The village head had previously thought 22-year-old Zhang was too weak to endure hard farming work in the village of Shangzhi city, northeast China's Heilongjiang province.
But he was moved by the joke and decided to accept the outsider, though the tailor's skills seemed redundant as the villagers were too poor to purchase new clothes. Yuanbao was called "a village of bare-buttocks" because the poorly-clad villagers where viewed as too poor to afford decent trousers.
But today Yuanbao villagers are no longer poor as they earn a per capita income of 18,200 yuan (2,900 U.S. dollars) .
Named after a nearby hilltop that resembles a gold ingot, Yuanbao was ironically known for its poverty in the 1960s and 70s, when the villagers had to rely on government relief.
Changes have gradually occurred since 1976. That was when Zhang became captain of a sub-brigade of Yuanbao.
The man with five years of primary schooling believed that a lack of farm technologies and passive attitude toward work among villagers kept Yuanbao's productivity down.
Yuanbao is known as a pioneer of land reform launched by the Communist Party of China in the late 1940s, which endowed landless peasants with land.
However, villagers' motivation for work was discouraged after the collective production and distribution system was established with the founding of communes and production brigades, according to Zhang.
His first reform was to establish responsibility contracts with his brigade members, who were asked to be responsible for a fixed piece of land from sowing to harvest.
Zhang also introduced a new farming technique regarded as strange by the villagers: close planting.
Villagers from other sub-brigades were amazed to see Zhang and his team members measure their steps while sowing to ensure the seeds were planted at a distance of about 20 centimeters, as previously both seeds and fertilizers were scattered in a random manner in Yuanbao.
The puzzled villagers, however, discovered the secret and hoped to follow suit when Zhang's sub-brigade reported an average yield of 500 kg per mu that fall.
The villagers began to view the tailor in a different way.
Zhang was elected Party secretary of Yuanbao in 1980, when the country began to embark on reform and communes and brigades began to disappear gradually.
Zhang thought that Yuanbao should not fall behind as villages across the country started their own industries, embracing the country's reform policies.
"We must blaze a trail that leads our fellow villagers to affluence," Zhang told other Party members at a meeting in 1983.
They decided at the meeting to set up a factory, but the village, 270,000 yuan in debt, had no way to get bank loans.
The starting fund of 37,000 yuan was raised among Party members, and Zhang alone contributed 13,000 yuan.
"Party members and cadres have to take the lead if you want ordinary villages to follow," said Zhang.
Over the past three decades, Yuanbao villagers tried businesses in brickmaking, carpentry, chopsticks and pencil making, with both success and failure.
The starting fund of only 37,000 yuan now has snowballed into an annual output of 330 million yuan in the village with 38 enterprises, and about 90 percent of the villagers' income comes from factories.
Now the pioneer of the land reform in the 1940s has taken a new label-- home of pencils, as about a quarter of China's pencils and 60 percent of its pencil wood is produced in the former "village of bare-buttocks."
Yuanbao's pencil products were also sold to Asian, European and African countries, accounting for 40 percent of global market share.
The prosperous businesses have brought villagers a decent life as can be seen in the village's new red-roof villas surrounded by trees and sedans of various brands.
Presently, what Zhang is concerned about is how to sustain the village's development.
"Party cadres can never feel contented though ordinary villagers may be satisfied with today's life. We have to stand on a higher perspective, and think for our future generations," Zhang said.
The village is now planning a modern farming industry park, a pencil industry park and a cultural park featuring the land reform scenarios depicted in the revolutionary classic "The Tempest" authored by renowned novelist Zhou Libo in 1948.
"I hope the blueprints (of the three parks) can be turned into reality as soon as possible," said the man in his sixties.
The village also began to give up farm land for reforestation after repeated over reclamation resulted in vegetation erosion and led to mudslides in the rainy season 10 years ago.
"We cannot live alone with money when the mountains turn barren and rivers become dry one day," Zhang said to his fellow villagers.
He told them that trees can help ward off wind and consolidate soil while balanced logging and planting also means large and sustainable profits for the manufacture of chopsticks.
Now more than 1 million trees have been planted around the village.
Yuanbao villagers regard Zhang as their star and hope he can always shine, but Zhang wants to retire.
He decided to quit his concurrent post as chief of the villagers' committee 10 years ago, but the villagers protested.
On voting day, the courtyard of the villagers' committee office was crowded with people, who did not disperse until they were sure that their "old secretary" was reelected.
"We know he is tired and needs rest, but we can't imagine what our village would be like without his leadership," said villager Yu Junling."It's our fortune to have such a leader."