Tanchang Village is located in a town near Mount Miaofeng, in Mentougou District, a mountainous region in a western suburb of Beijing. If you mention the family of Li Depu to local villagers, you will most likely hear, "Wow! The 'green' family!" Li's family holds dear to the following motto: "Pass on the 'green' spirit and live an environmentally friendly life." During the past three decades, Li has led his children — and his children's families — in planting and maintaining more than 300,000 trees on 1,300 mu (86.67 hectares) of land on a wild, deserted mountain. The family has turned a wasteland into a vigorous forest that is helping protect the local environment.
Never Give Up
Li used to be a miner. Due in part to the tough working conditions under the ground, Li's health gradually deteriorated. He retired in the early 1980s.
At that time, the Chinese Government called on the general public to plant trees, especially in northern China, to help prevent sandstorms from ravaging the region. In 1984, Li, who was living in a town near Mount Miaofeng, contracted a combined 1,300 mu (86.67 hectares) of land on a mountain in Tanchang Village. During the 30-plus years since, Li, his children and the children's spouses have planted various types of trees — including cypress, poplar, willow, elm, pagoda and pine trees — on the once-deserted land. Those trees have helped prevent soil erosion caused by windstorms in the mountainous regions in northern Beijing.
Li's family has received several awards from the municipal government of Beijing and the local government of Mentougou District.
Li Jigao, the youngest child of Li Depu, has two brothers and three sisters. Li Jigao was a teenager during the 1980s, but some of his siblings were married and raising families at that time. Li Depu sometimes led his children up the mountain to plant trees on the wasteland he had contracted.
"My husband was young when my father-in-law began planting trees on the mountain," Wang Jing, Li Jigao's wife, tells Women of China. "It was extremely difficult to plant seedlings on the wasteland at the very beginning. The forestry bureau of Mentougou's government provided seedlings to my father-in-law for free. But he had to ask his family members, or hire other villagers, to first fertilize the land, which had been deserted for a long time. After they dug holes during the spring, they waited for a whole summer to let enough rainfall improve the condition of the soil. Then, they started to plant seedlings during the autumn."
After the seedlings were planted, Li Depu and his children had to finish another task. Since wild animals, such as rabbits, lived on the mountain, the family often had to patrol the site to ensure the rabbits did not nibble on the seedlings' roots. The seedlings tended to die if the roots, or weak branches, were badly bitten by wild animals. If the seedlings died, the family's efforts would be in vain. In fact, it took the family more than 10 years to make the majority of the trees grow steadily, and vigorously.
Li Depu and his family never gave up planting trees, even though many residents from their village doubted they would be successful.
Li Depu was not the only villager who contracted land to plant trees; other residents also contracted wasteland to plant trees, but none contracted such a large block of land — 1,300 mu (86.67 hectares) — like Li Depu had done. After they realized they had to spend a lot of money to properly maintain the land, and to ensure the trees would grow well, many of the villagers gave up on their plans. Li Depu's family became the only family in Tanchang to succeed in planting so many trees on such a large tract of land on the deserted mountain.
"Some of our neighbors used to make fun of us. They said we had taken such a high risk to do something very silly. But luckily, my parents-in-law never gave up. When they finally saw all the trees growing better and better, day by day, they said to those neighbors that they could not understand why the neighbors chose to give up so easily," Wang says.
In the early years of their planting project, Li Depu and his wife generally lived on the mountain for half of each year. There was no electricity and no drinking water. Li Depu had to climb up and down the mountain to fetch water and food. He burned kerosene for light. In the big, wild mountain, the light looked so weak, as if it was the light of a small fire beetle. But for Li Depu, the light was enough to make him feel a bit warm during the dark nights.
Their children usually delivered food and tools, for trimming the trees' branches, on the weekends. The kids helped their parents finish the work, and they enjoyed the quiet, peaceful, life in nature. The family had a radio, which helped them connect with the world away from the mountain. Despite all of the difficulties they encountered, they never gave up.
When his children were young, Li Depu taught them the importance of doing their best to help protect the environment surrounding the area in which they were living. That was the reason why his six children vowed to maintain the trees their parents had planted.
Now that Li Depu is elderly, he can no longer climb the mountain frequently to see if the trees are still growing well. However, he thinks about the trees almost daily. "For my father-in-law, and also for each member of our family, the trees on the mountain resemble our children. My parents-in-law are too old to climb up the mountain to plant and/or maintain the trees. So, it is now the responsibility of our generation to ensure the trees continue growing well," Wang says. "My husband and I go to the mountain every week to trim the branches and check if the trees are growing well."
Li Jigao and his siblings have started their own families. As it is common for people to often have divergent opinions, Li Jigao and his relatives often have differing opinions when they discuss family issues. Conflicts, especially within such a large family, are inevitable. But when the family gathers to climb the mountain and plant trees, each member tends to feel close to the others. They are proud that they are helping their parents transform the once-deserted mountain into a beautiful place covered by various types of trees. When they recall the difficulties with which they have coped during the years of planting and maintaining the trees, they realize the importance of enjoying a happy, and peaceful, life within their big family.
The responsibility for protecting the trees is being taught to the third generation of the family. Wang and Li Jigao sometimes take their daughter, Siyuan, to the mountain during weekends, especially during spring and summer.
"Nowadays, children generally have very few opportunities to come close to nature. In our spare time, my husband and I often tell our daughter how to plant a tree. We tell her tips that help a seedling grow well. We also tell her the difficulties her father and grandparents used to cope with when they planted and maintained the trees," Wang says. "Siyuan looked a bit sad when I once told her that her father had injured his hands while he was trimming the branches. But when she looked at the beautiful trees growing on the mountain, she was happy to see her father's efforts had paid off."
Siyuan has her own ways to fulfill the family's motto of "living an environmentally friendly life." She likes to collect boxes and disposable paper cups that have been used by her family. She cleans the cups and boxes and then cuts and turns them into small decorations, such as lanterns, flowers and balloons.
"My daughter likes drawing and painting. She can create a beautiful work by painting on cleaned eggshells. Although we live in a huge country, which has various kinds of resources, we often tell our child it is important to make good use of everything … So, she sometimes racks her brain to think about possible methods to turn the waste into useful items," says Wang.
Her family was named one of the "National Civilized Families." Those awards were presented in December 2016.
"My husband and I were surprised when we received that honor. We have done nothing special, except to take on our parents' duty and do what they have done for decades," Wang says. Winning that award, she adds, has been a great source of encouragement for her family. "We know what we have done is correct. We are more determined to support our parents' decision, and to do our best to help protect the environment," Wang says.
"Given the years of efforts made by our big family, 'green,' which represents the importance of environmental protection, has become a label of our family. We pass on the 'green' spirit within our family, and we keep thinking about innovative methods to help protect the environment of the place in which we live."
— Wang Jing
(Executive Editor: SHANE YEE, Women of China English Monthly March 2017 Issue)
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