Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page

Forest rehabilitation and soil conservation in China

JEAN MESSINES, Inspecteur général des Eaux et Forêts, Grenoble

Erosion - Its extent, causes and effects
Rehabilitation works
Natural forests
Planting techniques
Training and research
Political and administrative organization

China covers over 9.5 million square kilometers - an area equivalent to that of Europe or of the United States of America. A country of such immense size will clearly show considerable diversity both in the physical conditions of soil and climate and in the circumstances of human life. As a member of a French Economic and Technical Mission, the author spent only six weeks in the Chinese People's Republic during September and October 1957, a stay too brief to acquire more than a general picture of the country's forest economy and soil erosion problems. This article therefore draws freely on information supplied, in their offices and in the field, by foresters, agricultural experts and water engineers engaged on afforestation and soil conservation projects.

According to the latest figures of the Ministry of Forests, China's forested area covers 76,000,000 hectares, a proportion of only 7.9 percent of the total land area. 1 The total volume of growing stock is estimated at 5 thousand million cubic meters, i.e., an average of only 65 cubic meters per hectare. These figures are provisional because a detailed inventory of forests has not yet been completed.

1 Compare "Forestry in China", Unasylva, Volume 2, Number 6.

But clearly China is inadequately forested. During the former Empire, the forest cover was progressively destroyed and steps were rarely taken to restore it. Uplands were usually denuded. It is considered that, in historical times, 300 million hectares - 30 percent of the land area - were deforested. As shown later, continually increasing erosion still ravages over half of these lands today, denuding 160 million hectares.

This deforestation affects some provinces much more than others. There are still some fairly well-wooded upland regions. For example, the province of Szechwan is still 30 percent wooded with 13,300,000 hectares of forest; for Yunnan, the figures are 23 percent and 10,700,000 hectares. The provinces of Hunan and Fukien in the tropical zone are respectively 19 percept and 18 percent forested. The most extensive forest area is that of the uplands of north and east Manchuria: this covers 20 million hectares and is China's main source of commercial timber - about 2,400 million cubic meters. Of the three Manchurian provinces, the best wooded is Heilungkiang. Its 460,000 square kilometers, almost as large as France, includes 13 million hectares of forests and 1,600 million cubic meters of standing timber, mainly coniferous - about 120 to 125 cubic meters per hectare. This is not very much considering that these moderate uplands with their cool damp climate are natural forest lands, but the stands have been seriously affected by wartime felling and by fires.

Forest types

The forests stretch from the cool and warm temperate zones to the tropical zone and are of very different types and include a great variety of species.

More than 5,000 woody species have, indeed, been recognized, among them about 2,000 forest trees: in all, 700 genera and 130 families. More than 50 species are specific to China, notably such coniferous species as Cunningham lanceolata, Pseudolarix amabilis, Metaquoia glyptostroboides, Glyptostrobus pensilis, Pinus bungeana... or deciduous trees like Eucommia ulmoides.

The typical tree of rural China is a willow, Salix matsudana. In the parks on the outskirts of Peking, the visitor can soon identify Ginkgo biloba and Juniperus chinensis, Pinus tabulaeformis even on farms and, as well as Sophora japonica, Ailantus altissima and an elm, Ulmus pumila, found widespread from north to south. Finally there is the robinia (false acacia) which seems to grow everywhere.

The forest landscape in Manchuria has a familiar look to a Western forester, for he finds there a forest of temperate type, dormant in winter, containing numerous deciduous species, such as oak, ash, maple and especially poplars, aspens and birch, as well as various coniferous trees, i.e., fire, spruces and particularly pines and larches. The genera are identical but the species are generally not the same.

Somewhat similar types of forest are found in the other mountain regions of north add northeast China, especially in Inner Mongolia. In Sinkiang (Central Asia) the high mountains of Tienchang encompass imposing glacial formations, pine forest and Alpine-type pastures.

The temperate-type forest merges almost imperceptibly into tropical forest. Central Asia excepted, there is no desert zone, nor Mediterranean zone either. From north to south the relief offers only alight barriers and there are no internal climatic frontiers. This explains the interpenetration of the moat cold-resistant tropical species and the most heat-resistant temperate species. Moreover, there is, almost throughout China, a happy combination of summer heat and rainfall as a result of which the forests are rich and varied wherever man has not spoiled them.

The hot wet regions of the south and southeast conserve the remains of a truly tropical forest consisting of a few emergent fast-growing species amidst a closed canopy of evergreen trees.

On the way from Hong Kong to Canton one sees a monotonous succession of hills either deforested or carrying open stands of Cunninghamia lanceolata, Pinus massoniana and Pinus kwangtungenis. Elsewhere, there are stands of coniferous trees of the genera Cephalotaxus, Podocarpus, Keteleria or Cryptomeria, and deciduous trees of the genera Liquidambar, Dalbergia, Albizia, Phoebe, Lithocarpus or Castanopsis and, apparently, very strange mixtures of these species with others of more northern character, chiefly oak, ash, chestnut, lime, elm and walnut, not to mention innumerable species of palm and bamboo. The latter constitute degraded secondary formations already far removed from the climax forest.

This subtropical type of forest takes on an increasingly mountainous character in southwest China as one leaves the southern plains and hills. The formations are often bushy, but there are still fine forests of the original type in the upland regions. Among the coniferous species to be found in them are Tsuga and Pseudotsuga, Abies delavayi and Picea likiangensis (the last two species being specific to Yunnan and Szechwan), Cupressus funebris and numerous species of pine: Pinus armandii, P. massoniana, P. yunnanensis and P. insularis. The deciduous trees consist of oaks, maples, Castanopsis, Lithocarpus, Phoebe.

It is not easy to say how far man and how far natural factors are to blame for the degraded state of the forests. Admittedly, the writer noted several times during his journey the serious damage caused to forests by excessive grazing, wilful burning by shepherds, and abusive cutting and felling. But in many cases neither man nor his livestock can be held responsible for the situation.

It is almost certain that China has never been completely covered by forests. The northern part of Shansi and Shensi provinces in northwest China - especially in the loop of the Yellow river - and several fairly flat regions of Mongolia or Chinese Turkestan can never have been wooded - at least in historical times. The extreme aridity and the dryness of the soil aggravated by its impermeability, would not permit any plant life but that of steppes - and the latter cover considerable areas.

There are, however, transition formations between forest and steppe: scrub or shrub formations. This maquis landscape is very widespread in many mountain regions of China. One soon becomes aware of this when journeying, for instance, in the mountains northwest of Peking or when flying over the provinces of Shansi and Shensi between Peking and Sian or between Sian and Lanchow. It is rather difficult to divide the blame between physical and human factors for the present degraded state of these uplands. The phenomena are complex and their development differs from region to region. Man's occupation has left its traces of destruction but drought, wind and winter frost, together with the sterility of some lands, are undoubted obstacles to the establishment of forest.

Erosion - Its extent, causes and effects

Chinese experts estimate that the phenomena of degradation are apparent over about one sixth of the country's total area, i.e., 1,600,000 square kilometers or 160 million hectares. The area most affected (about 580,000 square kilometers in all) is the basin of the Yellow river, especially within the huge loop of that river. Next comes the Yangtze or Blue river basin (160,000 square kilometers). Then there is an affected area of 130,000 square kilometers in the Peking region, in the mountains to the northeast of the bend in the Yellow river; and 75,000 square kilometers in the basin of the Hwai river, etc.

It stands to reason that erosion will show the moat varied manifestations in China, given the size and range of the country. Among the most dangerous climatic factors are the frequent and violent sandstorms and the alternations of frost and thaw.

Another cause of erosion is, of course, the varied relief of the country. China is very mountainous as the following figures show:

Elevation in meters


Plains, hills and low mountains

under 500


Medium uplands



High mountains

over 1,000


As for geological conditions, the abundance - indeed predominance - of sedimentary rocks (e.g., marine facies of sandstone, clay and sands resulting in soft hilly relief) aggravates the action of erosion. The deep recent quaternary deposits such as moraines, superficial glacial deposits, and river gravels and alluvium and lastly - and above all - loess, furnish inexhaustible matter for erosion.

