Tree project plants seed of hope for bereaved mom
After spending eight years sparing no effort to plant trees among the numerous mountain villages of Qufu, Jining, in East China's Shandong province, Su Ping said it's time to move her daughter's ashes from the mortuary to the tree-dotted hills so she can rest in peace among the greenery forever.
"Before, I couldn't move her here because I was afraid she would be sad when she saw me tired out from toiling to plant trees. But now it's time, because her wishes have been almost fulfilled and my work has been greatly eased with so many kind-hearted people volunteering to join me in planting trees," said Su, adding that one of her daughter's wishes was to have her ashes buried in the mountainous area.
The 64-year-old said she is considering moving her daughter's ashes when winter comes round this year.
Born in Jining, Su's daughter, Yu Juan, died from breast cancer in 2011 at age 32. During the time she was hospitalized fighting the disease, Yu created a blog called To Live is the Truth, which was devoted to her thoughts about life. Her strong feeling for life and her contribution to society encouraged and inspired millions of followers.
Su has always been proud of Yu, who worked as a teacher at Fudan University after earning a master's from the University of Oslo in Norway and a PhD from Fudan in Shanghai, focusing on policies related to environmental protection and energy.
Su was desperate when Yu died. She spent six months at a monastery in Shanghai, where she suddenly remembered her promise to her daughter.
"She loved nature very much. Once, we toured the countryside around Longwei village in Wucun, Qufu, a place surrounded by mountains. She was impressed by the amazing natural scenery and suggested I should plant trees on the mountains after I retired. I said yes to her," Su said.
"After Yu Juan returned from Norway, she began working on an environmental protection project to build an energy forest - a plantation of fast-growing trees and shrubs to provide biomass or biofuel for heating or power generation - and chose Longwei as her research base, but she died before she could carry out the project."
To fulfill Yu's wish of planting trees in the mountainous area, Su left the monastery and returned to Longwei in 2011 to take up the challenge, while her husband stayed in Shanghai to take care of Yu's son.
Su adopted the nickname Shu Ping, meaning "smooth and peaceful".
"Su Ping has gone with Yu Juan, but Shu Ping remains to fulfill one of Yu's wishes - planting trees," she said.
In 2011, Su collected 300,000 yuan through various means, including selling their old house in Jining, to initiate a public welfare project called the Qufu Fusheng Energy Forest.
"The project also has another name - the Norwegian Forest in China - to commemorate my happy time when I visited Yu Juan in Norway. When she asked me how I liked the forest in Norway, and I answered 'it's amazing', she said 'Let's create a Norwegian forest in our hometown'," Su recalled.
Since then, Su, who was a teacher and poor at manual labor and housework, has got up at 5 am and spent every day planting, watering and taking care of saplings.
"I chose to plant Chinese pistache because this kind of tree can not only 'green' the mountains, but produces economic benefits as its leaves can be used to produce tea, its trunk can be used for carving and its seeds can be used to produce biodiesel fuel," she said.
However, it wasn't easy to plant trees, and only 30 percent of the first batch of the Chinese pistache saplings Su bought from Shaanxi province survived.
After trying everything she could think of - including consulting agricultural experts - she found the right way to plant Chinese pistache. However, that took three years.
Now, over 90 percent of saplings and seeds planted on the mountains will survive, Su said.
In addition to planting saplings, Su and many volunteers sowed around 4 metric tons of seeds across the mountains every year. Now more than 70 percent of the 660 hectares of mountainous land around Longwei is covered with trees.
Su regards the trees as her children, and often talks to them. Walking around the mountains to check the trees' health has become her daily routine.
"When I plant trees, I feel like Yu Juan is with me," she said, adding that she has received lots of help from local people, and more than 100,000 have volunteered to plant trees for the project.
Ding Qinglou, Party secretary of Shimenshan town, which neighbors Wucun, said: "She (Su) used up all her savings and devoted all her time to planting trees, while keeping her activities secret from the public. At the beginning, I thought she was stubborn and might have a mental illness.
"After planting trees for two years, I deeply understood why green mountains and clear water are equal to mountains of gold and silver - the idea put forward by President Xi Jinping," said Ding, who volunteered for the project along with his wife in 2017.
In January, Kristin Halvorsen, director of CICERO - the Center for International Climate Research in Oslo, visited the forest and planted several saplings.
Su said the project has not only fulfilled Yu's wish, but has also allowed her to personally feel the great love in the world and helped her gain the strength to live a peaceful life, even though her daughter has gone.
During every summer vacation, Yu's son, who is now 10 years old, comes to the village to stay with Su.
"He is such a nice boy. He understands what I am doing, which eases my sorrow for not spending enough time taking care of him. Yu Juan will be glad to rest among the trees planted by people who love her. I will do whatever I can to carry on this project," she said.
(China Daily 04/06/2019 page5)