Returning home④ 丨Long-lost Ecological beauty: Desert disappear from Xiaobazi
Oct 13,2022 Great Wall New Media


“A mere click of the shutter, without filters, the beautiful pictures would roll out of the camera.” Early on the morning of August 16, Lu Yuncheng, vice-chairman of the Fengning Manchu Autonomous County Photographers Association of Hebei Province came to Xiaobazi again and fixed the beautiful summer day scenes of blue skey, dense forests, luxuriant grass and clear water in his camera frame.


Xiaobazi is located in the Northwestern part of Fengning County. It used to be one of the sandstorm sources nearest Beijing 20 years ago. The area of land desertification reached up to more than 70 percent. Lu Yuncheng started photoshooting Xiaobazi since the year 1990. He has taken more than 50,000 photos, recording the miracle of having this land turned “from yellow to green”.

河北省丰宁满族自治县摄影家协会副主席卢云成用5万多张照片记录了小坝子“由黄变绿”的生态奇迹。长城网·冀云客户端记者 乔娅 摄

Vice Chairman of the Fengning Manchu Autonomous County Photographers Association Lu Yuncheng has taken more than 50,000 photos to record the miracle of Xiaobazi in turning the land "from yellow to green" (Photo by Qiaoya/Great Wall New Media)


“Of the ten grains of sand in Beijing, seven or eight came from Fengning,” said Lang Zhanmin, Party branch secretary of the Caoniangou Village. Fengning is home to the Chaohe and Luanhe rivers and a drinking water source of Beijing and Tianjin. In the 1950-60s, the village was an oasis, with green trees on the mountains. But, up to 1980s, some villagers cut the sea buckthorns and Fructus Hippophaes and other vegetations, reclaimed land from the riverbeds. In addition, the local people engaged in free-range breeding of cattle and sheep. In a short span of a few years, the arable land gradually became sand dunes and what was green disappeared altogether.


“Cattle could go up the walls and pigs could climb up the roofs of the houses, roads were blocked, and crops were all buried under sand.” This is the truest picture in the minds of Xiaobazi villagers about its past. “When the wind was blowing for two or three days, the villagers had to dig out two carts of sand from their front doors. Otherwise, they could not open the doors,” said Lu Yuncheng, pointing to the photos he took back then.


The sandstorms did not only bring disasters to the local people in their production and livelihood but also exert environmental pressure to bear upon Beijing, aggravating the sandstorms in the capital and threatening the drinking water source -- the Chaobai River, posing direct threat to Beijing's drinking water supply. Xiaobazi once became the synonym for “severe desertification”.


20 years ago, Xiaobazi was a barren land subjecting to sandstorms, with yellow sand covering many people's homes. (Photo courtesy of the Forestry and Grassland Bureau of Hebei Province)


Caoniangou village used to be the worst affected by sandstorms. “Only then, people began to realize that without a good ecology, nothing could be accomplished.” In 1998, Lang Zhanmin and some villagers who returned home from military service had to seek jobs as hired hand elsewhere. The village, which used to be very lively, became dead and in many families, only old people were left.


“Who wanted to leave their homes if they had lived well at home?” said Sun Dongmei, town mayor of Xiaobazi. The desertification problem aroused high attention from Party committees and governments at all levels. They issued the call of “seizing the time to stop desertification”. Since then, a protracted battle against sandstorms has never ceased.


In every tree planting season, thousands of people pitched in. A large number of ecological restoration projects started one after another, such as the return of farmland reclaimed from forests, the Beijing-Tianjin control of the sources of sandstorms. Xiaobazi has in recent years afforested more than 200,000 mu a year on average. The forest cover has increased from 15 percent in the past to 30 percent now. The forest-grass vegetation coverage has increased from 30 percent in the past to 70 percent at present. The desertified area has been reduced by more than 60 percent. “Now, things have changed. The wind is blowing as usual, but sand has disappeared,” said Sun Dongmei proudly.

如今,小坝子乡林草植被覆盖率提高到70%以上。长城网·冀云客户端记者 乔娅 摄

Now, the forest-grass vegetation cover has increased to more than 70 percent. (Photo by Qiaoya/ Great Wall New Media)


Nowadays, strolling around Xiaobazi, which used to be buried “five chi deep in sand”, one can see trees only but not sand. On the hillsides and by the roadside, the larches are shining with overflowing verdant green. Poplar trees are growing luxuriantly and flourishingly. The growths of bushes are shining with overflowing green. “The green sea in my childhood has returned again, ” said Lang Zhanmin.


航拍镜头下的小坝子乡绿意盎然。长城网·冀云客户端记者 李丽钧 摄

An arial photo of Xiaobazi. (Photo by Li Lijun/Great Wall New Media)


In order to rein in the rampant sandstorm and turn the homeland green, People in Xiaobazi started returning farmland reclaimed from forests and grassland and voluntarily gave up free-range livestock breeding. What Xiaobazi relied on to call back people to return and stay on and end the dilemma of “trees becoming green, but people are still living in poverty? Xiaobazi has started a new round of relay from ‘getting green’ to ‘getting wealthy’”.


In the rows of greenhouses in Caoniangou village, villagers are picking tomatoes destined to Beijing. “We have encouraged farmers to develop greenhouse vegetable growing in an industrialization and scale manner to make it a new way of enabling the farmers to increase income and embark on the path to wealth,” said Lang Zhanmin.

小坝子乡乡长孙冬梅(右)和小坝子乡槽碾沟村党支部书记郎占民在蔬菜大棚里查看蔬菜长势。长城网·冀云客户端记者 李丽钧 摄

Sun Dongmei (Right) and Lang Zhanmin (Left) inspecting vegetables growth in greenhouse. (Photo by Li Lijun/ Great Wall New Media)


In the row upon row of green-topped sheep pens down the hillsides, more than 2,000 mutton sheep are feeding themselves noisily with the nutritious meal made up of a score of ingredients. Sun Dongmei told reporters that breeding has remained an important getting-rich-quick industry in Xiaobazi. By concentrated pen-breeding operated by a cooperative with the share pooling mode, we have realized the ideal of breeding sheep but not seeing sheep and blazed a new path that gives consideration to both ecology and livelihood.


“Xiaobazi used to send sandstorms to Beijing but now it is sending fresh air and organic vegetables there,” said Sun Dongmei with full confidence, adding that “so long as the green mountains are there, there is no worry about firewood.” Now, more than half of the families in Xiaobazi have their own cars, and more and more folks working elsewhere have come back, living a prosperous and happy life.

Editor: Zheng Bai