Finally, in China are found all types of natural erosion - climatic, topographical and geological - which some writers call normal erosion, and all types of accelerated erosion, i.e., degradation heightened by human occupation which manifests itself in clearing, grazing and burning, resulting in the destruction of forest cover, the formation of torrents and the degradation, even disappearance, of the soil. There are, however, two kinds of erosion especially widespread in China.

Continental wind erosion

Vast areas, mostly of even relief, lying in the loop of the Yellow river, and especially north and northeast of that loop; the farming or semifarming steppe-like plains of Manchuria, of Inner Mongolia and of Kansu; these regions are subject, over long winter periods, to winds of extreme violence. These lead either to the formation of local river and continental dunes such as we saw along the Yellow river and the Sungari river, or to a general surface erosion affecting millions of hectares of steppe land, destroying the soil or its fertility.

FIGURE 3. - General view of bench terraces along the middle reaches of the Yellow river.

The conservation of these soils and their development for agriculture calls for defence works to break the force of the wind. The methods proposed will be dealt with later.

Erosion on loess

The area covered by loess is 600,000 square kilometers - a vast loess "domain" covering a sixteenth part of China.

Loess is the primary cause of the more serious phenomena of erosion and flooding which occur in China.' In the region we have mentioned, the slightest depression, all plains and most of the hills and low mountains are, as it were, drowned in loess.

The loess is a geological formation of the quarternary epoch, the result of winds. This wind erosion has continued for thousands of years and still goes on today during certain winter periods although much less acutely than formerly. It has stripped enormous desert areas in the steppes of Central Asia, Tibet and Mongolia, carrying off billions of tons of sand. This sand has piled up in the river basins and lower plains, forming thick deposits of continental sediment. While it is the basis of the farming wealth in these areas, this sediment is at the same time a terrible threat insofar as it remains a cause of erosion.

The loess is a grayish yellow silt, the grains of which are finer than sand (less than 0.05 millimeters in diameter) but larger than clay (over 0.006 millimeters in diameter) and often include fine but sharp fragments of rock which are not smoothed by running water. This fact and the fineness of the grains throughout the deposit prove its wind origin. Nevertheless, pure loess is often mixed with river alluvium. This is usual all over the great eastern plain where flood waters have beaten together and mixed up the wind silt from the tablelands with the river silt before depositing them in thick layers on the immense lower basin of the Yellow river, which is truly China's granary.

Seen from the air, this great cultivated plain, where it reaches the mountains west and northwest of Peking, looks like an immense sea of river alluvium filling a vast lake or marine depression to a depth of some tens or hundreds of meters and showing a very clear demarcation line where it touches the uplands. It is now known, however, that it consists of loess deposits transformed by stream flow; in short, of transported matter of diverse origins.

In mountain regions, loess carpets the valley bottoms and coats with varying thickness the lower and middle slopes of the mountains. Sometimes it even "clothes" the whole of the relief - including summits - with a continuous mantle, smoothing over contours and dulling the sharpness of land features. Usually the deposits are some 60 to 60 meters thick, but they often reach 160 to 200 meters and at the most 400 meters. Such an accumulation of friable matter offers an ideal subject for erosion.

The base of the loess layers is often associated with sands which in their turn lie on gravels. This arrangement indicates the sequence of deposits: first of gravels, then of sands, and lastly of loess.

The loess is soft and porous. In the mass it behaves like permeable rock. It is easily channeled and shaped. Acted upon by atmospheric agents, the loess crumbles apart causing vertical-walled ravines - a consequence of the material's permeability and cohesion without hardness. Hence it can be easily shaped by men into descending terraces like giant staircases: and such cultivated terraces make up a landscape typical of all the loess mountain regions of China.

FIGURE 4. - A system of terraces on the lower slopes of mountains in the loess region.

Unfortunately the soil is overpermeable, and the climate is somewhat arid. These physical disadvantages have been worsened by the methods of farming the soil; for men have not so far - through ignorance or inability - added sufficient quantities of those organic manures or nitrogenous fertilizers which would have bound the soil. Hence the land lacks consistency and resolves into impalpable dust.

Linear torrent erosion

The loess mountains are, firstly, subject to linear torrent erosion. Deep narrow ravines are formed down the slopes, starting with stream runners in the vertical edges of the terrace. In some cases this takes place through a collapse of the walls and mass falls, so forming muddy torrents. There is a magnificent example of this last phenomenon on the stretch of railroad from Paoki to Chengtu on a slope overlooking the Kwaling, a tributary of the Yangtze-Kiang.

Surface erosion

These mountains are also the scene of surface erosion affecting the whole of the cultivated top soil through the action of run-off and wind. All the processes of degradation classified in test-books appear:

(a) sheet erosion or general stripping of top soil;
(b) rill erosion;
(c) gully erosion where the rills run into the torrent ravines.

If the slope is gentle, as with certain softly undulated plateaus, then the ravines formed in the loess may not empty-into the river. In this case, they are seen as ditches with more or less scalloped edges but always steep-walled. Since the water cannot get out, it soaks into the subsoil.

These ravines and torrents, whether or not they flow into a river, usually develop as follows. They widen through the gradual retreat of their banks which collapse in vertical slabs. In this way the bed becomes an ample plot which very little ingenuity can transform into a flat-bottomed bowl. Into this crops can be reintroduced - even the finest crops since they are usually irrigable. One even sees farms or small villages established in these "bowls", by no means one of the least surprising things about this disconcerting loess "domain".

Where the slope is steep, the torrents gouge out deeper gullies, scoring the whole slope and draimng off the water to the downstream watercourse. It may also happen that, when the ravine has completed its development, it may be widened sufficiently to enable crops to be sown but, on account of the steepness, the crops must be grown on mounting terraces linked by steps. In this case, erosion often continues in secondary ravines branching off from the more or less steep banks of the main ravine.

This erosion, despite its extent, does not seem particularly dangerous on the site where it actually takes place. There are no regions more intensely cultivated and more densely populated. Flying over Shensi, one sees up to five or six villages per square kilometer, of an estimated density of 800 to 1,000 inhabitants. The supply of loess is inexhaustible and the gullied soil can be reshaped and brought into cultivation again.

The real harm occurs elsewhere in the lower plains and on the Yellow river delta, in a countryside still more densely populated than the plateaus and mountains of loess.

And the harm done is in essence measurable by the solid matter carried by the Yellow river. According to reports this has reached the seemingly incredible weight of 2,643 million tons per year. Chinese engineers estimate its average content at 1,380 million tons. They have worked it out that the annual bulk of solid matter carried by the Yellow river would make a one meter solid dyke stretching 23 times round the earth. By comparison, the solid content of the Seine at Paris is paltry - a mere 600,000 to 700,000 tons yearly.

Specific degradation

The specific degradation (i.e., the amount of solid matter per unit of area) is 1,800 tons per square kilometer per year for the whole of the Yellow river. Applied to a basin 745,000 square kilometers in area, it is without doubt a world record. But this specific degradation is especially severe around some tributaries in the Yellow river loop, right in the midst of the loess country: 5,800 tons for the Weiho river, and 7,190 for the Loho river. This last figure means that the overall stripping of surface soil in that basin is over 7 millimeters per year. By way of comparison, in the Alps, the specific degradation on some large torrent basins rarely reaches, 1,500 tons and, on the average, does net exceed 100 tons.

Specific turbidity

The amount of solid matter per unit of weight, or the specific turbidity, on the Yellow river delta averages 44 kilograms per 1,000 kilograms of mixed water and mud, and reaches a maximum of 430 to 460 kilograms. But a greater degree of specific turbidity has been observed in numerous tributaries of the Yellow river. The measurements and tests carried out on this subject by several hydraulic experts and particularly by the Norwegian engineer, Mr. Eliassen, are extremely interesting. A specific turbidity of 600 kilograms is almost a load limit. In the Yellow river it is made possible by the fineness of the material. According to Eliassen, with a load of 560 kilograms, the muddy current becomes "plastic" - it congeals. But this observer himself noted that, carrying 510 kilograms, the flow could still be rapid.

Such observations are valid for the Yellow river and can be adapted to the conditions noted on the Weiho and the Chinho rivers with a given slope of the river beds and given current speeds.

A further observation by Eliassen is worthy of careful note: that excessive content of very fine loess mud causes an acceleration of flow. Irregularities on the river bed are smoothed out, accelerating flow. Where a river carries larger elements, which are deposited on the bed and constantly shift in position, the flow is decreased.

