Author: Peng Rui (Teacher at Suzhou University of Science and Technology, Residing Village Planner in Shushan)
In the spring of 2012, I accompanied Professor Yang Xinhai, my mentor, to Shushan Village in Tong'an Town, Suzhou City, to carry out rural planning. The scene of my first entry into the village is still vivid in my memory: the eastern entrance of Jinzhiling was a winding gentle slope, adorned with various fruit trees. As I briskly walked to the top, a vast expanse of white pear blossoms spanning thousands of acres suddenly came into view. In that moment, the "original scenery" of Shushan Village struck a chord in my heart. However, the less-than-desirable living environment also ignited a strong sense of mission within me.
At the beginning, I didn't have much ambition. The planning process was quickly completed, and we even received awards. Just when I thought the work here was coming to a close, my mentor told me that the scarcity of talent and the difficulty of implementing the plans were the biggest pain points in rural planning. He encouraged me to conduct a "companion-style" rural development experiment in Shushan Village. And so, with a hint of excitement, I embarked on a decade-long journey of shuttling between the city and the countryside, little did I know that this "companionship" would last for ten years.
Unlike urban development, rural planning cannot achieve specialized and precise management and implementation. This requires planners to be flexible in transitioning between different roles. As a "collaborator," I have to prioritize the villagers as the main stakeholders and provide direct guidance or review for construction projects such as residential building designs, comprehensive improvement of mountain roads, and landscape designs for Flower Creek. This ensures that the implementation of the plans stays on track. In addition, I also collaborate with research institutions to establish real-time monitoring systems for negative oxygen ion levels and collaborate with art schools to explore and create local landscape artworks. Furthermore, I work with social capital and young entrepreneurs returning to their hometowns to participate in the development of high-quality rural accommodations, acting as a reliable "collaborator."
As I witnessed the thriving changes in Shushan Village, I gradually realized that rural development not only requires planning intervention but also necessitates endogenous growth, transitioning from "blood transfusion" to "hematopoiesis." Since 2016, I have collaborated with various stakeholders from government, industry, academia, and research to revitalize idle assets within the village and establish the Shushan Rural Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center. We organized rural maker conferences, hosted cultural and creative competitions, and leveraged the "Collaborative Innovation Center for Rural Planning and Construction" and the "Master Studio for Rural Cultural and Tourism Entrepreneurship Skills" to cultivate talents from universities, grassroots officials, and entrepreneurs in rural development. This initiative has successfully ignited the vitality of Shushan Village through the "rural entrepreneurship + cultural creativity" model.
To excel in rural cultural creativity, I faced a challenging task. So, I called upon friends and students for assistance. We focused on the folk totem of Shushan Village, known as the "Shushan Guardian," and developed three major series comprising nearly a hundred related cultural and creative products. These series include cultural and tourism ambassadors representing innovation and tradition, frontline heroes in the fight against the pandemic, and environmental guardians promoting ecological conservation. Through these endeavors, we aimed to reshape the concept of guardianship, encompassing family, rules, integrity, and territorial integrity, thus creating the cultural IP of "Shushan Guardian."
Furthermore, we established the Shushan Rural Creative Alliance, which includes over 40 units spanning various fields such as dining, accommodation, recreation, agriculture, and cultural creativity. Through the binding force of rights and obligations, we formed a "Shushan Community of Shared Destiny," enhancing resource complementarity, connecting the industry chain, and achieving comprehensive and collaborative development. This alliance promotes cross-domain collaboration, fosters synergy among its members, and facilitates coordinated development throughout the entire region.
With attractive aesthetics and engaging content in place, the next step is to pursue the modernization of agriculture and rural areas with even higher aspirations.
To achieve this goal, my team and I delved into historical records and reconstructed the rare village-level academy in Shushan. By recreating the living scenes of literati and scholars reciting poetry and reading during the Ming Dynasty, we showcase the agricultural and scholarly culture of "thousands of bamboo outside the door and ten thousand volumes of books at home." We have also created the first-of-its-kind borderless library, established the "Rural Reading Alliance," and made the fragrance of books permeate throughout the entire Shushan Village.
Furthermore, leveraging my alumni network, I collaborated with top music institutions and used music and cultural tourism as a breakthrough point. We implemented the "Artistic Residency in the Village" program, aiming to establish the first rural music and cultural tourism hub in the country and a creative base for the revival of Chinese traditional music in the Yangtze River Delta. In 2019, we established the labels "Wen Yi" and "Cun Chao Peng Pai" and created a music salon called "Chu Shan Wen Yi." Through music and resident artists, we tell the story of rural development in China to the world.
With the implementation of urban waste sorting, my team and I have also begun planning innovative waste sorting projects in Shushan Village. We have established a "Full Cycle Intelligent Classification Ecological Management Platform" to accurately monitor and manage rural waste sorting. Utilizing the "Shushan Guardians," we conduct waste sorting education to cultivate the concept of "protecting green mountains and rivers, and building a beautiful Shushan Village." We integrate waste sorting with rural modern governance and use "technology empowerment + cultural creativity" to create a new benchmark for rural waste sorting.
Rural planning is both a practical planning that integrates multiple aspects and an innovative planning oriented towards the future. Under the new relationship between industry, agriculture, urban, and rural areas, the "three rural issues" are no longer a closed system where farmers solely engage in agriculture in rural areas. Villages are gradually transitioning from homogeneity to heterogeneity, while simultaneously encompassing diverse values such as food security, urban hinterland, and spiritual homeland. Particularly in advanced regions like Jiangsu, rural development and planning face many new challenges. As a planner, it is essential to rise to the occasion, embrace challenges, and put pressure on oneself to meet these challenges.
Today, Shushan Village has become a star village known for its ecological superiority, scenic beauty, distinctive industries, prosperous farmers, strong collective, and good rural atmosphere. Throughout the ten years of companionship, I have grown together with Shushan Village. I have come to realize that while planning work has its boundaries, the service of companionship knows no limits. We must not treat rural planning as a one-time deal. Rural planning is rooted in emotions, shaped by professionalism, and ultimately manifests in governance. It is fundamentally a process of consensus-building that requires us to do our best while also recognizing our limitations. We must strive for innovation in technical methods, uphold the continuous transmission of values, remain true to our original intentions, maintain patience, and exhibit craftsmanship.
《光明日报》（ 2022年10月08日 09版）
"Guangming Daily" (October 8, 2022, 9th Edition)