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From coal miner to sand fighter: Old man persists in desertification control saying he wants to pay back the earth

(People's Daily Online)    17:45, September 14, 2017

Wang Hengxing, an 81-year-old rich business owner devoted to desertification control has turned a large area of desert in Miaomiao Lake Village, Pingluo County, northwest China’s Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, into an eco-tourism area.

“All I have done is paid the debt to earth,” said Wang, who has invested all his hard-earned money into the undertaking.

Starting second career in seventies

Wang undertook his second career of deforestation control through planting trees in the 70s. Before then he was head of a coal enterprise with a fortune of over 100 million yuan ($15.3 million).

Despite no initial support from family and the difficult conditions of the desert, he persisted in his career.

The sand fighter unremittingly led people to plant trees, dig irrigation ditches, and lay drip watering pipes in the desert. Years of hard work also consumed his health.

To pay the debt to earth

The Miaomiao Lake Village was covered by a large area of desert in the past, while now it is an eco-tourism area with trees and lakes, offering more than 100 jobs to the locals.

When asked in an interview why he insisted on planting trees in the desert several years ago, Wang noted that he excavated a lot of coal during his lifetime, so he would like to plant as many trees as possible to pay the debt to earth.

Media reports brought him fame, as well as trouble. “You are just finding trouble for yourself. Desertification control is a public cause. Can you pay off the debt on your own?” said some people, especially other coal bosses who did not understand him.

To make things worse, Wang received many threatening phone calls asking for a large amount of money every day during that period of time, but he never gave in to the pressure.

Strong support from his children

Wang often worried that he has left a heavy burden on his children, as he invested more than 210 million yuan, almost all his money, in the career.

However, Wang’s children all understand their father’s good intentions and know that he wants them to achieve success through their own efforts and to repay society as he did.

His children even organized nearly 1,000 employees in their enterprise to help plant trees every April, even if they have to shut down the enterprise for a month.

Certainly, Wang’s career would have ended earlier without his children’s support. What he left them seems like nothing.

Forestation is not a cause that can be achieved once and for all, especially in the dry area of Miaomiao Lake Village, where forestry experts say even trees cannot survive.

Wang, therefore, invested money in building a hydraulic engineering system to draw water from the Yellow River. Even so, the water is not enough for the trees.

He had to adopt drip irrigation and the irrigation tapes need to be replaced every year because of the high temperatures and severe sand and dust storms. It can cost up to 6 million yuan each year to maintain the trees.

Wang used to take the money out from the enterprise to support the career. However, the cost became a burden for the enterprise due to the economic slump in recent years.

Fortunately, desert tourism, the breeding industry, and subsidiary agricultural products of the eco-tourism area are able to offset the financial strain to a certain extent.

Although it is difficult for them to take good care of the trees, Wang’s son said they will not let their father down, as that is the best way for them to show filial piety.

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Web editor: Hongyu, Bianji)

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