As a result of these phenomena the beds of the great rivers are raised and millions of hectares of cultivated plains are constantly threatened by overflow end flooding.

On their lower reaches, the beds of the Yellow and the Yangtze-Kiang rivers are raised sometimes ten meters above the level of the plain. The rivers are contained by embankments representing billions of cubic meters of earthworks. Breaches in these dikes in the past have caused horrifying disasters with victims by the thousand and hundreds of thousands.

Silting-up of dam reservoirs

There is nowadays another problem of equal urgency: the silting-up of the reservoirs of the great hydro-electric dams. This silting-up is taking place at such a rate that the duration, and hence the efficiency, of the constructions are jeopardized. Apart from the decrease in energy output, it is feared that the irrigation network will soon be affected and so the beneficial effects of stream control will be annulled: in other words, floods will again take place.

Thus the Kwanting dam, the first great earthwork constructed by the Chinese from 1961 to 1964, is threatened with complete silting up in about 60 years unless reforestation plans are set on foot at once - although the reservoir's capacity is 2,270 million cubic meters. The still more grandiose Sanmen scheme is for the building of a concrete dam 90 meters high, with an artificial reservoir holding 36 thousand million cubic meters. Working on specific degradation or specific turbidity and other data, there are various ways of working out the speed of silting up in cubic meters per square kilometer per year. All such calculations have a large element of uncertainty: there are, in fact, several hypotheses regarding, in particular, the possibility of drawing off through sluice gates, the effect of the density of solid materials, and on the relative speed and completeness of silting. The degree of compactness in deposits does, indeed, vary with the weather.

Estimates are therefore unreliable. But, despite this, one fact is certain: that the life of the Sanmen reservoir - unless measures are taken to combat silting - will be a mere half-century or so. And, under such conditions, the project would be a failure.

Energetic measures meat therefore be taken in all fields: in agriculture, forestry and animal husbandry, as well as in engineering.

Rehabilitation works

The best ways of combating erosion are through conservation, re-establishment or extension of a vegetative and forest cover. First priority goes to afforestation and dynamic forestry programs.

Since the Chinese People's Republic was formed in 1949, these principles have been given recognition in governing circles. The Consultative Assembly has several times proclaimed the desire to "defend the forest" and the intention to carry out thoroughly a policy of rigorously planned forest reconstitution and planting.

Such a policy has, of course, fewer obstacles to surmount under a communist than under a liberal regime. One of the first acts of the present regime was to declare, and to set down in the Chinese People's Charter, that, agreed exceptions apart, the natural forests, unexploited bare mountain lands and lowland steppes were the property of the nation.

FIGURE 5. - The construction of the first retaining walls in making a terrace system.

On this clear foundation, it was easy to develop a forthright forest policy. The First Five-Year Plan (1953) includes a whole program of forestry projects, phased according to the means available at the time and designed in the light of these two requirements:

(a) The need to cope with the huge timber requirements of a country undergoing industrialization: timber for housing, offices, factories, public works, hospitals and institutes. Hence the first objective is increased timber production

(b) The need to restrain - wherever it cannot be halted - the degradation of land, with the hope of preventing floods and the loss of agricultural land. Hence the second objective is a fight against erosion.

These are two distinct objectives but the action to be taken is the same for both: the reconstitution and improvement of natural forests on the one hand and on the other, planting and creating new forests. Both activities can be conducted simultaneously in varying proportion according to the geographical situation, and the physical and social environments.

These basic ideas - impelling forces as much as ideas - have apparently had a powerful appeal if not to the masses at least among the party leaders for, in answer to a call from the Chinese Central Communist Party, a new twelve-year plan was drawn up in 1956 "to make China a green country".

Starting off from the same point as the First Five-Year Plan, this new program envisages the afforestation of 02 million hectares in 12 years. Since there are 78.8 million hectares of natural forests, the new and old forests together would make up a forest domain of 168.6 million hectares by 1965. The proportion of forested land in China would rise from 7.9 to 19 percent.

Such a goal might seem impossible of attainment in so short a time. The results already obtained, however, make for optimism. By the end of 1956, the fourth year of the First Five-Year Plan, the forestry targets were, it is claimed, exceeded by 70 percent, and were expected to be more than doubled by the end of the five years.

Natural forests

The improvement of natural forests means in many cases the complete reconstitution of stands which calls for a whole series of measures and operations.


The national forest survey is almost completed. Detailed and fairly accurate records have been compiled about the kinds of species and forest types, and the age and assessed volume of the various species. From these data forest maps have been drawn delimiting the forested areas, dividing these up into individual forests, the forests themselves into series, and the series into compartments of which the composition is known with some accuracy.

Obviously these management maps could not be expected to show all the detail and variations As can be done for forests in countries of central and western Europe that have a long forestry history. One map examined was of a forest in Inner Mongolia of 138,000 hectares. The scale was large, 1/50,000, but the forest had nevertheless been divided into compartments of 100 to 200 hectares. It had been possible to mark the chief species marring up the growing stock: larch, oak, birch (two species) and poplar. Average diameters were shown, classified as under 40 centimeters, 40 to 60 centimeters, 60 to 80 centimeters and over 80 centimeters. Each species was represented by a certain color, the tint being graduated from light to dark according to the dimensions (i.e., age) of a stand.

The Ministry of Forests gives these figures in regard to the stage reached in these operations as at the end of 1956:


Million hectares

1. Delimited and divided by Russian inventory methods, ground survey by strip sampling, combined with serial surveys


2. Covered by aerial survey alone


3. Remaining to be surveyed


In Manchuria, the forests of Kirin and Heilungkiang provinces have all been reserved and surveyed. Field work has been completed, and maps are now being made add working plans compiled.

Forest protection

Grazing. In the forest, grazing is now controlled. In most provinces it is, in theory, forbidden altogether but in practice is tolerated in many ways.

In any case, forest grazing, insofar As it can still be practiced since land collectivization and the setting-up of farm production co-operatives, is much less dangerous than formerly. Grazing rights exercised by individuals almost always in the past ended in abuse. Today, individuals cannot with profit act against the collectives. The Cooperative Management Committees are responsible to the forestry authorities and can only act in agreement with them.

Fire. A major scourge of the natural forests of China has long been, and still is, fire. The steps taken to institute a degree of control are, however, noteworthy and should soon begin to show results. First emphasis was laid on propaganda and mass education. At the same time, fire-fighting teams were organized to be ready for prompt and effective action. An alarm system is now efficiently organized with weather stations installed in the forests, lookout towers, telephone networks, and air patrols, etc. The clearance of under-growth on firelines, the opening of access roads, and the digging of firebreak trenches goes on steadily every year.

FIGURE 6 - The fight against gully erosion. A double wattle-fence dam with a backing of stone.

Pests and diseases. Measures for protection mainly through chemical treatments, have been widely introduced.

Forest exploitation

Even though the inventories have shown that the volumes of standing timber per hectare are low, the strong internal demand for timber set against the fact that financial restrictions preclude importing large amounts of foreign timber, results in a rate of cutting which is on the whole heavy. But this applies only to the more accessible areas and there are huge forest tracts, difficult of access, because of rugged terrain, remoteness and absence of means of communication, which remain untouched.

Cutting operations are, generally speaking, difficult everywhere because of lack of satisfactory road networks. The usual practice is therefore clear felling, to be followed by artificial regeneration. Since 1953, 249,000 hectares of clear-cut state forest have been replanted. Chinese foresters do not ignore the fact that clear felling is often indicative of primitive silviculture, and they have tried out in some forests various systems of progressive or selection felling. The results to be seen in the Tailin forests in Manchuria give no clear conclusions. For lack of extraction facilities, trees felled under a system of selection cutting may lie to rot on the spot.

In the present state of things in China, it is premature to expect the application of intensive silvicultural methods. The methods practiced in Manchuria suit the situation: clear-cutting, skidding by means of cables, winches, and tractors, and transport by forest railroads; then artificial reforestation after cutting, planting up of blanks, and the introduction of conifers into natural deciduous stands.

FIGURE 7. - The Experiment Station for Water Engineering Research at Tienshui. Installations for measuring the specific degradation of soils are seen.


