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A green revolution

Updated: 2022-07-26 08:01 ( China Daily )
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Enormous efforts invested in resurrecting Saihanba as one of the world's largest man-made forests are rooted in the ancient Chinese philosophy of peaceful coexistence, Cheng Yuezhu reports.

Editor's note: China's ancient wisdom informs its contemporary leadership. In this series, China Daily explores how age-old principles and philosophies continue to steer the nation's governance.

From a barren wilderness that encouraged severe sandstorms to a verdant forest that provides Beijing and its adjacent regions a bulwark against natural calamities, Saihanba in Weichang Manchu and Mongolian autonomous county, Hebei province, is nothing short of a green miracle.

Epic endeavors of three generations of foresters have transformed hectares of arid land into an enviable man-made woodland, and Zhang Jianglai's family is proud to have contributed to the extraordinary project.

Born and raised in the county, 29-year-old Zhang recalls how his truck driver father worked day and night to transport timber for the forest farm. "I vividly remember the day my dad first took me to Saihanba. It was like an ocean of green. The rows of trees stretched as far as the eyes could see," he says.

The day left an indelible imprint on his mind, and after he graduated in seed production and management from Hebei North University in 2016, Zhang applied for job openings at the forest farm. He started working at the farm's Dahuanqi area as a technician and participated in an afforestation program in the spring of 2017.

The same year, the Saihanba afforestation community took home the UN Champions of the Earth award for its outstanding contribution to the restoration of degraded landscape.

However, the path to glory was no cakewalk. The temperature often plummeted beyond-20 C and the average frost-free season lasted for about two months, which meant planting trees and ensuring their survival was a Herculean task.

The afforestation team usually arrived at the foot of the mountains by 4:30 am, and then climbed for an hour or so to the designated plantation spot. The unpredictable weather was the toughest challenge, recalls Zhang. It could be sunny in the morning and start snowing by lunchtime.

"My story is just a snippet of the lives of young people working at the forest farm. Our predecessors laid a solid foundation. We are standing on that foundation and pushing forward," says Zhang, now director of Dahuanqi's Xiahebian forest section.

Historically speaking, Saihanba was once an abundant resource of flora and fauna, but deforestation began toward the end of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). Wars and conflicts in the first half of the 20th century reduced it to a desert. The forest shield gone, sandstorms began striking neighboring areas, including Beijing, with alarming frequency.

In 1962, the central government established the Saihanba Mechanical Forest Farm and engaged a dedicated team of 369 youths to revive the green lung. Today, the area's forest cover has increased from a measly 18 percent to a promising 82 percent.

According to Zhang, the forest farm's focus has now shifted from planting trees to protecting the ecology by introducing more species and improving disease resistance. The economic angle has also moved from just selling timber to understory agricultural produce. The farm has also adopted advanced technologies, including video monitoring, drone surveillance and radar aid, to prevent fire hazards.

During an inspection in August 2021, President Xi Jinping said generations of workers there have forged, through concrete action, the Saihanba Spirit-staying true to the original aspiration, being hardworking and enterprising, and pursuing green development.

In a statement at the UN Summit on Biodiversity, via videoconference in 2020, Xi said that China always prioritized ecological progress, and embedded it in every dimension and phase of economic and social development. The goal is to seek a kind of modernization that promotes a harmonious coexistence between people and nature, he stressed.

A natural bond

This concept of coexistence is derived from the term tianrenheyi in ancient Chinese philosophy. Here, tian literally means the sky or the heaven, but its definition extends to encompass nature and the order of things as determined by nature and followed by people.

Taoist philosopher Zhuangzi made a representative statement when he said: "Heaven and earth were born at the same time I was, and the ten thousand things are one with me."

The idea of harmony between people and nature is, however, not limited to Taoism. Confucian philosopher Mencius proposed "to have love for the people, and cherish all things" while Zhang Zai from the Song Dynasty (960-1279) put forward the notion that "all people are brothers and sisters, and all things are equal".

An expert in traditional culture, Guo Wenbin says the main reason why varied schools of thought, including Confucianism and Taoism, have raised and emphasized the concept is that they share the same Chinese roots, which rely heavily on astronomical observations.

