Reforestation Scenes in Northern China, Summer 2010

Reforestation Scenes in Northern China (Shanxi, Hebei, and Beijing) During My  Visit in Summer 2010

During my visit to northern China which took me to Datong and surrounding regions, Wu Tai Shan, and Beijing, I was delighted to witness a very massive reforestation program in progress, both in rural and urban areas. As we traveled from Beijing to the historic city of Datong to the west (northern Shanxi Province), reforestation can be seen in large tracts of land along the way.

Lush green pine-covered mountains surrounding Wu Tai Shan National Park and UNESCO Heritage Site, Shanxi Province, China.

In Beijing, I was delighted to see large numbers of trees, shrubs and gardens being planted along streets, roads, and canals, imparting a sense of freshness and greenness which blended very well with the modern high-rises. Beijing is located on the northern terminus of the North China Plain, which is has a continental monsoon climate with cold, dry winters (dry northeast monsoon), and warm, relatively wet summers (moist southerly monsoons). Dust storms occur occasionally during the spring as strong winds blow in from the deserts which lie farther to the north and west. The region is quite dry when compared to southern China, but lush compared to the neighboring Loess Pleateau just to the west.

Lush, verdant green mountains during the warm, wet summer monsoon season, near the Great Wall just to the west of Beijing, China.

The scenery among the hills west of Beijing and the Great Wall was one of lush green hills and rehabilitated forest lands, punctuated by corn fields and vegetable plots.  This was in late June, during the height of the moist summer season when agriculture is at its full swing:

During the warm moist summer monsoon, agriculture is at its full swing. Here corn fields abound to the west of Beijing and near Datong City in the upper fringes of Shanxi Province.

The same lush green scene is repeated in Wu Tai Shan National Park, as well as the mountains, hills, and plains to the southwest of Beijing.  During my stay in Wu Tai Shan and my return trip to Beijing, there were scenes of forests, roadside trees, bright green corn fields (most prevalent crop seen) and vegetable plots:

This is a town in Shanxi Province, near the border with Hebei Province - still lush with vegetation. The topographical change is noticeable as I traveled westward and crossed from the North China Plain into the more dusty and arid Loess Plateau.

Vegetable plot beside a Buddhist temple wall, Wu Tai Shan, Shanxi, China.

Lovely mixed gardens also abound among the courtyards of the Buddhist temples of Wu Tai Shan, in northeastern Shanxi Province:

Lovely mixed gardens abound in the courtyards of Buddhist Temples, Wu Tai Shan, China.

The lush agricultural scene coupled with abundant streams and canals signifies to me that this northern fringe of the North China Plain has been experiencing a fairly generous amount of rainfall thus far this summer. It’s also probably a testimony to the region’s extensive and well-developed irrigation system – possibly at the expense of available underground aquifers.

As I headed past the mountains to the west of Beijing and entered the Loess Plateau, the scenery and topography began to transform considerably.  From the lush, verdant green hills and plains to the west and southwest of Beijing, the Loess Plateau was considerably drier and dustier, evidence of lower rainfall in this region which lies to the west of the North China Plain.

Drier hills became evident as I entered the Loess Plateau in northern Shanxi Province, heading westward from Beijing towards Datong.

The topography became increasingly dry and dusty as we neared Datong, a city located on the northern fringes of Shanxi Province. This region is adjacent to Inner Mongolia, and therein lies the Gobi desert farther to the north.

The landscape became increasingly dry and dusty as I headed westward along the northern fringes of the Loess Plateau towards Datong. Shanxi Province lies just south of Inner Mongolia, which contains the Gobi Desert further to the north.

The most arid and desolate scene I observed was in northern Shanxi, just outside Datong near the Hanging Monastery. There, we traveled pass villages nestled among dry mountains and hills, which seemed quite desolate indeed – especially when compared to the thick green vegetations of my native Southeast Asia (Thailand in my case).

Near the Hanging Monastery just to the south of Datong, we passed this village nestled among the dry, dusty hills of the Loess Plateau in northern Shanxi, China.

Both the Loess Plateau and the North China Plain are prone to periodic droughts during summer and dust storms during the spring. This problem appears to have been exacerbated in recent decades due to deforestation, overgrazing, and land degradation.

