One of the biggest obstacles facing China as it modernizes is dealing with the country's vast number of rural poor. The governor of the Mizhi province, Wang Lihua, has come up with an idea to help her area's young women expand their horizons and better themselves by training them as housekeepers. The work may sound demeaning to Westerners, but if you read the article you'll see that the opportunities are far better for these women than they've ever been in the past. The story is also an excellent example of "trickle down" economics.

MIZHI, China--The women of Mizhi are reputed to be among China's most beautiful, but they are more than just pretty faces.

Although Mizhi is poor, the reputation the women enjoy is almost priceless, one that they are spinning into pure gold. ...

While farming is the main industry, the barren soil of the inland plateau makes for a hardscrabble existence. Few crops are viable. Debt is way of life.

The area is said to be the birthplace of Diao Chan, one of China's ancient Four Beauties popularized in "Romance of the Three Kingdoms," a wildly popular 14th-century novel that follows the history of the turbulent Three Kingdoms period (220-280).

Through the Diao Chan connection alone, Mizhi is known far and wide as the "home of beauties." ...

In 2002, soon after taking office, Wang set about selling her colleagues on the idea of setting up a school to train the area's young women to become housekeepers.

With little opportunity for higher education and a frail job market, women, says Wang, were sorely in need of a boost.

"As a woman, I thought that teaching young women the skills necessary for getting a job was more important than building roads," she says. ...

Since it opened in June 2003, the school has turned out more than 500 young housekeepers. Ninety-eight percent have gone on to clinch jobs in Shanghai, Beijing and other major cities.

The school has also developed contracts with major urban staffing agencies.

The term Mizhipoyi (women from Mizhi) is becoming so popular in domestic employment circles that officials even had it registered as a brand name.

The article includes the stories of two young women who graduated from the school and found work as housekeepers, and their attitude and resolve are impressive. Their children will certainly go to college, and their grandchildren will be absolutely anything they want to be.

(HT: My brother Nick.)

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