Luo Yong is ecstatic to be celebrating Qixi, the Chinese version of Valentine's Day, with his wife on Monday.
Qixi is a traditional Chinese festival celebrated on the seventh day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar. It is based on a 2,000-year-old legend of two lovers, Niu Lang and Zhi Nyu, who are separated by a river and can only meet once a year when a flock of magpies forms a bridge for them.
For 30 years, Luo had not been lucky in meeting his Zhi Nyu.
Luo was born into a family of the Yao ethnic minority in remote Nonghua Village in south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. Locked in poverty for decades, Luo struggled to find a woman willing to date him.
"No women would ever consider tying the knot with me, because they feared that they would have to spend their lives in poverty," Luo said.
Luo was raised by his aunt, Luo Rongshan. The senior Luo, 61, was unable to have children. After Luo Yong's parents died, she took in the boy and his two brothers. But as they grew up, their marriage status became an unspoken anxiety.
"A few years ago, they had already reached their 30s, but none of them was married," Luo Rongshan said. "I was quite worried."
In 2012, close to 80 men in Luo's village of more than 700 people were unable to find wives. The oldest among them was already in his 50s. The village earned the nickname "the Singles' Village."
"Typically, in a Yao village, a man marries at the age of 22, and if you have not found a wife by the age of 30, you are almost doomed to remain single for the rest of your life," said Lan Ying, Communist Party chief of Nonghua Village.
"Nonghua Village was the epitome of the situation of China's vast rural western areas, particularly in poverty-stricken areas," said He Xuefeng, of Huazhong University of Science and Technology. He heads a research team that has focused on China's singles' villages.
"Traditionally, people married into families nearby, but in recent years, more people have moved to big cities to find jobs, which has broken the circle," said He. "As more women chose to marry to men in more developed areas to shake off poverty, men in the poor areas were left single."
"Only one woman married a man in our village a few years ago, and others simply married men in areas with better fortune," Luo Rongshan said. "Who would ever want to continue to stay in dark, dank hovels and live on corn grown in rock cracks?"
But as a national anti-poverty drive gains steam, the situation is gradually changing.
Now, new buildings have replaced the tile-roofed houses in Nonghua Village.
"There is a paved road connecting us with the county seat, and a single journey only takes about half an hour," Lan Ying said.
The change in Nonghua Village is part of China's anti-poverty drive over the past five years. The country plans to lift all rural poor people out of poverty by 2020 to build a "moderately prosperous society."
Some officials in charge of poverty alleviation have been sent to the village. Besides improving infrastructure and developing new industries, they have also encouraged the villagers to look for jobs in cities. With new houses and increased income, many single men have begun to have luck in relationships.
Last year, when Luo Yong turned 30, he started dating a woman from a nearby town.
"Her parents were not happy about it because my nephew is much older," said Luo Rongshan. "But they were in love, and she was happy about our conditions in the village."
The two lovebirds married later last year.
"During the past two years, at least 10 bachelors have gotten married," Lan Ying said.
Lan Shengyong, 41, was previously abandoned by his ex-wife and had been living in a dilapidated house with his two sons.
Villagers said he built a new brick house with the help of village officials, and had some savings after years of working elsewhere. Two years ago, he married a 22-year-old woman from a nearby county.
Nowadays, there are only 34 single men above age 30 in Nonghua.
"More single men will have the chance to get married as the country's anti-poverty efforts transform our fortune," Lan said.