Another scene of a village in a dry mountain valley near the Hanging Monastery, in Shanxi Province, China.

Fortunately, during recent decades the Chinese government has embarked in a massive reforestation program in northern China, evidenced by large-scale reclamation of land for reforestation, and the planting of trees along the sides of roads and on land not actively used in agriculture. In rural areas, many farmers are encouraged to plant saplings of local fir and deciduous trees, which the government then buys for transplanting in areas being reforested. This greening-up effort appears to have paid off significantly, as seen during my trip to Beijing and northern Shanxi Province.  Large areas that were formerly arid, dusty, and yellow soil are now covered in blankets of green.

This open woodland is a reforested area along the westward highway from Beijing to Datong.

The trees and shrubs being planted not only help to conserve the soil and prevent erosion, but they also retain moisture and alleviate droughts, thereby stemming the spread of deserts to the north and west.

Reforestation is underway as numerous trees and shrubs are planted in the relatively dry northern fringes of the Loess Plateau, near Datong, northern Shanxi Province, China.

Another scene of the massive reforestation underway in the dry northern fringes of the Loess Plateau near Datong city, Shanxi Province:

This area of the yellow, dusty Loess Plateau in northern Shanxi Province is planted with numerous trees and shrubs to retain soil quality and moisture, in an effort to stem the spread of deserts, and to mitigate the impact of dust storms during the spring.

As an avid gardener and plant enthusiast, it’s very delightful to see large areas of formerly degraded, arid land now covered in canopies of green.

Densely reforested area near the Yunggang Grottoes, Datong, Shanxi, China.

Near the Yunggang Grottoes, large tracts of dry, dusty land are being planted with numerous trees and shrubs.

Trees and shrubs are planted with great care as part of the reforestation of dry land near the Yunggang Buddhist Grottoes, Datong, Shanxi Province, China.

The greening-up and reforestation campaign is clearly evident in urban areas as well, as seen by the widespread planting of trees, shrubs, plants, and gardens in such urban areas as Beijing and Datong which I’ve recently visited.  In urban areas, I’ve observed large numbers of trees and shrubs being planted along the sides of roads and canals, and in large urban public parks and “green belts” along highways.

This area in northern Shanxi province along a highway just outside of Datong is being planted intensively with pines and other local trees. Near Datong, Shanxi, northern China.

This greenery was augmented by significant numbers of urban public gardens.

Numerous trees and shrubs are planted in Datong City, both along roads, in gardens in front of various residential areas, as well as public parks. This creates a refreshing 'green' atmosphere which blended very well with the modern high-rises springing up.

My Chinese guide explained that nowadays the Chinese government tries to instill a love of nature and trees among the people, and has designated April 12th as a special tree-planting day. Everyone is encouraged to participate, and those who aren’t able to participate will be required to pay a fee, which shall be used to hire someone to do the planting instead! In Beijing, the two most common trees being planted are (1) the “Lew” (willow trees), and (2) the “Yan” (another local tree).  Both are local tree species that grow very fast in Beijing and the surrounding regions, and are very versatile in the face of strong winds.

Myself amidst the trees and shrubs in the Olympic Green, Beijing, China.

Overall, this trip to northern China was a very pleasant eye-opener tree-wise and garden-wise for a plant lover and gardening enthusiast like me! During this trip, I’ve also documented a variety of indoor ornamental plants which I’ve encountered, which appear surprisingly similar to ornamental plants in Thailand, possibly a testimony to the constant trading contacts between the two countries since antiquity.

I strongly hope that this massive reforestation program continues to gain momentum in China during the coming decades, and that the program is replicated elsewhere around Asia and the world to mitigate the effects of global warming and climate change.

Happy Gardening, Wherever You Are and Wherever You May Be!

Think Positive, Think Green

Lat (Ratasit C.)


About Lat (Ratasit C.)

Greetings! I'm a world traveler, a food connoisseur, an avid gardener who loves gardening, and an enthusiast in the Buddhist dharma of mindfulness, wisdom, and peace. Find me on Twitter at or also visit my Travel and Food Blog at and join my culinary journey. Also visit for a glimpse of my spiritual journey. Welcome!
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