Greater Hing'an Forests (in China) after fire in 1987
Greater Hing'an Forests after fire in 1987
by Liu Qi
"Located at the northernmost end of China, the Greater Hing'an Forests are
beautiful, rich and pollution-free.In its thousands of square miles of
boundary, rows of mountains are covered by immense forests...In summer, the
Forests show greater charms when mountain breeze breathes,trees send forth
delicate fragrance, streams murmur and flowers bloom."
This description about the Forests is written by a travel brochure. It
represents a nice imagination of people who have never been there. As one of an
journalists' group missioned to cover a Sino-German technical cooperation
project, "Rehabilitation of the Burnt Areas in Greater Hing'an Forests", I
rejoiced when in late May we visited a piece of forests that had not suffered
fire devastation in 1987. Though simple roads as well as electrial wire network
curve through the forests, though clouds of yellow dust were raised when
vehicles passed by, tier upon tier of green shows quietly the enchantment of
the forests. During the long journey across the vast forest, we,urban dwellers
, asked for a stop frequently to take photos and have a greedy breath of 100
percent fresh air. We were immensely charmed when we cruised in the sea of
But, good time lasted only a half day in our 8-day trip to the Greater Hing'an
For the most of the time we spent there, we saw continuous hills with either
low bushes of dreadful appearance or horrifying carbon black stumps, or groups
of brown black trunks---the withered life that still stands upright to witness
the fire disaster of May 6,1987.
Thought on the Fire Disaster
The extraordinarily serious fire that began on 6 May 1987 hurled down 100 more
kilometers of forests in one night and destroyed forests of 1.2 million hectare
s, in 31 tree farms in two counties in 28 days.
After nine years the bitterness is still well remembered by local people who
turn pale at the simple mentioning of "6 May Fire". It is hard to imagine that
the horrible "6 May Fire" made the railway melt, turned paper money in safes in
to ashes and television sets buried into metal lumps. Piles of quality timber a
long railway disappeared after the fire as the ashes had been blown away...
At Mohe County town, the disaster center, people set up a special memorial hall
for the "6 May Fire". At another small town in the forest, Tuqiang, a
middle-aged couple who run a grocery can tell us in lively detail the "doomsday
At nightfall, people in the town saw an odd scene. Red light mixed with black
smoke covered the sky and came nearer and nearer. "Fire tongues like giant red
hawks skimmed over tree tips...it went even faster than train". It has been
estimated that the maximum fire speed reached 50 kilometers per hour and the
air current generated by the fire reached fresh gale scale. Local people had
never experienced such a horrible fire. They had no idea of how to escape. Some
people dived into cellars in their houses and were suffocated to death. The
male members of one family went up hill to fight the fire, leaving nine females
to death. Some people moved to a small river with their household belongings
and even livestock and survived. The scene, as the couple described, was just
like "people ran away when Japanese invaders came to the village in the forties
". Afterward, on every 6 May people at the town go to the small river to
practise worship. "6 May" is also served as "A Day to Think of the Fire
Disaster" in the forest area.
No more tall trees
People in the forests saw their output comparable to that of a township, their
population to a county and the area to a province in richer south China. The
vast virgin forests just like a green rise at the eastern part of the Euro-Asia
Continent, have made invaluable contribution to ecology and environment for the
area and even for the world.
The climate in the forest is cold. Annually frost-free season lasts only 90-100
days. This makes trees there grow very slow. A tree from seedling to valuable
timber normally call for one century or more.
Before "6 May Fire", there are trees, 20-30 meters high, everywhere. The fire
has burned one-sixth of the total forest stands and left only low bushes. The
offerings of Nature, which have accumulated in thousands of years, were
destroyed in one moment by human beings themselves.
The losts of wildlife in the forest area was also significant. People in the fo
rests have long been pride of the wildlifes in the forests. Nowadays, however,
this abundance and harmony between human being and wildlife is but a by-gone
The degeneration of the ecological system in the forests have also brought
about rare natural disasters. 1990 broad-leaf pine caterpillar disaster spread
to an area of 1 million hectares. The 1991 extraordinary flood inundated
two-third of Tahe township of Tahe County with an average water level of two
meters. In 1994, there came another drought, which made young growths dead on a
large scale. Five million 3-4 year-old trees had been destroyed in this
Besides, environmental problems like global warming makes the forest ecology
harder to recove. Decades ago, there used to have a heavy snow in May to
cover dry leaves on the ground, and in June there used to come another heavy
rain, which allowed the forests to tide over the dangerous period of fire in
Spring. But, the May snow here has become more and more rare. Though there have
no significant fire disaster after Fire'87 the forest grounds are covered with
thick fallen leaves, which makes it more and more likely to have another big
fire. In the forest area, we saw fire warning slogens everythere. A regular
cordon is placed during the dangerous period of fire in Spring and Autumn.
Easy to destroy, hard to rebuild
Green Great Hing'an Forests have safeguarded the earth faithfully for thousands
of years. Under the pressure of economic demand, the government had initiated
three campaigns of development in the forests after 1949. The first two in 1955
and 1958 had little success and the third endeavor launched in 1964 had achieve
d great results. Humansbegan to resettle in the forests at last. A place with
several tents accommodating the pioneers for forest development in 1964 have
expanded as a capital city of the forest area, Jiagedaqi, which means "A place
which has pinus sylvestris" in the language of Erogen nationality, the dwellers
in the forests. In the process, the vitality of the forests had been taken away
little by little as more and more old trees were cut down.
