Once barren Lankao County in central China turns green
By Hu Chao

Lankao is a county along the Yellow River in central China's Henan Province. It used to suffer from barren lands caused by desertification and was known as one of the poorest areas in the province.

In 1962, Lankao was hit by severe natural disasters. A sandstorm in spring destroyed over 130 square kilometers of wheat crops. In autumn, heavy rainfall flooded and destroyed another 200 square kilometers of crops. Another more than 60 square kilometers of young crops also died from saline soil.

Without any harvest, famine spread through the county. Streets were often empty while the local railway station was overwhelmed with hungry people, waiting to climb up onto a train to leave and seek food elsewhere. 

A file photo of sand dunes in Lankao County in 1962. /Government of Lankao County

A file photo of sand dunes in Lankao County in 1962. /Government of Lankao County

The region's party committee started to look for a leader to work in Lankao and help improve things there. While many felt reluctant to go to such an impoverished area, 40-year-old Jiao Yulu said yes. He didn't ask about the salary, nor did he tell the party committee about his severe liver illness. He saw the suffering of the local people and was determined to make a change.

To help Lankao deal with severe natural disasters, Jiao embarked on extensive research of the local environment. He and his team tracked the sandstorms and floods, traveling more than 1,500 kilometers in just half a year. They created detailed drawings of their geographical findings, which were significant for Lankao's later development.

Jiao believed that "serving the people wholeheartedly is concrete rather than abstract." He was rarely in his office. Instead, he preferred to visit households to check in on them and see if they had sufficient food and basic necessities or take the lead to plant trees and work with the farmers.

A file photo of Jiao Yulu in Lankao County in 1963. /Government of Lankao County

A file photo of Jiao Yulu in Lankao County in 1963. /Government of Lankao County

Jiao often worked deep into the night and forgot to eat and rest. He also suffered unbearable pain from liver disease. In 1964, he died of liver cancer at the age of 42, just over a year after he went to work in Lankao.

Tens of thousands of residents attended his funeral to mourn him and pay their respects. Jiao's selflessness left a legacy that inspired the next generations to continue his work. Finally, Lankao started to turn green in the late 1980s.

Now forest covers more than 30 percent of Lankou County, which has literally become a sea of green. Most of the trees growing there are Paulownia picked by Jiao in the 1960s.

A file photo of Lankao County in 2020. /Government of Lankao County

A file photo of Lankao County in 2020. /Government of Lankao County

Paulownia can grow in saline soil and has big leaves to resist sandstorms and strong winds. It also grows fast and produces seedlings every year.

Paulownia wood is a good material to make musical instruments, which has become a major industry in Lankao.

Today, the county has more than 200 companies producing over 20 different kinds of musical instruments, which take up 40 percent of the domestic market. The musical instruments manufactured there have also been exported to overseas markets.

The wood is also used to make furniture and home decoration materials. Many renowned brands have set up production bases in Lankao. Last year, the total production value of the county's woodwork industry was up to 10 billion yuan, or $1.55 billion.

In 2017, Lankao was the first in Henan Province to be lifted out of poverty. Now it's considered a model for green development. The legacy left by Jiao and the county's development experience attracts more and more people to the area. 

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