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Forestry in China


THROUGHOUT the history of China there have been settled periods during the life of a dynasty, followed by political change and the succession of a new- dynasty. During the settled periods there was usually a realization of the importance of forestry. During periods of strife and change, forests were destroyed.

China, at one time, was quite heavily forested, but most people knew little of the value of trees. As the population increased, the forest area diminished.

In the early part of the Chow Dynasty,1 which began in 1122 B.C. and lasted until 255 B.C. the central government of China established a Forest Service with the dual objective of preserving the virgin forests and reforesting denuded lands. There was strict management of state forests and officials were appointed to help supervise the management of private and communal forests. This dynasty ruled during one of the most outstanding periods of Chinese civilization, but many of its records were lost during the Chin Dynasty (255-206 B.C.), when the emperor ordered many of the books burned. He was interested in trees, however, and preserved the books on forestry from destruction. During his reign he built many highways along which he planted trees.

1 History of Forestry in China and Its Administration during the Republic, by Chen Yung, Forestry Department, University of Nanking, 1934 (in Chinese).

In the Han Dynasty (208 B.C. - 220 A.D.) the government encouraged the people to plant economic food and timber trees. Contacts were being made with western countries, and China introduced several foreign plants, among them Persian walnut, Juglans regia, and alfalfa, Medicago sativa, both of which have become completely naturalized. Horses were introduced, along with alfalfa.

During this time China was mainly under one government but was later divided into North and South. Population had increased, rival factions warred against one another, nomads from the Northwest roamed through China with their cattle, destroying the forests wherever they went.

During the Tang Dynasty (220-265 A.D.) there was renewed interest in reforestation of denuded areas. More new plants were introduced, including the olive and the almond from Arabia, both of which still carry the Arabic names. Tea was planted for the first time.

Forest extension work was at its height in the Sung Dynasty (420-589) when each hsien (district) had its director of agriculture and forestry directing the people in census-taking, forest management and farming practices. The policy was to let neither people nor land be idle. Public lands that a farmer reforested became his own. Direct planting of seeds for reforestation was widely adopted and proved quite successful. Monographs were written on plants including the tung tree, Aleurites spp.; Paulownia sp.; Citrus sp.; and bamboos. Phyllostachya, Bambusa, and others giving their descriptions, how to grow them, and how to control disease and insect attack.

The capital was at Nanking during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Four experimental stations were established just south of Purple Mountain to improve the production of tung oil (from nuts of Aleurites spp.), varnish (from the bark of Rhus spp.), rope (from a species of palm), and alfalfa forage. These products were in demand for military use and for building.

The Ch'ing Dynasty (1583-1912) followed, and after it the Republic whose founder, Dr. Sun Yat-sen, renewed emphasis on forestry. Forestry suffered during the revolution and the Japanese occupation, but increasing attention was paid after World War II to soil conservation, flood control, and reforestation.

Forest conditions

Forest Area and Timber Volume. The aggregate area in China that is at present actually under forest cover is estimated to be somewhere around 83 million hectares, about 8.5 percent of the total land area of the country. Virgin forest covers some 29 million hectares and secondary forest covers some 54 million hectares. Timber volume for each amounts to approximately 5 thousand million and 3 thousand million m3 respectively. Denuded mountain and waste lands suitable for reforestation purposes cover some additional 300 million hectares.

A raft of Chinese fir, Cunninghamia lanceolata, in Chekiang Province.

Pressure of people on the land has forced the unwise clearing of hill forests for crops; oats on last year's clearing on the left. Shansi Province.

Forest Ownership. As to forest ownership, no exact information is yet available. It can be only roughly estimated that about 90 percent of the virgin forest and 5 percent of the secondary forests are in public ownership, and the remaining 10 percent of the virgin forest and 95 percent of the secondary forest are in private and communal ownership.

Principal Timber Trees and Their Distribution. Because of the mountainous character of the land, its wide range of climate, and copious rainfall, China is extremely rich in arborescent flora. Years of investigations by the Chinese Botanical Society have shown 134 families, more than 656 genera, and over 2,000 species. It is said that a greater number of tree species is found in China than in all of the other north temperate countries. Nearly every important genus of coniferous and broadleaf tree known to the temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere is represented in China. Commonly known trees generally used for plantations in the various parts of the country are:

Cunninghamia lanceolata generally grows in the area extending from the Yangtze River southward to the Nanling Range at elevations not exceeding 1,000 meters.

Pinus massonia grows throughout central and southern China at altitudes not exceeding 1,000 meters.

Picea asperata is widely distributed, hardy, and vigorous. It reaches southward to northern Szechuan and eastward through Shensi and Shansi to Hopeh, occurring from 2 500 meters' altitude up to the timber line.

Abies delavaya occurs in Manchuria, Outer Mongolia, and northern Szechuan between altitudes of 2,500 and 3,500 meters, usually forming extensive pure stands.

Tsuga chinensis occurs in Shensi, Kansu, eastern Sikang, Szechuan, Hupeh, Anhwei, and Chekiang, growing at altitudes between 2,800 and 3,500 meters.

Larix potaninii is most abundant in the Yelukiang forest district. It also forms vast pure stands in Szechuan and Shensi at altitudes between 3,000 and 4,500 meters.

Pinus tabulaeformis is widely distributed in north to central and western China, at altitudes not exceeding 1,500 meters.

Thuja orientalis is widely cultivated all over China for ornamental and building purposes.

Quercus acutissima and Q. dentata are frequently found in central and northern China at altitudes between 1,000 and 2,000 meters.

Bamboos flourish in all of the southern provinces and along the Yangtze valley up to an altitude of about 1,000 meters. They are put to many uses for food, for building houses, bridges, rafts, for the manufacture of paper, furniture, umbrellas, musical instruments, and all kinds of farm implements and household utensils.

Aleurites fordii and A. montana, the tung oil tree, are widely distributed in China south of the Chingling Range, principally in the provinces of Szechuan, Kwangsi, Hunan, Hupeh, Kweichow, and Chekiang. They produce seeds from which tung oil is extracted. Ninety percent of the total amount of tung oil is produced by A. fordii.

Forest policy

It is estimated that more than 80 percent of the people of China are farmers. The situation of the Chinese farmer, however, may be unique in that he usually has less than one-fifth hectare of cultivable land. He plants whatever is most productive in terms of money and crops to support himself and his family. The emphasis for him must be on annual turnover or he and those dependent upon him will starve. If he can spare a little land he may grow trees on it but only if this does not interfere with the grazing of his water buffalo or take too much time from working his other crops; and provided it can be proved to him that trees will benefit him and his family. However, there are large amounts of "public land" upon which the people graze their livestock and gather fuelwood. It is estimated that 40 percent of the land area of China is unsuitable for agriculture but suitable for forest crops. Much of this land is hills and mountain slopes near densely populated areas. Much of it is unproductive now, except for poor-quality shrubs and grasses cut by fuel gatherers, and for poor-quality fodder grazed by livestock. No hardship would be involved in reforesting most of this area if an agreement could be made with the fuel gatherers for controlled cutting.

Not only is organic matter removed from the soil and none returned, but the bare soil is exposed to erosion by wind and water, and soils that were fertile are rapidly being rendered incapable of supporting plant growth. Good farm and forest lands, which once extended far to the northwest, are now a desert as a consequence of the removal of trees and vegetation that had previously acted as natural windbreaks and as soil-holding agencies. Annually, the northwest wind brings the desert farther down into China proper. In co-operation with the provincial governments, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry recently initiated a program of growing a sand-arresting forest zone along the border of the desert area. This shelterbelt, as planned, is to be more than 3,200 kilometers long and about 3.2 kilometers wide, using grass and shrubs to hold the sand and trees to break the force of the wind. More than 80 hectares of nurseries have been established.

The heavy silt content of almost all the rivers of China during the flood stage is sufficient indication of the tremendous soil erosion throughout China. During recent rains in Hunan, which caused heavy damage through flooding and silting, streams in the forested valleys were comparatively low and clear, giving visual evidence of the importance of forests in erosion and flood control. Last year the rains were heavy in Kwangtung, causing disastrous floods there. Soil erosion stations have been established in six provinces to study local soil-erosion conditions and to begin soil conservation work in co-operation with the bureaus concerned.

Wooden chutes are used for logging in Szechuan Province.

Forest administration

In 1940, when Chungking had been definitely settled upon as the wartime capital and when it was decided that every effort should be made to intensify agricultural production, the new Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry was created. The Department of Forestry was made responsible for forest administration along the lines of a 5-point forest policy:

a. Development of forestry enterprises toward self-sufficiency in forest products.

b. Proper land utilization, including afforestation and reforestation of all land suitable only for the growing of trees.

c. All large-scale forestry enterprises to be undertaken by the Government.

d. Encourage, promote, and supervise the establishment and maintenance of private forests.

e. Intensified forestry research.

The Department was divided into three divisions to carry out these specific duties:

1. Administer forest laws. Make reconnaissance surveys of the national forest resources, classify and register forest and other lands, and maintain forestry statistics. Protect natural forests.

2. Select the best species for propagation and extension, and supervise reforestation, including public and private nurseries and forests.

3. Supervise forest management and forest conservation, including national forest resources, forest products utilization, and soil and water conservation.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and its Bureau of Forestry Research established forestry substations in the provinces. Each province had an Agricultural Improvement Bureau with several forestry substations scattered throughout the province. Many of the hsien (districts) within the provinces set up agricultural stations and forest nurseries. A number of universities have forestry departments and some have experiment stations and forest nurseries. There are also municipal forestry stations and private forestry stations.

The National Forestry Research Bureau, with 28 hectares of mountain land and 10 hectares for nursery practice, was established in Chungking to take charge of research work in China. At the beginning, with a very limited staff, the work was mainly concerned with reforestation of near-by mountain regions and demonstration work in water and soil conservation. Three divisions were set up, to cover work in silviculture, wood technology, and extension. After V-J Day the bureau was moved to Nanking, leaving the Southwestern Forestry Station in its original headquarters to continue the work in that region. At Nanking, the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Park Commission leased the Bureau 65 hectares of land on the Purple Mountain for its headquarters and nursery. Adjoining this land, a tract of about 320 hectares, partly covered with pine forest, was assigned for experimental work in cooperation with the horticultural department of the Memorial Commission. The work of the Bureau expanded to include seven divisions, with substations in Peiping and Chungking, and seven forestry stations in the vicinity of Nanking. The total staff when this was written numbered 63 administrative officials, 117 technicians, and 86 regular laborers.

The seven forestry stations, having a total of 56 hectares in nursery land, raised 14 million seedlings and cuttings of 39 kinds of woody plants for reforestation purposes, and supervised their free distribution to farmers and their planting in special projects.

Soil conservation field work has been carried out in co-operation with other institutions for demonstration purposes. On the farmlands of the University of Nanking a soil erosion station was set up to study the correlation between rainfall and soil erosion under various cover crops. Much of the work has sought a means to prevent drifting sand from encroaching upon good farming soil: In the past year some 2,750 hectares of sandy land in Anhwei and 14,000 hectares in Honan were planted with willow cuttings.

The Division of Forestry Research has conducted forest surveys and tested various native woods for heat value, strength, and methods of preservation.


China is one of the timber-deficit areas of the world. Domestic production falls short of actual needs, especially since World War II. In order to meet the urgent demand, artificial planting on denuded areas for fuel and timber production has been carried out to some extent during the rehabilitation period after the war. Nursery land established has amounted to a total of 170 hectares with an annual output of tree seedlings up to nearly 27 millions. Seedlings used in plantations have numbered 230 million, corresponding to a planted area of 4,000 hectares.

In June 1947, 1,380 kilograms of American tree seeds, such as slash pine, Pinus caribaea, longleaf pine, Pinus palustris, white pine, Pinus strobus, bald cypress, Taxodium distichum, and American ash, Fraxinus americana, were received from UNRRA and distributed among 45 leading agriculture and forestry institutions in the war-devastated provinces for trial planting. The season was quite late for sowing and the results were not too encouraging, but in some parts of the country many species of foreign trees have done well.

With the help of FAO, the National Forestry Research Bureau, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, tile National Central University, and the University of Nanking drew up forestry projects to be financed from relief funds made available by the United States China Relief Mission (Post-UNRRA Aid to China). During March 1948 more than four million trees were planted on wastelands in the vicinity of Nanking. Most of these trees were grown in the nurseries of the National Forestry Research Bureau. A large number of trees have been planted each year by farmers who came to the nurseries and were given trees to plant on their own land. The China Relief Mission grant made it possible to plant large areas of publicly owned land. A further program was instituted for the adequate protection of these plantations and for greater understanding and co-operation in forestry among the various government bureaus and the local population. It was the hope to work out a system that could be applied in their parts of China. During March 1948 more than two million cuttings of basket willow were planted, to help preserve dikes from erosion and to provide fuelwood and material for the basket-weaving industry. All over China budgets had been so reduced that the forestry stations were unable to hire labor to take up seedlings from the nurseries and plant them on near-by deforested hillsides. China Relief Mission funds were therefore made available for this purpose and the work was carried out.

