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Too hard to say goodbye to Tibet: China's Jane Goodall

By Chen Bei in Nyingchi (

Updated: 2015-08-27 09:21:45

Too hard to say goodbye to Tibet: China's Jane Goodall

Xu Fengxiang (in red) makes a field research in the Gangxiang Spruce Forest in the 1980s. [Photo provided to]

Her love affair with nature started in early childhood and has been central to her life ever since.

Love turned into obsession in 1978 when the then-47-year-old forest ecology university teacher bid farewell to her family in Nanjing, in the eastern province of Jiangsu, and headed for the Tibetan plateau to begin research into what she calls the four high-altitude ecosystems — glaciers, water, grasses, and forests, which are all effected by the harsh conditions, high altitudes, extreme winter cold and low oxygen levels that can result in aridity and desertification.

In the 18 years that followed until her retirement, Xu's footprints covered 130,000 km and more than 20 virgin forests in Tibet as she conducted field research. She visited base camp at Qomolangma, the world's highest mountain, known in the West as Mount Everest, three times, at ages 61, 70 and 78.

'China's Jane Goodall'

Located in Nyingchi's Bome county, the Gangxiang Spruce Forest has an area of 46 sq km, more than 61 percent of which is covered by spruce trees.

Without a seven-year field study that Xu conducted in the 1980s the forest would not have been measured and designated a nature reserve as a protection measure. In 2005, it was ranked by China National Geography Magazine as one of the country's "Top 10 Most Beautiful Forests".

"She is China's Jane Goodall," said Yang Ling, an environmental enthusiast in Beijing.

Too hard to say goodbye to Tibet: China's Jane Goodall

Xu Fengxiang makes a field research on the Yarlung Zangbo River in the 1980s. [Photo provided to]

"Like Goodall who devoted her life to the study of wild chimpanzees and the environmental cause, Xu spent more than 60 years on ecological studies, and in her later years she has specialized in Tibetan ecology and has helped to establish a number of nature reserves," he said.

In the past 12 or so years, Xu has published 11 academic books, introductions to the distribution of wild flowers, mountains, valleys, rivers and forests in Tibet.

Xu's recent trip to Nyingchi was her last because the low level of oxygen at high altitude can be detrimental to the health of seniors, and she has reluctantly conceded defeat. "It is really so hard to say goodbye," she said, as tears welled in her eyes.

"I bid farewell to the plateau many times since my retirement in 1995, but I flew back from Beijing again and again because of my love of nature and this landscape."

She has now been tasked with educating the younger generation about Tibet's fragile ecology and the need for protection. "I deliver lectures to students about 10 times a year, and introduce all the Tibetan species to them," she said.

"I'm happy to be a 'scientific preacher' for Tibet until the day I die — urging my fellow humans to protect the species on the plateau."

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