County witnesses stunning green success story
Villagers in Fujian respond to calls by central government
Changting, a county in Fujian province, is said to possess "Red genes" from the time it served as a Red Army base in the early 1930s. However, over the past two decades the county has also emerged as a role model in pursuing green development after resolving a decades-old soil erosion problem.
Its residents, who were stricken by poverty and poor environmental conditions, have been the immediate beneficiaries of the transformation, one of them being Fu Muqing, 52, a farmer from Shangjie village.
After acquiring more than 200 hectares of farmland, Fu, who grows high-yield rice on a large scale in Changting, has managed to attain a standard of living he little imagined 20 years ago.
The achievements he has made in his agribusiness have involved a considerable amount of hard work, as the mountainous village used to experience extremely serious soil erosion and water loss, as did the entire county.
Fu first tried his hand at developing industrial agriculture in 2007, when he contracted 3.3 hectares of farmland for a rice plantation. Since then, his business has continued to expand, in line with calls by the central government to promote the intensive use of farmland to develop modern agriculture.
He has succeeded to a large extent due to efforts by generations of locals to prevent soil erosion in the county. The bare mountains in Shangjie are now covered in greenery, bringing both environmental and economic benefits.
"We are now striving to follow government policies to pursue high-quality growth for a better life," Fu said.
A survey conducted in 1985 by the local government found that nearly 100,000 hectares of land in Changting were subject to soil erosion－one-third of the county's total area. The exposed red earth earned the area the nickname "flaming mountain". After decades of efforts, the county has undergone a complete transformation, with few traces of the past remaining.
Last year, the proportion of forest coverage in Changting reached 80 percent, with 16.23 million square kilometers of forest and 275.35 sq km of nature reserve, according to the local authorities.
Changting has a well-earned reputation for its efforts to control water loss and soil erosion.
President Xi Jinping has called for efforts to tackle such problems to be advanced nationwide by using the "Chanting experience", as China strives to build an ecological civilization in which sustainable development is key.
However, decades ago, life was markedly different in Changting. Locals said that in those days, the county was home to bare mountains, muddy water, barren land and poverty-stricken people.
Experts said natural factors such as landforms, climate, soil type and vegetation contributed to soil erosion locally, but human destruction of the environment made matters worse.
Changting is one of the country's old revolutionary base areas. These local strongholds were established in remote areas with mountainous or forested terrain by revolutionary forces led by the Communist Party of China as it fought the Kuomintang during the Land Revolution Period (1927-37) and the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression (1931-45).
The county was also one of the starting points for the Red Army's Long March (1934-36). Late Chairman Mao Zedong and other senior leaders lived and worked in Changting, and the Fujian Soviet government, established by the CPC from 1930 to 1935, was situated in the county.
Data from the Science and Education Museum of Soil Erosion Control in Changting show that in wartime, the trees on local mountains were often burned and felled, causing severe soil erosion before the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949.
In 1934, the Fujian Soviet government organized local people to develop afforestation in order to protect the environment. To improve poor natural conditions, a system to control soil erosion was established in Changting in December 1940, the first of its kind in China.
The situation in the county remained unchanged after 1949, as locals in mountainous areas turned to felling trees and using other vegetation for fuel due to a shortage of coal and electricity. The mountains were laid bare and the people remained extremely poor.
Fu said that decades ago, his fellow villagers were mostly at the mercy of the weather. "When it rained heavily, farmland was flooded by red soil flowing down from the mountains. When this happened, crops failed," he said.
In 1983, efforts to curb environmental damage in Changting were stepped up as the Fujian provincial government started to control and curb soil erosion and the county became a trial area for such efforts.
When Xi Jinping worked in Fujian in various positions from 1987 to 2002, he placed great emphasis on conservation.
He said that in Fujian, "lush mountains and lucid waters are priceless assets". This has become an important part of his governance philosophy for building an ecological civilization with a view to creating a fruitful balance between economic development and environmental protection, and harmony between humans and nature.
Xi traveled to Changting on five occasions, leading the local government in tackling soil and water damage. He told officials efforts had been made to control such damage, even in the days of Old China. "Now that the country is governed by the CPC, we are able to do it better," he said.