Floods in the fertile lowlands result from destroying the forests on the hill lands. Kwangtung Province.

Sand and fire

Devastation by Yellow River floods, particularly during the war, have caused untold damage and destruction to many districts in Anhwei and Honan. Tracts of fertile farmland were covered with sand and strong winds picked up the sand and carried it onto other areas. To curb these shifting sands, the former CNRRA Anhwei Regional Office had made an effort to carry out reforestation in an area of 2,000 hectares in northern Anhwei. To continue the work of that office, the Anhwei Flood Area Sand Control and Reforestation Team of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry completed reforestation in another area of over 20,000 hectares. The same type of reforestation work done in Honan by the Honan Flood Area Sand Control and Reforestation Team covered an area of some 3,750 hectares.

The annual inward shift of desert sand in the Northwest, caused by the prevailing winds from that direction, is encroaching on more and more good farmland. To prevent and cheek this is the purpose of the Sand Control Forest Station established at Kingtai (Kansu) in 1947. Reforestation and grass plantation done by the station has covered an area of 270 hectares.

The prevention and control of forest fires is one of the most important aspects of forest protection in China. During the dry season, in the autumn in South China, almost every day some hillside is covered with flames. People set fire to the grasslands and forests, sometimes just to see the fire, sometimes so the rain can wash the ash down to the rice-paddies for added fertility, sometimes to destroy the forests, which may harbor bandits and wild animals. In some areas population density forces families to a sub-subsistence level, and anything that grows is dug up by the roots for food and fuel.

Later development of slope clearing for crops results in erosion of the topsoil, thus robbing the people of food supplies by ruining the land for future crops and adding to China's already tremendous forest problem. Shansi Province.

Forest utilization

Because of the inaccessibility of most of China's forests, no large-scale logging and milling has ever been attempted. Before World War II the total annual production of lumber was only about 16 million m3 (excluding Taiwan). Production during the war was much lower. Annual production since the war has been estimated at 9 million m3, including some 600,000 m3 produced in Taiwan.

According to registrations with the Ministry of Industry and Commerce, the forest products industry comprises 24 sawmills, 8 rosin plants, 9 paint and lacquer plants, 1 papier-maché mill, 1 plywood mill, 1 camphor plant, and a number of charcoal kilns and miscellaneous plants.

Forest education and personnel

Modern forest education has gained increasing impetus during the last twenty years. China has 25 universities or colleges that give regular or elective forestry courses. Vocational agriculture and forestry schools number 40, with a total of 940 forestry graduates. The graduates of both the universities and the vocational schools are working with the various organizations concerned with forestry, with educational institutions, and with local governments.

According to the postwar reconstruction program as projected, China would require about 1,850 professionally trained foresters and about 4,720 vocational school forestry graduates by 1950. As compared with the above figures, this means that if the program is to be carried out China will have to educate 730 more forestry students in colleges and about 3,500 more in vocational schools within the next two years.

Rehabilitation and development

For the rehabilitation and development of forestry in China, the Department of Forestry, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, has established these work projects:

1. Long-range Reforestation. This 30-year project deals with the establishment and exploitation of economic forests, fuel-production forests, protection forests, and national-defense forests.

2. Reforestation by Garrison Troops. This project call for the reforestation of 550,000 hectares of wasteland by garrison troops in various parts of the country in ten years.

3. Demonstration Reforestation. This ten-year project to reforest for demonstration purposes has been planned for Chingliangshan (Nanking), Sungshan (Honan), and Sishan (Peiping).

4. Sand-Control Reforestation in the Northwest. To prevent shifting sands from encroaching upon good farmland, this 30-year project aims to build up a forest belt in the Northwest provinces.

During the Japanese invasion and many other periods of political disorder, the spirit of long-range planning was replaced by momentary expediency, and plantations and forests were destroyed that had taken years to develop. Internal disorder still hinders the execution of a nation-wide program. Through experience the people are reluctant to give full support to a long-time program until they can feel confident of the future. The government seems to have realized this, for an exceedingly small percentage of the total national budget has been allocated to agriculture and forestry work. However, in spite of insufficient personnel and equipment, there are many forest stations and forest nurseries throughout China doing excellent work in reforesting, experimenting, and educating for the future.

Photos accompanying this article furnished by the Department of Forestry, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry China.

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