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New forests halt desertification

By Li Yang in Beijing and Huo Yan in Yan'an, Shaanxi | China Daily | Updated: 2019-05-24 09:48
Locals plant trees in Weiyuan county, Gansu province. WANG GANG/FOR CHINA DAILY

Government campaign helps transform barren land

Of the 47,000 most-used Chinese characters, nearly 1,500 have wood as a pictographic component, showing the natural resource's importance to Chinese people's lives and culture.

Paper and printing blocks were made from wood, along with solid buildings that have stood for thousands of years in all kinds of weather. Some old trees have even been worshipped by villagers.

Yet the country's mushrooming population has led to the rapid depletion of its forests. It took nearly 5,000 years for the population to reach 400 million by the middle of the 20th century, and only a further 50 years for it to reach about 1.4 billion.

In the 1950s, only 8.6 percent of the nation's land mass was covered by forests. The proportion is believed to have fallen until the late 1970s, when the government launched a national reforestation campaign, which is still in effect.

The campaign has increased forest coverage by two and a half times in four decades.

Zhang Lianlian, 66, a farmer in Leipingta village, Ansai county, Yan'an, Shaanxi province, has been described by her fellow rural residents as a "tree freak".

She has been compared with the pine trees she has planted in that she cannot be felled by any difficulties, or collapse under pressure.

Zhang and her family, which spans three generations, have planted at least 200,000 trees on 117 hectares of mountainous land since 1981.

"My father encouraged me to plant trees when he saw my hand-to-mouth existence in the village in 1981. He said that as long as I insisted on planting trees, life would eventually change," Zhang said.

Her father was deputy head of the Yan'an forestry bureau of at the time.

"I could not quite understand what he meant, but I thought the stark mountains would look better if covered in greenery."

Zhang transformed her family's 2 hectares of barren farmland. From dawn to sunset, she planted trees on the mountains, leaving her children at home tied to a bed with long straw ropes as her husband, Wang Yaowu, a carpenter, often worked far from home.

Her actions shocked many people, who branded her a "nerd". Some even herded their sheep on Zhang's mountain slope. The sheep quickly ate the buds springing from new trees, and storms easily destroyed a large number of these saplings, giving Zhang sleepless nights.

Her husband said: "I often tried to persuade her to give up. It takes a long time before the trees can be logged for money. I was afraid we would not even live that long. But every morning, she emerged stronger and more determined."

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