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A million-tree mission

By Han Junhong in Changchun | China Daily | Updated: 2017-03-03 07:37

A million-tree mission
Zhao Xihai at a national award ceremony for the country's environmental role models in 2007.Du Yang / Xinhua

Former logger sets goal to improve ecology of area after having a change of heart

After spending almost half his life chopping down trees in Jilin province, Zhao Xihai decided it was time to make a change.

In 1989, the former logger and explosives worker formulated a plan to mitigate some of the damage he had done to the environment over the years - he would plant 100,000 trees before turning 70.

In the first spring following his retirement, Zhao bought 46,000 seedlings and set about planting them on a barren tract of land on Bagua Hill, 3 kilometers away from his home.  

He set himself the goal of planting 1,000 seedlings per day, waking at 4 am each morning to walk to the hill, armed only with a shovel and some painkillers for his chronic stomach problems.

Every day for 46 days, come rain or shine, Zhao went to the hill to plant more trees, eating only small bites of snacks for sustenance and drinking from nearby streams.

He succeeded in completing his task in the time allocated, despite passing out from hunger and exhaustion one rainy day and having to be carried home by a neighbor.

Once the first 46,000 seedlings had been planted, Zhao continued with his task - albeit at a slower pace.

He persisted even after having a blood clot on the brain in 2004, which left him walking with a stick, telling his son: "I will not stop planting as long as I can move."

By 2007, Zhao had achieved his goal of planting 100,000 trees, but he did not stop there. Joined by his 36-year-old son Zhao Jingchun, who had recently been laid off, he set himself a new mission - to plant 1 million trees, including a number of rare or unusual species.

Within four years, the pair had managed to cultivate 750,000 seedlings, inspiring Zhao Xihai to present his son with a flag honoring his dedication and symbolizing the passing of responsibility to the younger generation.

In March last year, Zhao Xihai was hospitalized after his blood clot returned. He lost the ability to talk and now requires 24-hour care.

His son has vowed to continue his legacy, however, and is on schedule to plant his 1 millionth tree this year, according to Jilin's Hongshi Bureau of Forestry.

Some have questioned why Zhao Jingchun continues to plant trees when he has no income and a 13-year-old son to support. The entire family is also reliant on Zhao Xihai's pension.

"Planting trees will be beneficial for generations to come, therefore it is worth all the hardships - that's what my father would say," he said.

Guo Xiaojun contributed to this story.

A million-tree mission

Zhao works on Bagua Hill in Jilin province. [Photo provided to China Daily]

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