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'Foolish old men' transform barren hillsides

Updated: 2012-06-28 09:06
( Xinhua)

BEIJING - It is said that faith can move mountains. And this appears true in the case of two farmers in northwest China who turned the dusty hillsides into fertile land.

Shi Jianquan, a 71-year-old farmer from Lintao county in Gansu province, spent more than 10 years transforming a bald mountain covering more than 10,000 mu (666.67 hectares) into productive land.

Lintao is arid. The county is part of Dingxi city, which is one of China's poorest regions.

Thirty years ago, United Nations experts said Dingxi and surrounding areas lacked "basic conditions" for humans to survive.

'Foolish old men' transform barren hillsides

Shi Jianquan (L), a 71-year-old farmer, works in the field with villagers in Lintao county of Gansu province on June 20, 2012. [Photo/Xinhua]

However, the locals have had to carry on. And they have been trying to do something impossible, like the "foolish old man" who moved mountains in an ancient Chinese myth.

In the story, Yugong smashed apart rocks, dug up the ground, and transported the earth to the seaside in baskets.

His neighbors laughed at him, but Yugong said, "Even when I die, I shall have sons surviving me. My sons will beget me more grandsons, my grandsons in their turn will have sons. My descendants will go on forever, but the mountains will get no bigger. Why should there be any difficulty in leveling them?"

The god of the mountains was moved by Yugong's sincerity and helped him level the two mountains.

Mao Zedong wrote an article "The Foolish Old Man Who Removed the Mountains" in 1945, saying he believed that "any task could be accomplished through sheer will."

Shi faced the same dilemma as Yugong when he signed a contract to manage a piece of barren mountain land.

Shi moved to the mountain, and only returned home every few months. He grew crops, fruit and trees and bred sheep and cattle on the hillside.

Later, the villagers expressed their surprise when the arid land turned green. Shi profited financially from his hard work.

"Even when I die, my offspring will continue to plant trees," Shi said.

Another "Yugong" in the city of Dingxi, named Wang Yongrui, has planted trees for three decades.

In the 1980s, Wang signed a contract to manage another piece of barren hillside, but he found that the poor environment make it difficult for plants to survive there.

In order to prevent animals from eating saplings, Wang slept in the open, with his big black dog beside him. He and the dog warmed each other during the chilly nights.

Though the trees struggled to survive, Wang remained hopeful that the barren hill would one day turn green.

Local officials were moved by Wang's determination and decided to construct a pipeline to his land so the trees could be watered. At last Wang's dream of making the land fertile will become reality.