A Man on a Mission

If there ever was a symbol of perseverance and determination, Huang Dafa is it. 

When the people in his village lost the ability to access fresh water and irrigate rice because of a severe drought that hit in the 1950s, Dafa dedicated 36 years of his life to bringing that water back. He dug a canal that would give the people a more prosperous life. 

Despite his mission being called hopeless and impossible, Dafa remained steadfast in his promise. He brought life back to what was a dying village. He also introduced electricity to the poor area and helped build two schools.

Dafa proved that to every problem, there is a solution out there, no matter how difficult it is to obtain. He is now a symbol of inspiration in China, as evidenced by his recent July 1 Medal and the motivational speeches he provides.

Huang Dafa pictured on the Dafa Canal in Caowangba village, Zunyi, Guizhou province, in 2018. Photo -Xinhua

The Water Problem

In the late 1950s, the Caowangba village, a small area in the South China region, was suffering from a severe drought. For one whole year, the village had received extremely little rainfall. 

The incredibly hot summer took away much of the freshwater resources that existed. All that was left was a well, but that could not plenish an entire village. 

Water was mandatory for feeding people. The farmlands and rice fields depended on it. Without sufficient water supplies, people had to travel several miles by foot and over mountains just to get food and drinking water. 

This also crushed the economy, as many people made a living from irrigating rice and other crops. People hoped things would improve over another year, but they didn’t. Very little rainfall continued to exacerbate the problem.

In 1959, 23-year-old Huang Dafa, who was a local Caowangba villager in Zuyni, decided to do some searching. He discovered a river stream six miles (10 km) away in the mountains that could save the village. If he could dig a powerful canal that could stretch down to the village, the people would get the proper water they needed without having to travel so far to get it. 

Dafa proposed this idea to the villagers, but they only called him crazy. Perhaps this motivated Dafa more as he took up the challenge in an effort to help his friends.

Dafa’s Work 

It would be labeled as a “life canal,” one built alongside the Karst mountains that could flow freshwater more than 9½ kilometers into the Caowangba village. This would save the rice fields and allow farmers to irrigate and produce food, and also provide the villagers with water to drink. 

The biggest obstacle was that Dafa had no expertise in water conservation and didn’t know how to build a canal. There was a lot of trial and error, learning as he went along. 

He even interviewed others who had more expertise than him. After 10 years of trying, he was still a long way from achieving his goal.

The terrain also presented many challenges. Trying to dig in the mountainous region was incredibly difficult. In some of the areas he dug, he only found solid stone, no dirt. 

Most people would give up with such little progress accomplished, but Dafa stayed true to his word, despite people saying his dream was impossible and there was no hope. Over time, local villagers started to help Dafa.

They provided extra hands when he most needed it. But many gave up from exhaustion and the lack of progress, saying this project had no chance of success.

As years continued to go by, Dafa got some additional assistance, receiving a job at the local water management station. This job allowed him to learn more about the water conservatory system and study engineering. 

He took a three-year break from the project so he could gain knowledge. When he returned to his work, he finally began to make significant progress on the canal. 

By the time he did return, unfortunately, many of the villagers had fled, for the water situation had grown so dire. The only good news to come out of that was that the local well could support more people since the population had dropped. 

Huang Dafa pictured standing in front of his hard work. People’s Daily Online/Luo Xinghan

In 1990, more than 30 years into the project, he was around 80 percent complete. By now, villagers had seen how close he was to finishing, and more than 200 helping hands began to assist Dafa. 

As he neared completion of the canal, Dafa received a government contract. It provided more training and allowed him to help bring electricity to the village. 

In 1995, now 36 years since he first started digging, Dafa completed the canal. He also successfully brought electricity to the people of Caowanga. 

Once deemed crazy for pursuing a goal that many called impossible, Dafa was now a hero, saving the village and boosting the economy. Rice and crop irrigation resumed after 36 years, and the population began to build back up after 1995.

The Dafa Legacy 

Because of his efforts, Dafa was named “National Model Worker” and “Worker of the Times.” In June 2021, the Chinese government presented him with the July 1 Medal, the highest honor a civilian can receive for their hard work and accomplishments.

The canal was also officially named “The Dafa Canal,” and people began calling Dafa a “Yu Gong” figure. As legend has it, Yu Gong was a man who moved two mountains near his home to allow his people to live a better and more comfortable life. It’s one of those Paul Bunyan tales only known in China.

Dafa not only built a canal and brought electricity to his people, but he also helped build two schools. Following that, in 2001, he helped people in a nearby village, Zaowangba, build a canal. 

They had suffered a similar drought as the people of Caowangba. Dafa built a canal from the same river stream he used for the other project that extended seven kilometers (4 miles). This helped restore water for the village people there.

Now one of the most historic and legendary people from China, Dafa goes around giving inspirational speeches, motivating others to never give up on a dream that may seem impossible. For this hero, everything was possible. 


Wangshu, Lou. “A Want for Water Leads to Village’s Prosperity.” China Daily. 6 Aug 2021. https://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/202108/06/WS610c89f4a310efa1bd667042.html

Tapalaga, Andrei. “Huang Dafa: The Man Who Dug For 36 Years for Water.” HistoryofYesterday.com. 2 Nov 2022. https://historyofyesterday.com/huang-dafa-the-man-who-dug-36-years-for-water/

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