Equipment is the forest's "infra-structure". When complete, forest utilization can be practiced in the best way both from the point of view of economics and silviculture. It facilitates protection, control and, in short, good forest management. By equipment is meant all that goes to make a forest workable, houses, roads, extraction lanes and paths, storage points, telephone lines, cables, machines and railroads.

The first equipment programs in China have chiefly been concerned with road building. At the end of 1966, 5,700 kilometers of new forest roads had been constructed.

This is entirely commendable. It may be mentioned that one of the most spectacular achievements of the National Forestry Fund in France - and doubtless one of the most profitable also - has been the construction of forest roads, chiefly on behalf of mountain communes. Obviously, Chinese foresters have identical problems and identical objectives in view. For instance, the Chief of the Forest Service at Harbin who controls the forests of Heilungkiang Province with an area of 46 million hectares - nearly equal to that of France - proposes to carry out an ambitious program of forest road construction on the 13 million hectares of state forest.

The first item on this program is a network of "permanent communications" i.e., access roads open to traffic all the year round. It is planned to build 2,000 kilometers of such roads in the six years from 1958 to 1962: 300 kilometers had already been built up to the end of 1956. The average Cost, comparable with that in France, is about 30,000 yuans, roughly $14,300, per kilometer in mountain country. The second part of the program envisages a network of 9,000 kilometers of secondary roads for temporary use, passable for trucks during fine weather but closed to traffic during the winter.


Chinese foresters began major planting programs only in 1953, but already they have attained considerable results. In the four years 1953 to 1956 inclusive, 10.3 million hectares were planted, according to the official statistics of the Forest Ministry. Of this total 6 percent represents planting by the state and 94 percent by co-operatives. One is immediately struck by the claim that by far the greater part of the work has been carried out by the peasant collectives.

The statistics further detail the types of plantations:

Thousand hectares

1. Afforestation for timber production, including the reconstitution of natural forests entirely destroyed


2. Afforestation for protective purposes, pertly associated with hydroelectric works. Afforestation of denuded uplands and sand-dunes. Shelterbelts


3. Afforestation for special produce, tanning barks, cork, essential oils, essences and varnishes


4. Fuelwood, bamboos, etc.




As already mentioned, by the end of 1956 the expectations of the First Five-Year Plan had already been exceeded by 71.7 percent. The Province of Kansu had replanted 345,000 hectares, three and a half times the area had envisaged in the plan. In Szechwan, 460,000 hectares been planted, including notable large-scale plantations of tuna (Aleurites fordii) which yields a most valuable varnish base. The three Manchurian provinces, competing with one another, planted 1,200,000 hectares altogether in four years.

FIGURE 8. - An earth dam against sedimentation, blocking a ravine. The deposits of soil are leveled out and cultivated.

One could go on quoting examples from the official statistics. All the provinces are embarked on these planting programs which grow each year. There are, however, only eight years of experiment and trial to call upon. The work is only just beginning and very many of the operators lack experience. Hence the quality of the plantations, as the responsible managers themselves admit, is not always of the best. While the successful plantings may reach 90 and even 100 percent in some regions (chiefly in the case of state plantations which are always more successful), the average is only 60 to 80 percent.

Tree planting techniques are improving each year - although they present a definite problem. Methods vary from region to region according to soil and climate. Practical planting manuals are being compiled by the Forest Ministry in Peking. They cover choice of species and planting methods, whether by direct seeding or transplants, and harvesting, selection and storage of seed, etc. In short, the problems are the same as in other countries.

The remarkable feature of the program in China is the intensity of effort put into it. One cannot but be amazed that in only four years afforestation has apparently raised by over one percent the proportion of forested area in a country covering 960 million hectares. And the pace is increasing.

Another remarkable feature is the economical way in which the work is carried out. One must distinguish here between state and co-operative undertakings.

State plantations

State efforts are directed towards the reforestation of degraded natural forests and the afforestation of bare hills and steppe lands unsuitable for crops or man's use.

FIGURE 9. - Small dry-stone dams in a gully.

It has already been pointed out that the State has the right to take over all uncultivated lands where reforestation operations are then carried out as a public service to protect the land against erosion. This situation is comparable to that in countries with a free economy where the State also assumes responsibility for protective reforestation of doubtful financial return.

The state plantations are undertaken by the reforestation sections of local services and increasingly by the state forest farms. These are state agencies specializing in forestry operations. It is to be noted that they were already in existence at the time of the Kuomintang, but they have since increased in number from 60 to more than 400 at the end of 1956 and they are still multiplying. Few of these farms are mechanized - only 5 in the Province of Kirin, for instance, like the one which the writer visited at Taoan and which is engaged in planting shelterbelts.

Planting by co-operatives

It has already been mentioned that the Chinese peasantry has afforested 9,700,000 hectares in four years. The reasons are worth looking at more closely.

Land collectivization was completed in 1957. All villages without exception are organized into co-operatives. In the spring of 1956 there were some 1,800,000 co-operatives but since then they have been concentrated and now number around 700,000. They group 120 million rural families and more than 500 million individuals. These co-operatives are all socialist - that is, the land is held in common and ground rents are abolished. Only labor earns the right to remuneration or wages. Since the Chinese countryside is overpopulated, farm workers rarely if ever find full employment, and it is thus fairly easy to organize groups within the co-operatives to concentrate on particular work - road-making, building, forestry work, etc. This specialization by the peasants in the co-operatives is more or less general, and still leaves a mass of agricultural workers. All receive comparable wages fixed according to "output norms" and chiefly paid in kind, i.e., in shares in farm products.

The co-operative system therefore makes automatically for division of labor and work must be found to be done. It is not therefore surprising that many cooperatives have, even without compulsion, turned to tree planting and even other forestry operations. To be sure, the Government has encouraged the process and employed more or less arbitrary means of persuasion. But in any case, the true interests of the rural populations generally coincide with what the authorities are seeking.

At the outset, the State could give the co-operatives assistance in kind, such as plants and fertilizers, and sometimes (but rarely) financial help to pay workers' wages. Now it only furnishes technical assistance and controls the execution of the work. The latter must conform to broad programs and plans - at least in certain types of operations like the establishment of shelterbelts. The costs home by the State are today restricted to a relatively insignificant outlay on administration and control. The co-operatives have their own technicians, appointing chiefs to direct their forestry sections. They grow their own tree-plants in communal or intercommunity nurseries.

The system is open to two criticisms:

(a) The peasants spontaneous efforts, even though inspired from above, do not always fit in with the needs and requirements of the overall plan. Operations are often haphazard and uncoordinated and the results are not from the technical standpoint always good.

(b) It may be reasonably anticipated that in the fairly near future the co-operatives will have completed the afforestation of all the communal lands suitable for planting and will automatically have to stop planting and confine work to maintenance alone.

At that stage, the full burden for afforestation work will fall on the State in the regions populated sparsely or not at all, just the crucial areas where erosion offers the worst threats. No doubt this increasingly required intervention by the State will help attain the Plan's objective of spreading afforestation evenly throughout the provinces. But the State will be faced with an ever increasing financial burden. Perhaps this will be proved false because it is not impossible - it is, indeed, quite likely - that agricultural settlement may accompany the afforestation of mountain and steppe land. An agro-silvo-pastoral economy with grazing and timber predominating could transform certain of the borderlands of the provinces of northeast, north, north west and western China, and even some of the south China uplands. One may see many a youthful co-operative contingent "swarming" victoriously into the virgin territories and founding fresh co-operatives which would then undertake, with state help, all the operations for developing the land - including tree planting.

Technical and financial help from the State will, however, always be needed at the outset, for the Chinese land worker is, above all, a market gardener and crop farmer. His education in stockfarming as in forestry has not yet begun.

A few remarks may be apposite on working conditions.

Wages and costs. Wages in cash are rarely given except for work for the State. Such wages are low, which makes the costs of afforestation cheap. For an ordinary plantation, without cultural treatment but taking into account the value of the nursery-raised plants, the cost is three or four times lower than, for example, in France.

As for planting by co-operatives, the outlay is, one might say, nominal although the Chinese land worker must, of course, live. But all members of the cooperative are jointly responsible, all take part in the work of producing - and in sharing - the products of the land, including ultimately the timber harvest. Notions about costing of work and returns are academic in the rural economy of a communist country. Afforestation is a national public service usefully undertaken with a peasant manpower always on the verge of unemployment.