For several decades, the only reason of people's presence in the forests is
tree-cutting. Under this practice, one hill after another, with heavy tree
coverage, became nude.
Only in the recent 10 or more years especially after Fire'87 disaster, people
became aware of the damage they impose on the forests, and their terrible
destruction to the forest ecology. In the 1990's, tree cutting is controlled at
30 percent. It is believed that in this way the forests are capable of
self-recovery and have little influence on forest ecology.
It is said that, there is an old "model worker" in the forests who had enjoyed
his fame for the huge amount of trees cut. In recent years, though in his 80's,
he vowed to plant the same amount of trees he had cut and was granted new
honours by the local authority.
It is easy to cut down trees, but it is hard to plant and grow trees. As the
time for a tree to grow calls for centuries, how can the human beings turn the
thousands of bare hills into green in several years? A Fire'87 burned 1 million
According to a schedule of rehabilitation of the burnt areas, the local
authority plans to rejuvenate the forests in three phases in nine years. 17
percent will be done by man and the remaining is left to nature itself. It is
told by the local authority that after nine years' endeavor 180,000 hectares of
young growths have been set up. Nevertheless, the remaining area is far
too gigantic a job for the human beings.
To conduct large-scale rehabilitation under harsh climate and fragile ecology,
the technical establishment in the forests can not stand equal to the challenge
. The local authorities try to seek outside assistance for practical
technologies of a broad spectrum, from seedlings growing to youth growth
management, in which the Sino-German technical project launched in 1993 could
serve as a model.
Few foreigners come into the forests
The Germans, with a hawk nose, blue eyes and hay hair other than black, brought
people in the small forest town Tuqiang with lasting curiosity and excitement.
Those foreigners complained, their expectation to experience the unique folk
characters of a Chinese small town in the depth of the forests was spoiled by
the excessive curiosity of local Chinese. Wherever they went, there surely were
lots of eyes on them. To people in the town, "we are animals rarer than
dinosaurs". Their only choice to spend their spare time was to stay at the
What can be done in the apartment?
"Read books," humourous Mr. Rudolf Reichwein, a tree-farm owner in Germany,
answered while he raised up his hands over his head, "The head will grows horns
if you don't read books for a long time." In robust health, Mr. Reichwein
looked full of energy, liked to make fun. He often stretched his neck and
imitated the cry-out of a woman vendor in the town,"Mai-dou-fu-lou------
"(sell bean curd). In the eyes of his Chinese counterparts, he is a funny
Besides Mr. Reichwein, we met two other Germans. Mr. Juliusdurst, the
coordinator of German experts group in the project, is head of an
administrative agency for a forest area. Slim Dr.Michael Mussong, has also
participated in other projects in Shanxi Province and at an island on
the Pacific Ocean. Dr. Mussong likes to play Chinese chess, often have hot
fights with a waiter at the apartment building.
The three came to executive the Sino-German technical cooperation project,
"Rehabilitation of the burnt areas in Great Hing'an Forests area".
They came to China with a strict and realistic approach, a world-famous German
spirit. Working together with their Chinese counterparts, first of all, they
studied 81 sample spots across the burnt area and got well-presented,
first-hand information. They applied the unique practice of GTZ (German Agency
for Technical Cooperation), underlined several items as of the primary
importance, such as breeding enough quality seedlings, adopting practical new
technologies for rehabilitation and enhancing the quality of Chinese
professionals. Afterwards they worked out annual or seasonal schedules,
accurately demonstrated the locations and area for experiments,
seedlings, tools, equipment and the quantity of human resource, listed in
detail comparative experiments for different seedlings, seasons and tools.
Almost every local expert and official we met expressed their admiration for
the German experts.
The three German experts said that an important reason for their coming is the
challenge they had never faced before. They hoped to enrich their professional
experience through this project in the forest area, a place with harsh climate
and too large area needed to rehabilitate. No example can be borrowed across
Also, it's another pleasure for them to go to a little inn in town to have cups
of beer occasionally, they added.
Germany is the largest bilateral supporter to China in forest industry. At the
very beginning of Fire'87 in the Great Hing'an Forests, the country offered
cash assistance of 30 million Deutch marks. Aimed to explore a quick and effect
ive way of rehabilitating the burnt area from Germany with advanced forest
technology and equipment, the two countries began to initiate the Sino-
German technical cooperation project in the autumn of 1993 for 8-10 years. GTZ
( German Agency for Technical Cooperation ) and the Ministry of Forest Industry
of China were charged to execute the project.
In 1988 a fire in the Yellow Stone National Park in the United States burned 1
million hectares of forests. Americans set a 100-year timetable to recover the
burnt area. In China, however, German and Chinese experts expected to shorten
the time to about 50 years by a comprehensive approach.
Financed by two million Deutch marks of free grant from Germany, the first
phase of the project has been accomplished this year. 9 German experts, 8
Chinese experts and 17 technical assistants have participated in this phase of
work and achieved lots of valuable results in the past three years. For the
second phase the German government will put in another two million
marks. At the end of our visit to the Great Hing'an Forests, a letter of
intent for the second phase was signed by experts of the two countries.
"Lofty Great Hing'an, the green forests, are vast in territory and rich in
natural resources, which make you come to appreciate the greatness of Nature...
warmly welcome guests all around the world, please come to have a visit."
The travel brochure have offered warmhearted invitation to visitors. I hope,
under the continuous endeavor of local people along with international
assistance, the beauty of the forests could be restored. By then, there surely
will be more and more visitors to share magnificant nature in the vast forest
area. (the end)