For 200 years, the villagers have lived 2600 feet on a cliff. Now I’m in a residential complex

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A man climbs up the mountain to Atule'er village in Sichuan province, China.

Atule’er, a 200-year-old village in Sichuan province, made headlines all over the world when in 2016 photographs of schoolchildren who descended the cliffs on unstable rattan stairs – or “sky stairs” as they called them – emerged locals.

The two-hour hike was the villagers’ only way to access the outside world, and they had to transport agricultural products off the cliffs to sell to the nearest market miles away. In recent years, local authorities replaced their handmade stairs with a steel one that had a handrail, drastically shortening travel time.

This week, however, 84 Atule’er families left the stairs forever, settling in apartment buildings near the center of Zhaojue county, 75 kilometers (46 miles) away, according to Chinese news agency Xinhua.

Their new apartments range from 25 square meters (269 square feet) to 100 square meters (1,076 square feet) and have modern kitchens, toilets, running water, electricity and gas, according to state broadcaster CGTN.

“I am very happy that he had an excellent home today”, the villager Mose Laluo said to CGTN.

“After moving to the county, life will be very convenient for my family. My children will easily go to school and hospital services will also be convenient.”

Not all villagers have been relocated, however – around 30 families are planning to stay.

Atule’er has become a tourist attraction in recent years. In 2019, 100,000 visitors generated nearly 1 million yuan ($ 140,878) for the village, according to Xinhua. Further developments will serve that industry, with officials planning to build a cable car to transport tourists up and down the cliff, according to state-run news site Paper.cn.

Eliminate poverty

Before the coronavirus struck, the Chinese government had pledged to do so lift all its 1.4 billion people out of poverty by 2020.

The resettlement of cliffside villagers is part of that larger unit, and they are not alone. About 18,000 impoverished residents – or more than 4,000 families – have moved into sprawling urban residential development from 92 remote villages in the region, according to Xinhua.

The relocated villagers of Atule were technically already out of poverty, with an average per capita income of 6,000 yuan ($ 845) last year – above China’s 2019 official poverty line of 3,747 yuan ($ 527). But the commitment is also aimed at improving the living conditions of low-income rural populations.

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