Mechanization. It is questionable whether the mechanization of operations is desirable. Mechanization does, indeed, present two contradictory features. On the one hand, the enormous population justifies the use of manual labor and one can understand how great hydroelectric projects, like the Kwanting earthwork dam, have been accomplished with the help of the little baskets of hundreds of thousands of workers. On the other hand, however, the tasks facing China are immense. Even with such a surplus of manpower it can be easily realized that larger-scale works could be undertaken and certain objectives be more speedily attained with the help of machinery.

As regards agriculture, it is surprising to observe - from an aircraft, for instance - that the fragmentation of fields and their cultivation has remained juste as it was before collectivization took place. One would have thought that a profound change would have been caused in the structure of agriculture, but the same fields appear to be still tilled by hand or with rudimentary plows within their old and narrow boundaries. A hint of change can be detected with the appearance of several factories making cultivation machines. The Government has ordered and taken delivery of farm tractors, reserved for the present to the more fertile and productive areas. Mechanized state farms already exist or are coming into being.

As for forestry, felling, road construction and certain large-scab planting schemes now demand a minimum of machinery. The existence of a few mechanized forest farms in the Province of Kirim points to a trend towards mechanization, but on a moderate scale. Machines should be almost indispensable for establishing shelterbelts in connection with the development of immense steppe areas as in Manchuria. The uniformly flat country, the distances, and the shortness of the working season justify mechanization, at least for state-run operations.

To sum up then: large-scale afforestation in China is well under way, and has so far been helped by the abundance of manpower, by political and social organization, and by a climate of opinion very favorable to the cause.

Planting techniques


The Chinese have always had the reputation of being first-rate market gardeners. Forest nurseries are run according to the best horticultural methods. The plants are well tended, raised on a large scale, and a variety of species are grown. There is not only large-scale production of the commonly-used conifers but also a very complete range of broadleaved trees and often shrubs and bushes widely used in China for binding the oil: Eleagnus angustifolia, Evonymus alata, Eucommia ulmoides, various species of Rhus and a herbaceous plant, Coriaria sinica.

Two lines of research which are being pursued, are worth special mention:

(a) The raising of forage species from seed. Many kinds of grasses and leguminous plants, useful for binding degraded soils, at the same time can constitute a productive pasturage. The creation of pasture resources and the development of stock farming are thus allied to the anti-erosion projects.

A similar problem faces the countries bordering the Mediterranean. FAO's efforts in this matter are well known: the setting up, among the countries of North Africa, the Near East and Southern Europe, of working parties on pasture and fodder development and the creation of standard Mediterranean nurseries in which to study and compare ecotypes, i.e., local strains or varieties of grasses and plants best adapted to given soil and climate conditions. The research at present being carried out by the Chinese in several provinces could profit not only by exchange of information with other countries but of study material too.

(b) Genetics research and experiments to produce hybrid poplar clones, of the healthiest, most disease-resistant and fastest-growing specimens. These experiments are being carried out at the nursery of the Van-Shu-Shan Forest Research Station near Peking.

Experiments are being tried chiefly with poplars of the balsam group - very widespread in China - crossing them either with other species of this same group or with species of other groups, notably the black poplars. This is a subject of topical interest in many countries of Europe and there has been much scientific advance. It is a pleasant surprise to find China - no doubt on the advice of Soviet experts - deliberately following this line of research. We shall see later, when discussing shelterbelts, the particular interest which this subject may have.

Plantations for timber production

In Manchuria and in the provinces of Kansu and Szechwan, the writer visited plantations of the most varied compositions of coniferous and broadleaved species. The most spectacular results are claimed, however, to be obtained with fast-growing species of eucalypts and poplars.

There was no opportunity to visit any extensive eucalypt plantations, but many species have been tested and widely planted in several eastern, southern and southwestern provinces: Fukien, Kwangtung, Kwangsi, Yunnan and Szechwan. The species giving the best results are apparently E. robusta, E. globulus and E. tereticornis in the south and west, and E. camaldulensis and E. maculata (var. citriodora) in the south. These other species of Eucalyptus have shown hitherto unsuspected possibilities for planting in China's subtropical zones which are free of acute and prolonged cold spells.

There is no question about the importance of the poplar in the farms and woodlands, and hence in the economic life of China. The evolution of the poplar in the Far East has probably gone through the same stages as in Europe, leading to the remarkable development of a tree valuable for the many uses of its timber. China is rich in all kinds of poplars, especially of the aspen and balsam sections. Moreover, there is a great future for the utilization on an industrial scale of black poplars which are the most commonly used in Europe. In north China, an energetic drive is being conducted to plant more poplars, chiefly in rows along the main highways but also in compact blocks and on drained swampy bottoms in agricultural areas.

Around Peking, the aspect of the countryside is being radically changed by the avenues of white poplars (Populus alba and P. tomentosa) and black poplars planted along the highways. The rows, often double and triple, also act as windbreaks. Most of the trees are 5 to 6 years old at most. Growth is not rapid because of the dry climate and the wind, but it is regular and the trees are, on the whole, in fairly good condition. The timber which can reasonably be expected from them in about 10 or 15 years will make an appreciable contribution towards China's huge timber requirements.

Beside the poplar and eucalypt, the Chinese also use for this kind of planting robinia, sophora, elm (Ulmus pumila) and even willow (Salix matsudana) with its weeping variety Salix pendula. These four species, together with poplars, are planted on a large scale in all towns in north China. On the whole, the road border plantings undertaker by the municipal authorities in big towns are highly successful. The avenues planted in the city of Peking especially are impeccable.

The Chinese railways are also systematically planting rows of trees on the 50-meter-wide strips on either side of the track over which the railway company has ownership rights. Depending on soil or climate the railway company is planting eucalypts, poplars, robinia, elms, and many other kinds of broadleaved or coniferous species in rows in uniform strips 5 to 15 meters wide.

These plantations along railways, however, cannot add up in total to any large area: two 10-meter strips on either side of the track actually correspond to only 2 hectares of plantation per kilometer of line, i.e., for 20,000 to 32,000 kilometers of railway the maximum afforestation potential would be 64,000 hectares.

FIGURE 10. - Map to indicate the annual rainfall in China.

There are, however, more important objections. These tree-belts obstruct the view if they are continuous. They constitute a fire hazard in arid regions where coal-burning locomotives are used. They interfere with neighboring crops by casting shade or through root competition and deprive the co-operatives of land well placed and often of excellent quality. Hence it might perhaps be better for the railway company to abandon tree-planting and allow the cooperatives to use the land alongside the tracks. In places, of course, the plantations are justified in that they protect the line against wind and snow, but this is not generally the case. One may perhaps say that while plantations of this kind should not be wholly excluded, it seems excessive to make them a general practice.

Planting for protective purposes

Examining a rainfall map of China, one sees that the critical zone for erosion lies between the isohyets of 100 and 500 millimeters. The enormous tracts of land in north and northwest China where annual rainfall is below 100 millimeters are, of course, also subject to erosion, but this is mostly desert country where large-scale intervention could not be feasible.

But the 100- to 500-millimeter zone, including the upper basin and loop of the Yellow river and most of the vast steppes of Mongolia and Manchuria, afford enormous opportunities for protective plantations, differing in character according to whether they are to counter wind erosion on the plains or rain erosion on the uplands.

FIGURE 11. - The interior of a research laboratory for the study of loess erosion.

In the case of wind erosion, protection can be achieved by forestry operations alone without engineering works, involving fixation of sand-dunes and planting of shelterbelts. Sand-dune fixation is effected by techniques similar to those practiced in many countries of the old and the new world and do not call for any special comment.

Shelterbelts. With shelterbelts the scale of afforestation operations changes and the problem lies with thousands of square kilometers of steppes and enormous desolate flat areas scoured by pitiless winds. Here the Chinese are working on a grandiose project on the Russian model, plans for the "transformation of Nature" and for an "unbroken green belt" over the border lands on the northeast and north: Manchuria, Chahar, Jehol, Hopeh, Ordos, Shensi, Kansu, etc.

The task which China has set herself is to effect changes of climate or, more precisely, to foster microclimates favorable to the improvement or introduction of crops. The task is formidable, this afforestation of poor land, in an arid climate, in conditions little favorable to forest growth. Only the future will reveal if the scheme is overambitious.

