WHEN PUSH COMES TO SHOVE

THE BROADER PICTURE

If the art of successful Chinese entrepreneurship is to close a gap in the market, then 26-year-old Xiao Fugui has done just that. The mountain peasants living in Qiaojia county, on the Jinsha river in Yunnan province, had always been cut off from the markets and inhabitants of Butuo county, on the other side of the river. The villagers could stand on opposite cliff-tops and shout at each other across the 600ft-wide gorge, but the raging torrent which flows through it meant that never the twain could meet. Until, that is, Xiao and his partner, Xiong Guangneng, embarked upon one of China's most perilous private enterprises.

As dawn rises at Shuiyinkou, perched high above the Jinsha, the early morning light reveals four parallel cables strung across the gorge, as if for a high-wire circus act. The day's performers are Xiao and Xiong, and they offer a heart- stopping ride to Butuo and back. An open, metal "cable-car" - about five feet by three feet - is attached to the cables by eight pulley wheels. Into this squeeze up to 10 mountain villagers, or perhaps a farmer and his buffalo, or box-loads of fruit, vegetables and fertiliser. When the load is ready, the day's work begins.

Balanced on the 4cm-wide cables, and with no safety ropes, Xiao and Xiong perch precariously behind the cable-car - and start pushing. It takes up to 30 minutes to make the crossing, their hands gripping the metal frame and their feet, clad in cheap shoes, feeling their way along the tightrope. The view is spectacular; high mountains and the gorge's cliffs on either side, and the turbulent waters below. But Xiao and Xiong concentrate on staying alive; this is not a country where peasants have the luxury of life insurance - or even the right to free medical care, should the worst happen.

According to the Qiaojia County Transportation Bureau, over the past 10 years two or three such cable-car links have been set up along the Jinsha river. One official warned: "Before you take the cable-car, you must check first if it is solid or not, because the investment comes from individuals, and sometimes the cable is built by an unqualified construction team." Huang Jiaqiang, editor of a local newspaper, Transportation News, remembered how in June 1990 the cables broke at Shuiyinkou. "About a dozen people fell into the river. Some were rescued, but others died," he said.

For Xiao and Xiong the risks must be weighed against the potential profits. Xiao's family of three earns only about pounds 15 a year surplus from its farmland. So on working days, Xiao happily leaves home at 4.30am for the 90-minute hike to the cable-car, where passengers are charged 1.5 yuan (11p) - or up to pounds 1 for a buffalo - for a single crossing. Xiong's family, in contrast, breeds silkworms and earns more than 10,000 yuan (pounds 770) a year, but he needs the crossing to ferry his goods to market - so his family have invested in a 25 per cent holding in the cable-car enterprise (the business runs according to modern financial principles, with 12 shareholders owning a total of eight 800-yuan shares).

Today, when Xiao arrives, it is raining steadily, which is bad for business since the cable-car cannot run until the weather clears up. By the end of the day, just three passengers have crossed, netting Xiao and Xiong a meagre 4.5 yuan. The next morning, the weather is better and it is market day on the Qiaojia side, so many passengers come from Butuo. Xiao and Xiong, on shift together again, earn a lucrative 41 yuan, despite letting a number of their friends travel for free.

Apart from the threat to life and limb, Xiao's biggest worry is the new bridge and highway 12 miles upstream, which threatens to divert some of his customers. But 12 miles is a long way for a mountain peasant with no transport and a buffalo to sell. "It is far upstream, and the cable-car is more convenient and cheaper," said Huang. With any luck, Xiao and Xiong will be performing their commercial balancing act for some time to come. !

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine