“A Country Without Tall Trees”

In his new book A Country Without Tall Trees, Yongfeng Feng takes an in-depth look at China’s rapidly disappearing natural forest and the worries this raises, considers China’s current forestry policy, and offers some alternatives.

Why does China have 175 million hectares of forest, but no big trees? Why are those who work to protect nature in China “the world’s most endangered species”? What is happening on a daily basis in China’s most forested provinces?

According to Feng — a Guangming Daily journalist, environmentalist and chinadialogue contributor — success in dealing with pollution is only a shallow measure of a nation’s success in protecting its environment. A more important measure, Feng believes, is the number of tall trees growing naturally for each square kilometre of land. He takes the reader on a tour of China, investigating whether the amount of ecologically beneficial forests in each part of the country is rising or falling.

The author opposes the simple, unplanned planting of forests, believing it to be only a secondary method for improving the environment. If human interference is reduced as much as possible, he argues, ecosystems will recover efficiently and develop. “Ecological projects”, such as the creation of forests themselves, need to be the subject of environmental impact assessments.

Feng also raises doubts about the reform of forestry rights that is currently in full swing. He believes it is about development rather than protection and will inevitably lead to the replacement of natural forests with commercial plantations. The ecology is a whole, and the partition and assigning of rights will not help in its protection. Feng prefers, and proposes, a “community cooperation” model, with local people holding shares in intensive forestry operations. He also makes suggestions for possible roles for current forestry workers after the reform of the forestry industry.

The author brings man and nature closer, using human thought to experience nature and thereby demonstrating the close relationship between the two. Inspired by the writing process, Feng has launched an “adopt a tall tree” scheme, encouraging people not to plant trees, but instead to adopt an existing one — protecting from human destruction those trees already growing happily. Part of the proceeds from sales of the book will be used to fund activities by environmental NGOs.

A Country Without Tall Trees
Feng Yongfeng
Law Press China, 2008

— By Li Siqi, chinadialogue, Beijing