Isolated Villagers Spend 15 Years Carving a Road Through a Mountain

The people of Shenlongwan, a once-isolated village in the mountains of China’s Shanxi Province, spent 15 years carving through rock with chisels and hammers to connect their home to the world and escape poverty.

Benefiting from a very favorable climate, Shenlongwan has always been famous for its exquisite walnuts and pears, but getting their harvest to market used to be a serious challenge for the locals. That’s because until the year 2000, to reach the county seat of Changzhi City, they had to either detour through eight townships in three different provinces, or risk their lives climbing dangerous narrow ladders to reach a steep mountain pass. One day, the villagers decided that things had to change, and if the authorities wouldn’t build a road to their village, then they just had to do it themselves.

“We desperately needed a road,” said Duan Jianlin, an elderly Shenlongwan native who participated in the construction. “If we couldn’t finish building it in one year, we would try two years. If two years were not enough, we would make it three years.”


All three estimates proved extremely optimistic, as this wasn’t just any road. Shenlongwan is surrounded by mountains on all sides, so the villagers had to dig through sheer rock to connect their home to the rest of China. Armed with rudimentary tools like hammers and chisels, carving through mountains proved to be extremely difficult and time-consuming.


The road built by the people of Shenlongwan is only 1,526  meters long, but it took them no less than 15 years to complete. Work began in 1985 and only ended in 2000.

The short but invaluable road opened the door to tourism and commerce and proved to be the key to lifting the people of Shenlongwan out of poverty. Not only could they sell the fruits of their labor faster, but the village’s natural beauty started attracting tourists as well.


Today, over 60 percent of the 700-plus villagers are engaged in tourism-related businesses, and the once-prevalent poverty is just a distant memory. In 2000, before the mountain-carved road became operational, the average per-capita income was only 680 yuan, while today it reaches 12,000 yuan, or $1,900.

The story of Shenlongwan reminded us of a couple of other impressive tales of perseverance, like the making of Guoliang Tunnel to connect the namesake isolated village to the rest of China, and the 36-year struggle of a village chief to bring water to his community.