The Re­for­esta­tion Saga

China Pictorial (English) - - Contents - Text by Li Xia

In 1681, Em­peror Kangxi of the Qing Dy­nasty (1644-1911) com­mis­sioned the for­ma­tion of the Mu­lan Hunt­ing Ground for the royal fam­ily to “dis­play mar­tial merit, pacify vas­sal states and hold hunt­ing par­ties.” The vast ex­panse of pine trees had been a pop­u­lar royal hunt­ing ground since the Liao (907-1125) and Jin (11151234) dy­nas­ties. About 400 kilo­me­ters from Bei­jing, the Mu­lan Hunt­ing Ground is still home to de­fense forests, lush pas­tures and a va­ri­ety of wild an­i­mals. The Sai­hanba Me­chan­i­cal For­est Farm of He­bei Prov­ince now re­sides on the for­mer im­pe­rial hunt­ing ground.

In 1863, the sec­ond year of the reign of Em­peror Tongzhi, the Qing gov­ern­ment launched the first large-scale log­ging and recla­ma­tion cam­paign in the Mu­lan Hunt­ing Ground to solve its fis­cal prob­lems. Over the fol­low­ing 53 years, nearly 10,000 hectares of for­est were de­stroyed and de­vel­oped into farm­land. By the time the Qing Dy­nasty col­lapsed, the for­merly prim­i­tive forests, pas­tures and rivers in the area had de­te­ri­o­rated into bar­ren deserts.

Bei­jing lost a nat­u­ral shield, and sand­storms from the In­ner Mon­go­lia Plateau be­gan pum­mel­ing the Chi­nese cap­i­tal. The city of­ten be­came blan­keted in sand in spring­time.

In 1961, the Min­istry of Forestry dis­patched a group of ex­perts to Sai­hanba to ex­plore the pos­si­bil­ity of ar­ti­fi­cial foresta­tion there. By then, the Peo­ple’s Re­pub­lic of China was only in its 12th year, and the na­tional econ­omy was still strug­gling to gain trac­tion. But the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment un­der­stood the im­por­tance of forests and was com­mit­ted to cre­at­ing a state-owned for­est farm there to re­store the de­stroyed veg­e­ta­tion. In Fe­bru­ary 1962, the Chengde Sai­hanba Me­chan­i­cal For­est Farm un­der the Min­istry of Forestry was es­tab­lished, herald­ing the dawn of a mam­moth ar­ti­fi­cial foresta­tion pro­gram in north­ern China and a re­turn of rev­er­ence for our mother earth.


The first gen­er­a­tion of work­ers at the Sai­hanba for­est farm made in­cred­i­ble sac­ri­fices in an at­tempt to undo the his­tor­i­cal wrongs.

In the early days of the for­est farm, the Min­istry of Forestry mo­bi­lized 127 grad­u­ates of 24 col­leges, uni­ver­si­ties and vo­ca­tional schools na­tion­wide to re­in­force the for­est farm’s tech­ni­cal knowhow, and be­fore long, a 369-mem­ber af­foresta­tion team was set up.

Win­ter tem­per­a­ture in Sai­hanba can drop to as low as neg­a­tive 40 de­grees Cel­sius, and a heavy spell of snow would sim­ply cut it off from the out­side world. In those days, the pri­mary means of trans­port were horse or oxen-pulled carts, and a 100-kilo­me­ter jour­ney would take sev­eral days. Lo­cals dwelled in earthen houses or tents and had to re­main vig­i­lant against howl­ing wolves. When wak­ing up in the morn­ing, most res­i­dents would find a thin layer of frost on their eye­brows and hair.

“Pro­duc­tion over life” was a com­mon slo­gan ev­ery­where dur­ing the early pe­riod of China’s so­cial­ist con­struc­tion. Sai­hanba was no ex­cep­tion. De­spite the harsh nat­u­ral con­di­tions and poor liv­ing stan­dards, the prin­ci­ple served as the driv­ing force for many.

By 1982, some forests in the area had been re­stored. How­ever, not un­til re­cent years did lo­cal liv­ing and ed­u­ca­tion con­di­tions sub­stan­tially im­prove. Prior to the 1980s, in­hab­i­tants of the for­est farm didn’t send any chil­dren to col­lege due to un­der­de­vel­oped ed­u­ca­tional fa­cil­i­ties. “In fact, even the sec­ond gen­er­a­tion sac­ri­ficed a lot,” noted a worker of the for­est farm.

Nat­u­ral dis­as­ters are the worst en­e­mies of planted forests, and they of­ten nul­li­fied years of hu­man ef­forts. Many work­ers still re­mem­ber the cat­a­strophic glaze of frost on Oc­to­ber 28, 1977: Af­ter a few days of rain and low tem­per­a­tures, the trees were coated by thick ice, and many branches broke due to the weight. The frost de­stroyed more than 13,000 hectares of for­est. In 1980, about 8,000 hectares of for­est were lost to a se­vere drought.

Wild­fires are an­other threat. The for­est farm has nine fire look­out tow­ers, of which eight are manned by hus­band-wife teams. In such re­mote places, cou­ples have a bet­ter chance of en­dur­ing ex­treme iso­la­tion. These ob­servers make unimag­in­able sac­ri­fices. Chen Rui­jun and his wife Chu Jing­mei have worked in one of these watch­tow­ers for 12 years, mak­ing look­out re­ports ev­ery 15 min­utes. Life there is lonely and bor­ing, es­pe­cially for their eight-yearold son who can barely speak flu­ently due to a lack of prac­tice.

The blood, sweat and tears of gen­er­a­tions of af­foresta­tion work­ers have even­tu­ally forged the spirit of Sai­hanba to be praised by the na­tion.


