Yi Tianfeng, 71, a retired village teacher, has won himself a title -- "the soul of green" -- from his hometown villagers in Hailun city, Heilongjiang, China's northernmost province.
He earned the title with a tireless voluntary tree planting campaign that has continued for more than 30 years.
A former primary school Chinese teacher in Yongxing Village, Fumin Township, Hailun city, Yi knew the importance of protecting the natural environment and volunteered to take the responsibility of making his village green.
Day in and day out, more than three decades has passed since Yi planted his first tree.
He still remembers the day in 1970 when he bought 500 larch saplings and began planting with his family.
From then on, Yi taught school kids in the daytime, and took care of the trees at night. When the trees grew up, he donated them to the village.
But Yi's wife didn't understand his motives at first.
"I asked him what he really did it for at first," she recalled.
"I would be sad if my hometown didn't have trees," Yi replied, "If I don't plant trees now, what can we leave for our descendants?"
Since 1970, Yi has planted about 200,000 trees, covering an area of some 3 hectares.
For all that time Yi led a simple life and spent most of his spare time, and money, planting trees.
In the spring of 1978, he went to another town to buy saplings. For three days, he only ate 10 eggs brought from home and slept in the nursery storehouse, and spent over 1,000 yuan (US$120) to buy the saplings.
Many people in Yi's hometown say, "If Yi had given up voluntarily tree planting, he would already be a millionaire."
"I don't plant trees for money," Yi said, "I will donate all the trees to my village."
In 1990, when his own family needed timber for building a house, he refused to cut down even one tree he had planted but spent 1000 yuan buying timber from outside instead.
In comparison, however, Yi donated timber worth 10,000 yuan for free to the village primary school and nursing home for the aged.
Yi made a will in 2000 gifting all the woodland to his village for free after he dies, hoping that his little wood will be a base for educating future generations.
"Look, there is nothing better to see -- the land is no longer desolate, " he said, pointing to the woods he has nurtured for years.
"He educated the kids in the first half of his life, and grew trees in his second half," his fellow villagers said with respect.
(Xinhua News Agency June 23, 2003)