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"We didn"t expect him to write back, and we were exhilarated when he did," said Chen Yuling, a special delegate to the 18th National Congress of the Communist Youth League of China.
The eighth-grade student from Taizhou, Zhejiang province, was speaking about a letter sent to President Xi Jinping in 2016. She wrote the letter, together with another 11 descendants of Dachen Island volunteers.
"We told the president that we want to inherit the "reclamation spirit" of our grandparents, and make greater contributions to our motherland," she said.
Chen"s grandfather, Ye Wangan, was among hundreds of young volunteers from Zhejiang who have headed in several groups to Dachen Island - located off Taizhou Bay - since the mid-1950s to rebuild the island.
After the end of War of Liberation (1946-49), defeated Kuomintang troops held onto Dachen Island as a stronghold for a planned counterattack against the mainland. But the counterattack never materialized. In 1955, Kuomintang troops on the island gave up. Residents were relocated to Taiwan.
"My grandpa went there in the 1960s and stayed for four years. He told me everything was blown up and the island was almost uninhabitable in the early days," Chen said.
In addition to guarding the island and building roads and houses, the new arrivals had to raise vegetables and go fishing to support themselves. "Despite the harsh conditions, the youths on the island kept learning," Chen said.
Gradually, their efforts paid off and the island came back to life.
The island builders came up with innovative ideas to further develop the economy.
"As fish were perishable and hard to transport, they started factories to produce fish oil and other fish-related merchandise," she said.
Now, island residents have access to all basic living facilities, including tap water, electricity and telecommunications, she said. The local government is attempting to tap its tourism resources and further develop the economy, she said.
Chen said that even though the days of hardship and reclamation are long gone, the spirit of those who settled and developed the island will never get stale.
"The reclamation spirit - perseverance, dedication and innovation - is still relevant for us younger people today, and we should learn from the island volunteers and pass it down," she said.
Chen added that the creativity of millennials plus the perseverance of the older generation can produce miraculous outcomes.
With the national congress of the Youth League set to close on Friday, the special delegate said she plans to organize exchanges after she returns, and lead her fellow students by example.