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It's -25 C as I get out of the taxi and start walking up Qingshan village's main street. Built in 1964 as a farming outpost in Heilongjiang province, the first settlers that braved the frozen winters had a very different life to the villagers of today.
Qingshan marks the starting point of a nine-week journey that will take me through China to find out how 30 years of rural development has impacted on the lives of an estimated 800 million Chinese spread out over 1 million villages.
According to recent government statistics, the number of people living below the poverty line in rural areas declined from 250 million in 1978 to 27 million in 2010. I am expecting to find many changes.
As I make my way up the long snow-covered street, retired farmer Shan Jixian sees me struggling to operate my camera with frozen hands and invites me in for tea. Sitting with his wife, Zhao Guangzheng, in a two-room house he reminisces.
"We are an old couple but we eat better now than we used to. In the days of community living, people who worked hard had just about enough food, but those who did little never had enough."
As I leave Shan's home and return to the biting wind, he takes me to the yard to show me a tractor he bought in 2011.
"This makes a big difference to our lives," he tells me as we shake hands and I feel his rough palms carved out by years of toil on the land. His grandchildren, it seems, are going to have it a lot easier.
Before reaching the end of the street I am once again invited into someone's home, the farmer Han Zhicheng, who has turned his family home into a guesthouse for hikers and skiers.
"After skiing came to this village we started to have a good life," he says as he barks instructions at family members who bring me tea and wipe a table.
Qingshan's geography has many disadvantages but the mountain that rises behind, combined with 170 days of snow a year, makes it ideal for skiing.