The object is to break the violence of the winds by interposing tree-belts sufficiently wide, dense and continuous; to restore basic fertility to the land and then to cultivate that land with the help of fertilizers, using dry-farming methods applied by specially taught farmers supplied with the necessary machines.

First, there is a main network of shelterbelts consisting of windbreaks stretching roughly at right angles to the direction of the prevailing winds, 60 meters wide and spaced ten kilometers one from another. These are cut obliquely by 30-meter-wide bands, also spaced out at 10-kilometer intervals, so making a series of diamond-shaped patterns about 100 square kilometers in area. Inside this main pattern is a second network of shelterbelts, consisting of 20- to 26-meter-wide belts crossing each other so as to hedge diamond-shaped fields either of 400 x 600 meters (24 hectares), 400 x 1,200 (48 hectares) or 800 x 1,200 (96 hectares). On bare and uninhabited steppes, the pattern of screens must be closer, for the sterility of the soil itself is the result of the violence of the winds which are stronger here than elsewhere; the shelterbelts will hedge fields of 20 to 24 hectares at the most. On plains where cultivation was formerly practiced and which are sparsely inhabited, and on relatively rich soils, the shelterbelts will be more widely spaced and the cultivated areas larger.

One can follow, by car or by train, the 60-meter belts for dozens and dozens of kilometers In the Province of Kirin alone, the program, already largely completed, is for the installation in 17 districts of 21- to 50-meter bands, spaced at 10 kilometers from each other and stretching for an average east-west distance of 330 kilometers.

The network planned for this region will finally cover 340 kilometers from north to south, taking in part of the provinces of Heilungkiang in the north, Kirin in the middle and Liaoning in the south. Thus the shelterbelts will cover more than 110,000 square kilometers of steppe-land, the inland "dry sea" as the peasants call it. Of these 11 million hectares, the shelterbelts will occupy from 6 to 10 percent of the area, depending on the density of the network and the width of the screens.

Planting itself is usually preceded by many types of soil preparation. In the Taonin district, Kirin province, the first year of sod preparation, after marking out, takes the form of plowing to a depth of 30 centimeters with a multiple-share plow, followed by harrowing to break up and flatten out turves, followed by three mowings, the grass being turned in as green manure.

In the second year, the shelterbelts are planted at a density of 8,800 plants to the hectare, a spacing of 0.75 x 1.6 meters. Many broadleaved species are used, particularly Ulmus pumila, but the chief is the hardy and common poplar called Populus simonii or its broader-leaved variety P. ussuriensis.

Contrary to practice in many European countries, cuttings are not used. The poplar seed is harvested and sown in nurseries, and the plants grow in a year to a length of 60 centimeters of which 20 centimeters is root. The one-year-old plants are set out in the strips which form the shelterbelts.

The very hardy P. simonii seems to have become remarkably acclimatized on the steppes. It might, however, have been better to develop by hybridization one or more clones derived from this species but with, at the same time, a more valuable form, more vigorous growth and finer timber than the native species. There is room for much research into problems of this kind and Chinese foresters are not unaware of this. It has already been mentioned that such research is being pursued at the Forest Research Institute at Peking.

It is unlikely that the shelterbelt project will be a complete success. One must inevitably have hesitations over the possibilities of successful afforestation under such severe conditions as those prevailing on the steppes in the Taonin and Paichantso regions, where rainfall is only 200 to 300 millimeters, the temperature range is 72° and even more, and the growing season is confined to 160 or 170 days per year.

Nevertheless, in some areas success would appear certain, for instance in the Fuyu district which lies further east and enjoys a milder climate. The look of the oldest shelterbelts here - some are 15 or 20 years old - confirm this. Elsewhere, experiments must go on and final judgment be awaited.

Protection of uplands

In checking runoff and controlling erosion on slopes, forestry operations must usually be accompanied by engineering works. This must particularly be so in the loess regions of China whose problems dwarf all others. Since 1949 the Government has expended much thought, time and money on this serious question, the responsibility for which has been entrusted to the Academy of Sciences. Under the general supervision of this learned body, plans are being elaborated for investigating the problems involved and determining the best methods of stabilizing the lands in question. This requires the collaboration of specialists in many scientific fields: geologists, geographers and pedologists, botanists, hydrologists, agronomists, foresters and economists. Survey and research teams work in the field, and the Academy analyzes their findings. The unanimous conclusion of the experts is that "it will be possible to defeat erosion only by combined water engineering and afforestation operations, side by side with improved agricultural practices".

Agricultural measures

Steps have been taken to effect this co-ordination in practice. Upon gentle slopes and shelves, the experts are agreed upon encouraging the addition of field contouring to strip cropping, alternating "close" or thickly-sown crops like wheat with open, thinly-sown crops like maize. Alternate wheat and grass crops are also favored, the latter being given preference the steeper the overall slope.

Where the slope exceeds 6 to 8 percent it is no longer possible to cultivate loess in simple "beds". Bench terracing must be employed, a practice that is almost as old as agriculture itself. The resulting impression is of a succession of steplike platforms, seemingly piled one above another. One may see up to 20 or 30 unbroken steps from top to bottom of a slope.

The outer bank of the benchlike field strip is built up over the years until the platform reaches the horizontal level of a terrace. The wall itself is formed not only by successive banking but also by cutting away the earth at its outer base. Successive tillages with pick and plow cause earth-to move down the slope but this is not carried up again by the Chinese farmers, as the mountain cultivators have done for centuries in many European countries and still do in some parts. When a whole slope has been terraced into horizontal platforms the land can not only be irrigated but even be submerged at certain times of the year for growing rice. This is usually restricted to the sides of combes or canyons. Here, too, the retaining walls are usually of earth but are occasionally of rock with a concave shape making a series of little curved dams dividing off so many arduously leveled field strips.

This terrace construction belongs to the realm of agricultural engineering.

The further south one travels, the more one finds these horizontally levelled terraces that can be irrigated. This principle is the opposite of that adopted, for instance, in North Africa where the terraces are built with the outer edge of the platform somewhat higher than the inner edge so as to impound and conserve rainfall but there is a slight longitudinal slope (about 6 in 1,000) to channel off excess rainfall.

FIGURE 12. - Diagram to demonstrate Chinese methods of terracing.


(1) Profile 1.

a...b Grassed or wooded slope

(2) Profile 2

b...c Cultivated platform

It is indeed common that the walls of terraces in China are liable to fail and even collapse under intensity of rainfall. It would appear advisable to replace steep supporting walls by eloping banks as far as the topography will permit. These banks could be stabilized with adaptable plantings of grass and treated either as natural grassland or as leys. On steep slopes where rainfall is plentiful and heavy, these intermediate sloping banks below the bench or platform could be planted with trees. This would lead to the application of a system allied to type of terracing used in Algeria, by substituting profile 2 for profile 1. The cant could be very slight, even nonexistent for irrigated crops.

In either system, the building of the down-slope bank offers no difficulty.

It would be fairly simple to establish a system of terraces of the type developed in Algeria on slopes so far cultivated without vertical walls, or at least with very low ones. In the case of high terraces one above another, the amount of earth to be shifted would be greater. The resultant reduction in the cultivable platform area would be partly compensated by the slopes planted with trees or put under grass. The old Chinese terracing system be maintained with constant care, but the risks could be reduced by laying aside, at intervals on the hillsides where the existing terraces were to be retained, continuous contour strips covered with trees or grass which would constitute bands strongly resistant to erosion.

Protective measures are also needed in ravines and small torrential streams to counter the undermining of their banks and beds by water and reduce the amount of solid matter carried off. For this purpose the Chinese have a whole arsenal of engineering structures to call upon: dams and cutoffs of all kinds and size, revetments, groins and other bank-protection devices, channels, culverts, drop-inlets, etc.