In November, 1999, Xi, who was deputy secretary of the CPC Fujian Provincial Committee and acting governor of the province, launched a campaign to harness water loss and soil erosion.
In February the following year, the campaign was listed among 15 projects benefiting people in the province the most. Xi also approved financial support of 10 million yuan annually for the county to control soil erosion.
After hearing that Changting would build an ecological park in the spring of 2000, Xi donated 1,000 yuan, a large proportion of his monthly salary at the time, and later planted a camphor tree in the park, a county government official said. In October, 2001, Xi issued a written instruction, urging local officials to address the soil erosion problem through eight years of painstaking efforts.
Under Xi's instruction, generations of Changting residents have continued to take measures to protect the area's environment, with financial and technological support from the provincial government.
Fu said that thanks to the improvements in recent years, living at the mercy of the weather has been consigned to history, and his crop yields remain stable despite periods of drought and heavy rainfall.
"Fellow villagers working for my rice plantation also earn a stable income," he said, adding that a worker's basic salary is 3,000 yuan a month.
Luo Qunying, Party secretary of Luhu in Hetian township, Changting, said the village has also benefited from the improvements.
In 1991, Luo, who is 48, married in Luhu. She was elected the village's Party secretary by a one-vote margin in 2012.
She said that in the 1990s, the village experienced serious deforestation. Poverty-stricken locals tried every means to make a living, including felling trees on the mountains, even though this was illegal.
"Now, things are different. On the one hand, we have village rules to punish those who wantonly fell trees. On the other hand, people's awareness of environmental protection has largely improved and they realize that trees on the mountains matter to future generations," Luo said.
More important, she said villagers have been trained to use vegetation to develop the "under-forest economy" by planting Polygala arillata, a plant used in traditional Chinese medicine, and to raise chickens under the trees, which also helps boost their incomes.
The local government adopted targeted measures to eliminate poverty and develop the economy, particularly after the 18th CPC National Congress in 2012, when Xi became general secretary of the CPC Central Committee.
The rural population in Changting was lifted out of absolute poverty at the end of 2018.Last year, the average per capita disposable income of the county's farmers was 17,812 yuan, compared with 8,185 yuan in 2012.
Stephan Steinke, who comes from Germany and is a professor of marine environmental science at Xiamen University in Fujian, said he is amazed by the achievements the county has made in controlling soil erosion.
"The world is facing more and more environmental challenges," Steinke said during a visit to Changting in April. "The county's successful experience in controlling soil erosion shows that we can deal with these challenges."
Sayed Ali Khan, an associate researcher at the university's School of Electronic Science and Engineering, also praised Changting's remarkable efforts in controlling soil erosion. "The most important thing is that the government attaches great importance to this and invests a lot of manpower and material resources to fight this protracted battle," Khan said.
Pavlo Dral, who teaches chemistry at Xiamen University, said: "Changting's response to soil erosion is good decision-making. This is an example of how a county actually fights such damage to prevent it from going backwards."
He added that China's experience in environmental protection can be shared with countries such as Ukraine, his home nation, which also has deforestation problems.
Changting has become a success story by persevering with green development as China advances the building an ecological civilization as part of the national development strategy.
Observers said that with the economy transitioning from high-speed growth to high-quality development, construction of an ecological civilization has entered a critical phase－one in which the authorities strive to meet people's growing demand for a good environment at a time when China is capable of addressing such issues.
With Changting aiming to pursue high-quality development during the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25), the county received a boost early this year from a national policy to vitalize old revolutionary base areas.
On Feb 20, the State Council issued a circular, mapping out policies to support these base areas－including Changting－in consolidating efforts to fight poverty in the new development stage.
The circular stated that efforts should be made to achieve significant progress in rural vitalization in old revolutionary base areas by 2025, along with a new type of urbanization. Residents' incomes will rise significantly, the influence of revolutionary culture will continue to expand and the environment will constantly be improved, according to the circular.
Luo, the Luhu Party secretary, said she would lead local people in establishing a model village in line with Xi's vision of building an ecological civilization.
"While putting the environment first, we are working to further develop the under-forest economy, eco-tourism, agricultural tourism, and foster e-commerce logistics. We are confident of living better lives and following the right path for high-quality development," Luo added.