Late Chi­nese leader Mao Ze­dong once wrote in a poem: “Bit­ter sac­ri­fice fu­els bold re­solve, which dares to ig­nite the sun and moon in new skies.” To trans­form Sai­hanba from a desert into an oa­sis, lo­cals have made great sac­ri­fices.

By 1982, work­ers on the for­est farm had planted 320 mil­lion trees cov­er­ing 64,000 hectares of land, with a sur­vival rate of over 90 per­cent.

Liu Jun and his wife now op­er­ate a fire look­out tower. They still re­mem­ber plant­ing trees as chil­dren. Back in the 1970s, many stu­dents in fifth grade or above joined in the tree-plant­ing cam­paign dur­ing sum­mer va­ca­tions, through which they earned tu­ition and board­ing fees. Lo­cal farm­ers also par­tic­i­pated for ex­tra in­come.

Sci­en­tific and tech­no­log­i­cal progress pro­vided a guar­an­tee for the en­vi­ron­men­tal restora­tion of Sai­hanba. Since 1962 when the first tri­als be­gan, tech­ni­cians at the for­est farm have ac­com­plished sig­nif­i­cant tech­no­log­i­cal in­no­va­tion and cross­breed­ing. Not only have they cul­ti­vated many new species that re­sist the cold and more ef­fec­tively thwart sand­storms, but they have also ren­o­vated ma­chin­ery to en­hance the qual­ity and speed of forestry work. By 1964, the sur­vival rate of the for­est farm’s 34.4 hectares of planted larches rose to over 90 per­cent, an im­pres­sive in­crease from eight per­cent in only two years.

From the vi­sion and courage of the first gen­er­a­tion of Com- mu­nist Party of China (CPC) lead­ers to fore­see the im­por­tance of en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion to the con­cept of green de­vel­op­ment re­cently in­tro­duced by Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping, who stressed that “build­ing an eco­log­i­cal civ­i­liza­tion con­cerns peo­ple’s well­be­ing and the fu­ture of our na­tion,” Chi­nese peo­ple from all walks of life are work­ing even more con­sci­en­tiously on cre­at­ing har­mo­nious co­ex­is­tence be­tween man and na­ture.

“We de­vel­oped an aware­ness of for­est pro­tec­tion when we were chil­dren,” de­clares Wang Chong, a third-gen­er­a­tion res­i­dent of the Sai­hanba for­est farm. “For us, forests are our home and fam­ily. We con­sider ev­ery tree our own child.” Her grand­par­ents served as first-gen­er­a­tion work­ers of the for­est farm af­ter at­tend­ing the Sec­ondary Forestry School in Baicheng.

Through unimag­in­able sac­ri­fice, res­i­dents of Sai­hanba have even­tu­ally re­stored the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment that was once de­stroyed.


Mother Na­ture re­pays hu­mans who treat her well. The word “man­age­ment” can mean a wide va­ri­ety of things

de­pend­ing on context, and in Sai­hanba, it al­ludes to pre­serv­ing and ex­pand­ing forests.

Lo­cal achieve­ments in for­est man­age­ment are backed by num­bers: From 1962 to the end of 2016, Sai­hanba’s forested ar­eas in­creased from 16,000 hectares to nearly 75,000 hectares, for­est cov­er­age rate from 18 per­cent to 80 per­cent, and to­tal tim­ber re­serve from 330,000 cu­bic meters to a whop­ping 10.12 mil­lion cu­bic meters.

The Sai­hanba ecosys­tem, com­prised of forests, grass­lands and wet­lands, is home to 261 species of wild ter­res­trial ver­te­brates, 32 species of fish, 660 species of in­sects, 179 species of large fungi and 625 species of plants. Of them, 47 an­i­mals and nine plants are un­der state-class pro­tec­tion.

Frost­less days each year have grown from 52 to 64, while the num­ber of ex­tremely windy days has dropped from 83 to 53. Back in the 1950s, Bei­jing had an av­er­age of 56.2 sand­storm days each year. In re­cent years, the an­nual vol­ume of sand­storm days in the city has de­creased by more than 70 per­cent.

Large-scale foresta­tion has also cre­ated many jobs for lo­cals and stim­u­lated the de­vel­op­ment of sup­port­ing in­dus­tries such as ru­ral tourism, an­i­mal hus­bandry, hand­i­crafts and trans­porta­tion. These sec­tors cre­ate ad­di­tional rev­enues of over 600 mil­lion yuan, which have been help­ing lo­cals shake off poverty.

Since its es­tab­lish­ment, the Sai­hanba for­est farm has re­al­ized 73 re­search achieve­ments in nine cat­e­gories in­clud­ing seed breed­ing, foresta­tion, for­est man­age­ment, pest con­trol and sec­ondary prod­ucts.

Man has taken a painful les­son to learn how to live in har­mony with na­ture. Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping, also gen­eral sec­re­tary of the CPC Cen­tral Com­mit­tee, stressed that we must “raise aware­ness of the need to re­spect, ac­com­mo­date and pro­tect na­ture, place a high pri­or­ity on eco­log­i­cal progress, work hard to build a beau­ti­ful coun­try and achieve last­ing and sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment for the Chi­nese na­tion.” Only by mak­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion a goal rather than an in­con­ve­nience can peace­ful co­ex­is­tence of man and na­ture and sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment be achieved.

Af­ter decades of af­foresta­tion ef­forts since 1962, Sai­hanba has be­come a place of green trees and bloom­ing flow­ers. by Wang Yun­cong

Seven-star Lake Wet­land Park in Sai­hanba in­te­grates forests, grass­lands, mead­ows, and marshes. In re­cent years, the place has be­come more beau­ti­ful along­side the in­crease of the lake’s wa­ter level. by Duan Wei

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