News Feature: Tree by tree, China resists creeping deserts (2)

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an extremely rare phenomenon in the desert -- and 70 percent of the trees survived.

Her husband suggested she return to Shanghai now that she has fulfilled her son's wish, but Yi says she is attached to the land.

At 64, Yi is widely respected as a mother figure by the locals. They often sing her a Mongolian song called "Mother." Yi said she doesn't understand a word, but always ends up in tears with the singers.


It was a spur-of-the-moment idea that drove Zhang Yinglong to give up his well-paid job in Tianjin and join in a forestation project in his ancestral home province of Shaanxi.

A friend asked over dinner whether Zhang, then a business executive in Tianjin earning half a million yuan a year, was willing to invest in forestation in Shenmu County of Yulin City. Zhang, half intoxicated, readily agreed.

"I was debauched then by drinking, gambling and luxury, and felt down and out," he said. "I never knew why I agreed to take up forestation. Maybe I was destined to do it."

His investment snowballed from an initial 50,000 yuan to 5 million.

"The plantation was in the middle of nowhere and we needed to start by building roads and installing power networks before we could get there," Zhang said.

Unable to travel back and forth between Tianjin and Shenmu, Zhang resigned from his job in 2003 to concentrate on forestation.

He spent many lonesome days at the plantation to tend the young plants. At his most isolated, he was stranded for 48 days in September 2003 after a downpour destroyed all roads. In his extreme loneliness and fear, he hallucinated and was on the verge of breaking down when, finally, family members were able to reach him.

"But this new undertaking transformed me into a different person -- a better man," he said.

Today, Zhang runs a 30,000-hectare plantation, but refuses to be referred to as its manager.

"I'm its servant. We're all nature's guests and must strictly follow the rules," Zhang said.

He said ecological engineering takes time and pain.

"The more I get into it, the more I realize that we mustn't seek immediate benefits. We need to respect nature in order to sustain." Endi

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