THE SINGLE GREATEST change in the history of the cave was the introduction of electricity in 2002.

SURPRISINGLY. THE Chinese government did not bring electricity to the area. Instead a wealthy  American businessman from Minnesota  Frank Bedor Jr, was responsible.

Mr. Beddor first visited the ''Zhong Cave'' in 2002, and returned several times - donating tens of thousands of dollars to connect cave to the regions 'electrical grid.

His financial support also built school house and communal bathroom and delivered livestock and other assistance to the villagers, dramatically improving their quality of life.

The remaining 18 families have held stubbornly to their homes inside the cave. They say that the new homes are too small, that they fear - loosing access to their land and that they alone, because of their historical connection to the cave, should have the right to control its small tourism economy.

''The residents of this cave should be the administrators of tourism here, regardless of whether or not we are paid,'' said Wang Qiguo, the head of the local village, who established the first hostel there.

As he spoke, his wife prepared a steaming array of dishes made from home-smoked pork and local vegetables grown in the valley.

After all, Mr. Wang noted, the best thing about the cave is its inhabitants.''

During the 1980s, the outsiders who most often visited the Zhong cave were local government officials checking to enforce Chin's one-child policy.

The measure was deeply unpopular among the villagers, whose children work alongside their parents in the fields, tending to livestock.

Mr. Wang said that during these years, violators of the policy would sometimes be taken away for forced abortions and sterilization.

Wang  Qical, 39, a farmer who also runs a small general store out of his home in the cave, said young people may move out to become migrant workers, but many end up returning to have their families.

!WOW!  also thanks Zoe Mou who contributed research.


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