Saihanba: Not only a place of pastime, but also a symbol of perseverance
Lu Xia
Chinese President Xi Jinping checks the growth of trees in the Saihanba forest farm in north China's Hebei Province, August 23, 2021. /Xinhua

Chinese President Xi Jinping checks the growth of trees in the Saihanba forest farm in north China's Hebei Province, August 23, 2021. /Xinhua

Editor's note: Lu Xia is an associate professor at the School of Marxism Studies and a research fellow at the National Academy of Development & Strategies, Renmin University of China. The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission, made an inspection tour of the Saihanba forest farm in north China's Hebei Province on Monday. He also checked the growth of the trees and highlighted the promotion of the Saihanba spirit, which he enshrined in the series of CPC spirits and the high-quality "green development" of the forest farm.

For many ordinary people, Saihanba is just the name of a place, which is probably not known to all yet, while for the general secretary, Saihanba is also a great achievement which resulted from a specific spirit and an advanced approach for the next stage of China's development. The Saihanba inspection tour marked Xi's eighth local inspection in 2021, and during all these trips he has constantly given top priority to "environment protection," "ecosystem maintenance," and "green development."

The resurrection of a beautiful highland 

As a national forest park about 400 kilometers northeast of Beijing, Saihanba welcomes and accommodates lots of urban residents who desire to get closer to nature and stay temporarily away from the so-called urban stress.

But Saihanba, a hometown of many Mongolians, was not always like this. "Saihan" means "beautiful" in their indigenous language, whereas "ba" stands for "a plain highland" in mandarin. Together, they mean "a beautiful highland," indicating that it used to be a famous natural garden with abundant water resources, grasses, dense forests and wildlife.

Thus, throughout history it was reserved as the royal hunting place for emperors of the Liao, Jin, and Qing dynasties, all established by nomadic groups in Northern China, and praised by poets as the source of rivers running through the North China Plain, as well as "a world of various flowers" and "a sea of forests."

However, since the mid-19th century, owing to undue neglect of management and over-cultivation by locals and foreign invaders, the natural environment of Saihanba deteriorated so rapidly that not only the grasslands and forests were degraded but urban centers in North China, including Beijing, were under the threat of desertification. Simply put, Saihanba became the nearest source of sandstorms to Beijing and other northern cities after the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949.

To tackle this issue permanently, the government decided to establish a large state-owned forest farm in the Bashang area of northern Hebei Province to restore the damaged ecosystem. In 1961, staff inspected the area for three days and found a vigorous natural larch in Hongsongwa (a lower land used to have pines), confirming that towering trees could be sowed and grown on Saihanba. As a result, in 1962, Saihanba mechanical forest farm was officially established. The early stage of afforestation did not go well due to drought and low temperatures. However, with the spirit of perseverance, by the 1980s, most of the places had been covered by grassland and forestry again. The beautiful highland was reborn.

President Xi visits forest rangers in the Saihanba forest farm in north China's Hebei Province, August 23, 2021. /Xinhua

President Xi visits forest rangers in the Saihanba forest farm in north China's Hebei Province, August 23, 2021. /Xinhua

The rejuvenation of Saihanba spirit

Early in 2017, President Xi wrote notes on the issue, speaking highly of the builders' devotion and commitment to the great cause of afforestation as well as the Saihanba spirit – bearing in mind the initial mission, keeping diligent work, and seeking green development.

Generally speaking, the spirit could be further elaborated in the following points:

• The spirit of perseverance. Once there were dense forests, poultry and wildlife in Saihanba, but in less than 100 years trees were excessively cut down and thousands of miles of forests almost disappeared, leaving only vast wasteland. Since the early 1960s, efforts to restore the ecosystem have not stopped. Three generations of pioneers in the extremely harsh cold desert, with their youth, sweat and wisdom, have cultivated 1.12 million acres of artificial forests, creating a miracle of "turning the desert into an oasis, wasteland into forests," which could not be achieved without the spirit of perseverance.

• The spirit of devotion. It is not easy to cultivate trees in Saihanba, but even harder to protect and maintain the existing vegetation. In addition to fire prevention, pest control has become the top priority. According to the staff at the local quarantine station, they have to "get up earlier than birds and sleep late" to guard the forests. To ensure that the pest control is at its most effective, they often get up as early as 2 a.m. to make preparations and set out to reach the controlled site. Thus many spraying operations could only be carried out with the aid of flashlights. Without the ordinary staff's dutiful guard, people would not have had such a place to get closer to nature.

• The spirit of selfless dedication. Some college students have given up alternative careers in urban centers to stay in Saihanba. What drove them is a sense of accomplishment at work, stemming from the value they embody and the joy they bring to others. In fact, such a miracle achievement would not have been made without the spirit of selfless dedication that is shared by all local workers including first-line foresters, rangers, and fire watchers. This is a quality that every generation should bear.

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