An example of this is the Chinese lunisolar calendar that stresses the impact of the sun and the moon on people's daily lives. It played an important role in China for millennia, as it guided agricultural production.

"In ancient Chinese philosophy, nature and everything in it are equal. Together, we are one. This is why ancient philosophy requires us to treat nature with kindness and reverence," Guo says. "Ancient Chinese people even personified nature. They believed trees and grass have feelings, and that these must be respected."

Guo says his hometown, Xihaigu in the Ningxia Hui autonomous region, faced a similar plight to that of Saihanba. After decades of controlling desertification and promoting afforestation, Xihaigu's destiny changed. The once barren acres are now a picturesque natural landscape.

"Under this philosophical frame, the relationship between nature and people is an interactive one. We should be grateful to nature. If we continue to be so, nature will repay us with more kindness," Guo adds.

Success story in statistics

According to last year's figures, made available by the National Forestry and Grassland Administration, China's forest cover has improved from 8.6 percent over six decades ago to 23.04 percent by the end of 2020.

The country has established 11,800 protected natural sites, offering protection to around 90 percent of terrestrial types of ecosystem, 85 percent of wildlife species and 65 percent of higher plant communities.

During the 13th Five-Year Plan period (2016-20), desertification control was conducted on more than 10 million hectares, and approximately 4 million hectares of farmland was converted back to forests or grasslands.

China's outline of the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25) states in its main objectives that new progress will be made in building an ecological civilization.

Specific goals suggest that energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP will be reduced by 13.5 percent and 18 percent, respectively; the total discharge of major pollutants will be consistently reduced; the forest cover will reach 24.1 percent; and the environment will be consistently improved for a stronger ecological defense.

In September 2020, China also announced that it aimed to peak carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060.

"The worldview of unity between nature and people clarifies the responsibilities and obligations of people toward all things. It draws a red line for human behavior, emphasizing that we should care for and respect nature, act in accordance with the laws of nature, and take natural resources in moderation," Guo Qiyong, a professor from Wuhan University, says in an article for People's Daily.

The professor further writes: "It aims to maintain the balance and achieve the state of harmonious coexistence between people and nature, providing an important practical guideline for the construction of an ecological philosophy with Chinese characteristics and the pursuit of sustainable development."

Zhang Yu contributed to this story.

Hot words
The news conference of the 2022 China International Travel Mart, Kunming, Yunnan province. [Photo/Chinaculture.org]

The 2022 China International Travel Mart was launched in Kunming, Yunnan province today. The three-day event opened at the Kunming Dianchi Lake International Convention and Exhibition Centre, with a theme focusing on smart innovation and high-quality tourism industry aspects.

The news conference was held in the city on Thursday. Zhang Xilong, first class inspector of the Bureau of the International Communication and Cooperation of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of China and Lou Kewei, deputy-director of the Department of Culture and Tourism of Yunnan province presented the meeting along with academy and entrepreneur representatives.

The conference introduced the preparations and relevant activities of the mart, such as a forum on smart tourism and innovation, a symposium on international travel communication and cooperation in the framework of Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and a workshop on the China-Laos railway’s contribution to building an Asian community with a shared future.

According to the news meeting, the 2022 travel mart covers about 80,000 square meters, with about 4,200 standard booths. 71 countries and regions attended the event both online and offline, and 31 domestic provinces, cities and autonomous regions and 261 independent exhibition teams.

Online services will be provided to the overseas buyers and sellers in the light of time zones. They could also have a face-to-face negotiation at the mart as well.

The mart also has diverse displays to show culture and tourism, physical education and tourism, as well as overseas tourism and museums.

The National Cultural Heritage Administration, the Palace Museum and museums from other provinces will attend the travel mart.

At the event, Yunnan province will have 2,000 standard booths in four separate sections; each will show culture tourism, healthy lifestyles, physical education tourism and culture tourism consumption.

The travel mart will also stick to the rules of pandemic prevention and control while having the activities go on smoothly.

The news conference of the 2022 China International Travel Mart, Kunming, Yunnan province. [Photo/Chinaculture.org]
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