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Retired patrolman devoted to protecting forest

By SUN RUISHENG in Taiyuan and LI YANG in Beijing | China Daily | Updated: 2021-08-20 10:44
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Jing Baoshan patrols in the forest in Pinglu county, Shanxi province. [Photo by Liu Wenli/for China Daily]

Jing Baoshan, 69, lives a quiet post-retirement life in Yuecun village, Pinglu county, Shanxi province.

But his weather-beaten, wrinkled face and gray hair are testament to the extraordinary life the lanky figure has lived, for which he has been awarded the honorary title of "National Outstanding Member of the Communist Party of China".

Jing's given name, "Baoshan" means "protecting the mountains", something he seems to have been fated to do his entire life.

In 1970, the then 17-year-old joined the People's Liberation Army, and was garrisoned in the Tangula Mountains for the next 17 years.

The Tangula, with elevations ranging between 5,000 meters and 6,000 meters above sea level, stretch more than 700 kilometers across the east of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. The name is Tibetan and means "mountains that even eagles cannot fly over".

After being discharged from active military service in 1987, Jing returned to his hometown in Pinglu and became a forest ranger with a State-run forest farm, where he worked for 25 years until he retired in 2012. He largely worked alone and survived a number of life-or-death situations, as he was ready to sacrifice his life to protect the trees-mostly Chinese red pines which he refers to as "his children"-from fires and illegal logging.

On Oct 1, 2019, he was invited to the ceremony celebrating the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China in Beijing, which Jing said was an honor and something he will remember for the rest of his life. He no longer has official responsibilities but continues to patrol the forest as a volunteer at least once every two weeks out of emotional attachment.

Thanks to improved logistics, living conditions for the rangers in the mountains are much better today. Smart positioning equipment plays a vital role in keeping them safe, and fireproof facilities are more developed than before.

Jing believes the improvements are a reflection of the country's development. More importantly, he said that people now recognize the importance of a well-protected environment.

Jing hasn't forgotten the day he started work. After taking him to the lookout tower and explaining the basics of life and work as a ranger, the farm's director left him alone on the mountain. His only contact with the outside world was via radio.

"The first few nights were sleepless because of the noises made by wild animals," he said.

When he woke up to the sound of birds chirping the first morning, the view over an immense forest, which covers an area of nearly 6,800 hectares, made him wonder if this was exactly what he'd been missing during his 17 years up in the barren mountains of Tangula. There, the soldiers dreamed each night of trees, he said.

He patrolled the forest once a week with a hatchet to protect himself from wolves, singing songs to entertain himself during the 30-km hike.

At the lookout tower where he stayed, he also scanned the forest by binoculars once an hour, and reported conditions to his colleagues every three days. He wrote his log and diary by candlelight and talked to stars when he felt lonely.

The villagers described him as a "hardhead" because he refused to compromise, and no one dared fell a tree under his watch.

During his 25 years of service, Jing helped fight forest fires on numerous occasions. In 2000, after spotting one, he called for help from the closest village.

As more firefighters made their way, Jing and five farmers were battling the blaze when the wind suddenly changed direction, and the flames encircled them. Four of the farmers died, while Jing and the surviving farmer were injured.

While recalling that day, Jing cried. He said that the farmers' deaths were one of the reasons he determined to devote the rest of his life to the forest.

It took his wife eight hours on foot to reach the lookout tower, but she would bring him 30 homemade steamed buns each time.

The forestry bureau also tried to support his work.

In the 25 years Jing spent at the tower, three colleagues were sent to work with him. But all left after only a short time there.

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