Structures of this kind have been already extensively built in gullies over large areas. Nevertheless, it would appear that they are not effective enough. They do cause an improvement in the water-flow but are unable to halt completely the shifting and transport of solid matter in suspension. In order to effect a readily appreciable reduction in the amount of solids carried by torrents in the loess region, larger scale works would have to be undertaken. Large earthwork dams should be erected so that most of the boulders, gravel, and silt carried by run-off water would be deposited by decantation immediately downstream of the constructions. The height of these check dams must depend upon the cross-section and longitudinal section of the gully concerned. They should be so designed that their height can be progressively raised up to the point where the level of the basin reaches the level of the highest banks. The thickness of the structures will depend upon the volume of water and the speed of the current. It is necessary for the earth walls to have inclined receding slopes both upstream and downstream, for means to be provided for draining off the water from the sediment discharged behind the dam face and for channeling off flood waters above the reservoir space. Check dams in every ravine, every torrent and every stream flowing into the Yellow river really afford the only means of making any considerable reduction in the solid matter brought down from the hills. Later on, when afforestation begins to halt erosion in the catchment areas, it will no doubt be possible to put the sediments from the structures under crops.

The writer himself found only one structure of this type, a modest one of only 60 to 80 cubic meters, in the Tienshni mountains in Kansu province, on a torrent where the specific degradation is something like 7,000 tons per square kilometer per year, representing an exceptional content of solid matter. It is to be hoped that this method of combating erosion will become general, with the building of both large and small dams from 100 up to 10,000 cubic meters and more.

Be this as it may, the Chinese water engineers have not been inactive. 14 million hectares have been treated under the First Five-Year Plan, and results for the country as a whole are satisfactory. They do not, however, cover more than a tenth part of the overall program. Engineering projects should therefore be intensified and, above all, be concentrated on two objectives:

1. building terraces of the Algerian type on all slopes where the local-type terraces are subject to erosion;

2. wholesale construction of check dams in torrents and streams.

Forestry operations

The question was often posed whether it would be better to seek to develop grasslands or forests. Since China is short of livestock, it would seem that priority should go to stock farming: hence grassland should be preferred. But some lands, especially broken steep slopes, are extremely unpromising; their ecological conditions may be such that the only use to be gained from them is through establishing trees - as beneficial to the rural economy in general as to the fight against erosion.

This being so, afforestation should as far as possible be carried out with species that have both a reasonable economic value and sufficient ability to bind the soil. Robinia (Pseudoacacia) generally fulfils this twofold demand and hence is widely used. A number of cooperatives in the Tienshni region have made completely successful plantings of robinia over extensive areas, in hollows and on torrent banks and on all steep slopes. Planting has been done on horizontal terraces, continuous or discontinuous, or in hollows cut in contoured series in the loess on the slopes. The rim of the hollow is banked up so as to impound and conserve rain-water to soak slowly into the subsoil.

The work carried out on the Five Springs mountain, as it is called, near Lanchow, is worth special mention. This constitutes an experimental area, consisting of a long slope with a southern aspect, with something like 500 meters difference in elevation. Here the forest service is undertaking large-scale terracing operations combined with seeding to grass and tree-planting. Preliminary soil preparation is complete, the mountain now being scored from top to bottom with a succession of benches, terraces, diversion ditches, contour trenches, deep circular pits, etc.

Next year the biological stage of the operation will follow. This will take the form of covering the upper slopes with hardy grasses and legumes, followed by the planting, from top to bottom of the slope, of various forest species: pines and elms at higher altitudes; robinias, willows, cypresses and thujas at medium altitudes; and on the lower slopes poplars (Populus alba, P. davidiana and P. nigra var. pyramidalis), Tamarix juniperia, Sophora japanica, and Ailanthus altissima.

The more friable soil will then be hound by shrubs like Eleagnus angustifolia, Lespedoza bicolor, Syringa oblata, Coroyana microphylla.

The many locations visited by the writer and his colleagues clearly demonstrated the difficulties attending much of this afforestation work which is mostly undertaken on dry uplands subject to strong winds. The chance visitor cannot judge what the results will be of work which is still in its early stages. There will certainly be failures but experience will enable techniques to be improved, and reasonable to be placed on undertakings. With perseverance, the success deserved will be achieved.

Training and research

Forestry progress in China, whether concerned with the development of natural forests, with the protection of land against erosion or with afforestation, has to surmount many difficulties. Finance presents no problem nor does manpower. The chief obstacle at the moment is a shortage of engineers and technicians, i.e., of managerial and executive staff able to plan and carry out operations efficiently. The shortage is only relative, however, and is strongly felt at present because the program is so vast. The number and quality of trained specialists is increasing yearly.


There are at present three specialist forestry schools: the forestry institutes of Harbin, Peking and Nanking which each cater for from 1,000 to 1,500 students, and which will eventually each be able to accommodate 4,000 to 5,000 students. The number of college students undergoing forestry training is increasing rapidly. According to official statistics, university-level forestry students increased in numbers around six-fold from 1949/50 to 1955/56, from 600 to 4,000. At the opening of the 1957/58 college year, the number of students was expected to exceed 8,000. Ultimately the number should become 12,000 or 15,000. Moreover, the 11 agricultural institutes in the big cities have their own forestry departments, each accommodating 400 to 500 students, making a total of 4,000 to 5,000 students. These numbers could well be doubled or even trebled in a short time.

In short, in a few years' time - assuming that there are facilities for enrolment - there should be at least 20,000 students reading forestry sciences in the whole of China. Starting from this year, the course will take five years. Women students are enrolled and make up about 20 percent of the student body. Owing to shortage of staff, the examinations am not very severe at present and the percentage of graduations each year is 97 to 98 percent.

While training for the higher echelons of the future thus seems assured, this is apparently not 80 as regards the technical and professional training of subordinate staff by the secondary schools under provincial administration. Young people having the basic educational qualifications for enrolment are few and selection is more difficult.

In a technical forestry school like that at Tailin in Manchuria, the object of training is to provide the subordinate staff to plan and supervise the carrying out of such forestry tasks as felling, extraction and transport of timber, and sawmilling, etc. The length of courses varies according to the educational standards of the trainees: on an average it is six to 18 months.

Since the start of the First Five-Year Plan, 14,000 students have obtained the engineer's diploma of the advanced forestry training course or the technical and professional training certificate. All are employed in the central forest service, the Ministry of Forests, the Ministry of Forest Industries, or in the provincial forest services.

The writer heard many complaints about the standard of qualifications of both professional foresters and subordinates. But an adequate and efficient corps of trained personnel is not to be created in a day in a country where, less than a decade ago, there was only a skeleton forestry administration with absolutely no powers of action. Nor can traditions be built up overnight. The training staffs themselves are not as yet completely equal to their jobs, and perhaps professors have yet to learn to teach.

Despite all this, however, one cannot fail to admire the effort which China is putting into the professional and technical training of specialists.


The highest authority in the matter of forest research, under the control of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, is the Institute of Forest and Soil Research at Shenyang. There are two other bodies of similar eminence: the Peking Scientific Bureau for Forest Research and the Canton Scientific Bureau for Forest Research applied to tropical forests. At the provincial level there are 25 scientific and technical research stations.

FIGURE 13. - Earth dikes as protection against floods. The embankments are planted with willow cuttings to hold them firm.

FIGURE 14. - General view of erosion in the loess in the great loop of the Yellow river.

In the first three research institutes there are several hundred instructors, research workers and assistants studying the various scientific branches of forestry, including forest products research. Soil research is especially advanced. In the provincial stations, research is directed towards practical ends and to problems of local concern.

In regard to erosion control, the building of structures lies within the competence of the Water Engineering Service. In this connection, there is an engineering research institute at Peking and 14 provincial stations for water engineering research. These stations contribute with the forest experiment stations to research on soil conservation.

In the Province of Kansu, the Tienshui Research Station or Experimental Center for Soil Conservation has a large research area on the slopes of the Wei-Ho valley, where 200 engineers and workers are assigned.

It may be mildly surprising to note the number and diversity of all these research stations, as well as the size of the research staffs. There seens to be a certain disproportion between the number of active foresters directing operations in the field and the number of research workers giving their time to scientific and laboratory studies.' This generosity in the matter of research services appears, however, to be a contemporary trend which can be observed in very many countries.

Political and administrative organization

In communist countries the executive and administrative organs of government are usually prolific, specialized, and bureaucratic. Corresponding, for instance, to the single Ministry of Agriculture in France, with its dependent Department of Waters and Forests, China has seven Ministries: for agriculture, state farms and land reclamation, food, food industries, river and sea fisheries, forests, and forest industries. Furthermore, numerous matters relating to soil conservation come within the province of the Ministry for Water Conservation.

