BEIJING - China will banish the "ghosts" of poverty, Chinese President Xi Jinping told villagers in a poor southwestern part of the country during a traditional visit to outlying regions before the Lunar New Year.
Chinese leaders generally use the time around the festival to make inspection trips around the country where they flag important policy initiatives or areas of concern for the year ahead.
The week-long holiday, starting on the eve of the new year, on Thursday, is the most important in the Chinese calendar, when millions of people travel home, many for the only time in the year.
Xi has made poverty alleviation one of his signature policy issues after pledging in 2015 that China would lift the 70 million people living under the poverty level at the time out of poverty by 2020.
Visiting a remote mountainous part of Sichuan province to meet ethnic Yi people who live there, Xi was told by one villager that she used to believe ghosts were the cause of illness, state media reported on Monday.
After hearing her story, Xi told her they would exorcise the ghosts, reports said.
"In the past we did have ghosts - the ghosts of ignorance, backwardness and poverty," Xi told her.
"If we can resolve these problems then the ghosts will vanish. If there is culture, knowledge and hygiene, then our prosperous life can resolve these difficulties and then how can there be any ghosts?" Xi added.
The Yi, who speak a language distantly related to Burmese and have their own unique script, are one of China's 55 officially recognised minority peoples.
The official Xinhua news agency and state television showed pictures of Xi inspecting dried meats, chatting with villagers wearing colourful traditional costumes and being shown housing improvement projects.
At one point, Xi was given a traditional white Yi cloak to wear, which he put on his shoulders over a thick green padded jacket.
Xi will likely make visits to other parts of the country ahead of and possibly during the holiday.