For­est stands as tes­ta­ment to busi­ness­man’s bold de­ci­sion

Years of ef­fort trans­form once-bar­ren moun­tain into one of Taiyuan’s largest parks

China Daily - - CHINA - By SUN RUISHENG in Taiyuan and LI YANG in Bei­jing Con­tact the writ­ers at [email protected]­

When busi­ness­man Zhang Jun­ping planted the first tree on Taiyuan’s bar­ren Yuquan Moun­tain seven years ago, he had no idea it would even­tu­ally grow into a large, sprawl­ing for­est.

Once dot­ted with aban­doned mines and quar­ries, Yuquan Moun­tain For­est Park to­day has more than 4.6 mil­lion trees of 106 va­ri­eties spread over 475 hectares in north­ern China’s Shanxi prov­ince.

After re­tir­ing from the Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army in the 1980s, Zhang found work as a ket­tle­man in Taiyuan, an in­dus­trial worker who melts or cooks sub­stances in a heated con­tainer. Later, he founded his own heat­ing com­pany, which em­ployed more than 1,300 peo­ple in its hey­day.

Once the busi­ness had grown, Zhang made a bold de­ci­sion no one could un­der­stand — he took on a con­tract to plant trees on Yuquan Moun­tain, one of 21 for­est pro­jects planned by the city gov­ern­ment about 10 years ago.

“Lots of Taiyuan lo­cals wanted to climb a moun­tain, but they couldn’t find a moun­tain to climb. Who’d want to pass through a rub­bish dump to walk in a moun­tain?” Zhang, 60, said.

For most of the past cen­tury, Shanxi has pro­duced about onethird of China’s coal, and Taiyuan is lo­cated in the cen­ter of Shanxi’s main coal-pro­duc­ing area. Al­most all of its moun­tains were de­stroyed after years of ex­ces­sive min­ing.

Zhang, who is known lo­cally as “the man who plants trees on cliffs”, said he be­lieved that peo­ple’s pur­suit of a healthy liv­ing en­vi­ron­ment would lead to more busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties, and that the trans­for­ma­tion of the growth model from re­sources-driven to in­no­va­tion­driven was in­evitable.

“That’s why I didn’t hes­i­tate in mak­ing the de­ci­sion to di­vert my at­ten­tion from burn­ing coal to re­pair­ing and plant­ing,” he said.

How­ever, many of the vil­lagers that Zhang hired to re­claim the waste­land quit after just a few days in the moun­tains.

A gar­dener at the for­est park who gave only his sur­name, Sun, took part in the early cul­ti­va­tion work. “We just found it a hope­less task to turn the moun­tain filled with mine waste into a sus­tain­able project,” he said, adding that vil­lagers thought only fools would plant trees on such bar­ren land.

They had a point. Back in late 2011, the area Zhang was con­tracted to plant had at least 50 de­serted coal mines, 30 gyp­sum mines and 100 dis­used quar­ries, as well as five large land­fill sites.

Zhang worked alone on the moun­tain and em­ployed vil­lagers to carry soil in bas­kets. How­ever, all 120,000 trees planted in the first two years died due to drought.

In the fol­low­ing years, Zhang built 16 reser­voirs with a to­tal ca­pac­ity of over 300,000 cu­bic me­ters on the moun­tain­top and an au­to­matic ir­ri­gation sys­tem that has a pipe­line with a to­tal length of 220 kilo­me­ters. He also built more than 100 km of road to make it eas­ier to climb the slope.

He re­garded the saplings as his ba­bies, and in­vited pro­fes­sional agri­cul­tural tech­ni­cians and hor­ti­cul­tur­ists to take care of them. Now, the sur­vival rate of the trees has reached the same level as on the plains.

Still, Zhang of­ten in­vites ex­perts to an­a­lyze the cause of a tree’s death to see how it could have been pre­vented.

Over the past seven years, the busi­ness­man has in­vested more than 560 mil­lion yuan ($81 mil­lion) into plant­ing trees and restor­ing the ecol­ogy and en­vi­ron­ment on Yuquan Moun­tain.

Zhang cor­rectly pre­dicted the trans­for­ma­tion of the eco­nomic struc­ture and the shift in gov­ern­ment pri­or­i­ties.

Taiyuan has not only shed its rep­u­ta­tion as one of the most pol­luted cities in China, but it has also be­come one of the clean­est cities in North China, with res­i­dents en­joy­ing blue skies and fresh air for most of the year.

Yang Zhimin, a civil ser­vant in Taiyuan, said of Zhang: “He’s man who likes us­ing his mind. An out­stand­ing man, a man with sto­ries. His of­fice build­ing on the moun­tain is kept as spot­less as an army bar­racks.”

The park, which is free to the pub­lic, re­ceives about 1 mil­lion tourists a year, ac­cord­ing to its di­rec­tor, Sun Zhan­liang.

Zhang mainly re­lies on in­come from the en­ter­tain­ment fa­cil­i­ties and rents paid by food out­lets in the park to cover main­te­nance costs.

Sun said that, although he is a suc­cess­ful busi­ness­man, Zhang calls him­self a tree planter these days.

Zhang Jun­ping is known lo­cally as “the man who plants trees on cliffs” in Taiyuan, Shanxi prov­ince. Yuquan Moun­tain, on which he plants trees, has be­come a for­est park. SUN RUISHENG / CHINA DAILY

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