In May, Xie was busy spending a lot of time at the construction site or anywhere that she was needed in the community. After Li moved into her renewed flat, she was so grateful that she became a voluntary worker in the community, assisting Xie when she was too occupied. "This is where I want to live for the rest of my life," said Li.

So far, renovation work on 1,355 flats and 231 commercial spaces has been completed, and the whole project will come to a close by the end of May this year.


The renovated buildings in Xing Jiaqiao Community.[Photo/Wang Jiaxi]

Xie said that her persistence and optimism are a result of her life experiences. Xie had been financially supporting her family since she very young. Before becoming a community worker, she worked at a shoe factory and then operated her own business, where she filled multiple roles.

In the eyes of Zhu Hanwei, Xie's daughter, she is like a superwoman who can solve all sorts of problems. "She has different solutions for different people, and always helps residents in a timely manner. I respect that the most," said Zhu, who also chose to become a community worker like her mom.

"I am happier than the residents when I see them moving into their new flats," said Xie at a community gathering. The event was organized by residents to celebrate the first 488 families moving into their new flats. "My dream has come true and all my efforts have paid off. I see this as a new beginning for our community," said Xie.

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