Beyond that, there are several commissions which make high-level policy decisions on matters concerning more than one Ministry. Such are the Planning Commission, the Technology Commission and the Commission for the National Economy.

In forestry matters, the two vital bodies are the Ministry of Forests which is responsible for natural forests and afforestation and the Ministry of Forest Industries which is responsible for the exploitation of natural forests and the management and control of forest industries.

The Chinese Academy of Sciences presides, on the national level, over the activities of a mixed body of experts who form the National Committee for the Consolidation of Lands, a literal rendering of a title which in international nomenclature would be Soil-Conservation Committee. This committee is formed of representatives from the four interested Ministries - of forests, agriculture, farms and land reclamation, and water conservation. It operates in liaison with the provincial committees which are made up on the same principles.

This somewhat weighty organizational structure is the necessary result of many administrative services dealing with the same matter. The Committee fulfills a coordinating function of primary importance and should lead to the final goal of a balanced agro-silvo-pastoral economy.

The system starts off with a strong centralization. For instance, the Ministry of Forests in Peking comprises a chief minister, deputy ministers and numerous divisions and services. Direct liaison is maintained with the 18 old provinces, the three new Manchurian provinces and the three autonomous regions of Inner Mongolia, Sinkiang and Tibet.

The forestry authority in each of these provinces is itself organized line a ministry with the same structure. This is to be expected since most of the provinces have such considerable areas of natural forest and such heavy planting programs that they are faced with tasks hardly less formidable than those of separate countries of similar land area.

At the provincial headquarters, the forest chief is helped by a secretariat and several divisions and services: divisions for personnel, forest management, afforestation and works, and research planning services.

Territorially, the unit area for forest administration usually coincides with the civil administrative unit - the district. Quite often, however, there are intermediate administrative levels (circles) between the district forest authority and the provincial headquarters.

At the district level there are separate forest management and afforestation sections, each in direct contact with the corresponding headquarters divisions on technical matters, and only administratively under the control of the district forest chief.

Where forestry operations are being very actively advanced, the afforestation sections are helped by the state forest farms. The mechanized farms, however, operate independently and have no contact with the local afforestation sections, being directly dependent upon the provincial headquarters. Similarly some important forestry projects considered as pilot-centers - Tailin for example - are outside the local organization, being also directly responsible to the provincial headquarters.

In areas where combined works for soil conservation are being carried out, co-ordination of operations at the district level is ensured by a mixed agriculture, forest and water engineering office run by a single head who is responsible to the provincial committee for soil conservation.

Each year, as new trained personnel come into service, more forest management or afforestation sections and new forest farms are established - the latter to be usually mechanized.

The organization is thus complicated but is still fluid. The services are constantly being changed. There might, it seems, be simplification by the fusion of local services, leading to better use of, and better output from, the engineers and technicians at present in service with the Ministry of Forests alone. However, while it is easy to criticize details, it is above all the results which one should look at. There is indeed no doubt about the progress achieved in a decade.


The Government of China has, then, embarked on a vast program of forestry operations. In less than four years the forestry goals of the First Five-Year Plan have been attained and exceeded.

The case is different with agriculture. Two years of disasters, one year of poor harvest, and one year only of good harvest - these have set back the hoped for increase in production. The 1957 harvests were good enough to restore a situation which, if not entirely compromised, was at best unsatisfactory. The population is not therefore threatened with famine. Grain production (including rice) has increased from an average of 140 to 190 million tons since the war ended. But public demand for all kinds of goods and commodities increases yearly: not merely for improved quality and quantity but for a greater variety of consumer goods. The Chinese authorities are therefore apparently up against greater difficulties, or at any rate have more pressing worries, in other sectors of the rural economy than in the case of forestry.

The continuance of the forestry program does not appear to face any insurmountable difficulties.

Wage increases averaging some 14 percent in industry have led to similar increases in agriculture. But it has already been seen that the problem of wages does not arise where co-operative activities are concerned - and these account for 90 percent of all the forestry operations carried out. Finance is therefore no obstacle in the execution of forestry schemes.

Population pressure is considerable. The present increase in the labor strength amounts to about 2 million men per year. This will grow every year. In 1957, the population of China already exceeded 600 million, and the rate of increase of births over deaths is 2.1 percent per year. Every year there are 12 million more Chinese babies.

FIGURE 15. - The deep gullies scored in the loess by erosion.

This situation affords another justification for embarking on further large-scale forestry operations.

Neither wage increases nor manpower present difficulties and the financing of programs in a controlled economy like that of China offers negligible difficulties. China, from being a backward state, is now fully geared for economic progress. Chinese economists estimate that during the period of the First Five-Year Plan the national revenue has increased by 60 percent. They think that the increase would have been greater but for the comparative failure of agricultural production.

The economists on the Planning Commission are therefore agreed that an appreciable increase in agriculture and forestry investments is required. These sectors have always got less substantial funds than industrial investments. In the Second Five-Year Plan now under discussion, it is proposed to increase agriculture and forestry investments from 8 percent to at least 12 percent. Final figures have not yet been fixed and it is possible that the increase will be even greater.

Agriculture investments will chiefly be in water engineering works, land clearance, and the development of uncultivated steppe and mountain lands, for the Government's main task is to prepare for the increase in the rural population which is not yet taken care of in the same degree as the development of the industrial and urban population. Great efforts will also be made to increase the yield from agricultural land by more widespread use of chemical fertilizers. The financing of this is reckoned as industrial investment.

Purely forestry investments are, of course, closely tied up with investment in agriculture. The actual figures adopted for the Second Five-Year Plan are not yet known, but it is thought that the latter plan will adhere to the provisions of the Twelve-Year Plan which included the afforestation of 92 million hectares in the 12 years.

It is claimed that 10.3 million hectares have been planted in four years. But the Twelve-Year Plan, if fully implemented, would call for an afforestation program at the rate of 10 million hectares per year, that is, four times as fast. This would be perhaps somewhat difficult to achieve.

The afforestation program has a bearing on three interrelated fields:

1. First, though least in importance, it has a bearing on tourism and urban improvement. Tree-lined avenues, parks and green spaces are needed to beautify cities and towns and attract tourists, and they are desirable in themselves in the interests of hygiene and health. None of these considerations has been overlooked.

2. Relieving the enormous timber deficit in China by the creation of productive forests is the urgent objective of the program. The timber shortage shackles the desired expansion of several industries, particularly the building industry, and hence retards general economic development. Shortages of iron, steel and other building and construction materials had been largely overcome by 1957. Only timber was in short supply. This is a serious matter, for an equilibrium in material supplies is infinitely more necessary than in funds in an economy like that of China.

3. The long-term bearing of the program is afforestation for soil conservation in the interest of the whole economy of the country. The tasks to be performed arc many and widely dispersed. There is the fight against the Yellow river and its floods and the silting-up of the huge hydroelectric reservoirs (especially Sanmen), countering the floods on the Blue and the Yungting Ho rivers; the development of the steppes by the establishment of shelterbelts and other means; the improvement of water supplies. The future of agriculture and of hydroelectric output largely depends upon the successful afforestation and control of watersheds and catchment basins.

In this enormous country with all its millions of inhabitants spectacular changes are occurring everywhere. There is a prodigious development in towns and cities, in building and all pursuits. There is a considerable extension and gradual improvement of communications, roads and railways. There is a sustained industrial evolution, primarily in heavy industry but also, though less spectacularly, in light industry.

The Professor of Comparative Agriculture at the French Institut national agronomique, has written a most interesting book on the agricultural and social evolution of the country. He calls it Revolution in the Chinese Countryside. It is equally just to speak of a "forestry revolution", for it is doubtful whether there is, anywhere, another country pursuing a policy of forest restoration so broad, ordered and planned.

Starting practically from nothing, the Chinese foresters have, in a few short years, achieved some astonishing results. The uninitiated traveller may hardly notice them; it will be 30 to 40 years before they forcibly impinge on his impressions.

The development of industry is on the way to transforming this backward agricultural country into a progressive industrial nation - to use a phrase which the Chinese employ themselves. But the industrial evolution is to be founded on the development and prosperity of the country's agriculture and forests.

(Translated from an original French text)

Previous Page Top of Page Next Page