Having built up a fortune through coal extraction, Zhang Xinyue recently cast his eyes upon the land where he once excavated his wealth -- this time to promote afforestation on a tract of wasteland.
So far, the 42-year-old farmer-turned-entrepreneur has turned 1,667 hectares of uncultivated land green in north China's Shanxi Province, and the tree survival rate has exceeded over 95 percent.
Born in Gujiao City in Shanxi, Zhang and a group of his friends would not accept poverty and began to engage in coal mining and coke refining when China began its policy of reform and opening up. The local rich and high-quality coal deposits helped Zhang accomplish a primitive capital accumulation soon and won him a nickname -- "Coal King."
"Since our past extraction of coal polluted the environment, I am quite willing to contribute to the ecological improvement of my hometown now," Zhang said.
More and more Chinese who made their fortunes from the "coal economy" are diverting to the "green economy," which they see as more favorable for the country's sustainable development.
As China's largest coal-producing province, Shanxi has coal reserves of over 260 billion tons, accounting for one-third of the country's total. Coal has become a pillar industry of the whole province.
However, in addition to abundant wealth, the black mineral resources also led to the deterioration of the local ecology.
A harsh living environment urges people to transform their ideas. According to Fan Weitang, an academician with China Academy of Engineering, coal can be used more cleanly.
Fan said though the coal production of the United States already surpassed the present output of China in 1999, its environmental pollution has never been so serious as that of China, owing to the adoption of clean coal technology.
Presently, the Chinese government is also striving to convert the "black economy" based on coal burning to the environmental-friendly "green economy."
Coal, accounting for 76 percent of China's energy resources production, will gradually be replaced by natural gas, with its yield already dropping from 1.6 billion tons to 900 million tons in the past five years. The discharge of gases contributing to the greenhouse effect has also been reduced by 20 percent.
Officials from the State Economic and Trade Commission revealed that the Chinese government will continue to shut down small coal mines, develop more coal deep-processing projects and spread the coal cleaning technology.
Besides the official measures, a number of individual bosses of coal mines, like Zhang Xinyue, have also rose up to take action, with more of them investing in environmental protection causes.
Northwest China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, one of the country's six coal production bases, recently closed 60 percent of its coal mines and cut down the coal production by 4 million tons.
In Shanxi, the production of coal-water fluid, a new compound fuel with 70 percent coal, 30 percent water plus 1 percent to 2 percent of chemical additives, will greatly alleviate the local pollution.
With a combustion rate of up to 98 percent, two tons of coal-water fluid can take the place of one-ton heavy oil. In addition, advanced technologies applied to the burning of the new fuel can get rid of 50 percent of discharged sulfur dioxide and other atmospheric pollutants. A project with an annual output of 1 million tons of coal-water fluid is currently under construction in Shanxi.
Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region in north China, another coal production center, began to invest heavily in a project on direct liquefaction of coal this year, costing a total of 16.2 billion yuan (US$1.96 billion). It is expected to yield 2.5 million tons of product oil per year after completion in 2006.
Once Asia's largest seat for strip coal mines, Fuxin City of northeast China's Liaoning Province was caught in a tight spot due to its exhausting coal resources in recent years. By shifting to the "green economy," Fuxin people finally found a sound way out by developing stockbreeding and rare crop cultivation.
"These are all typical examples of transforming from the 'black economy' to the 'green economy.' However, it will still take time to deal with damages to the ecology from coal burning," said a coal expert.
(Xinhua News Agency January 6, 2003)