Local govt in NW China arranges water, protective measures for tree farm amid controversy
Published: Apr 01, 2023 01:18 AM
Sun Guoyou is instructing workers on how to plant sand willows in Lingwu, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region on March 31, 2023. Photo: VCG

Sun Guoyou is instructing workers on how to plant sand willows in Lingwu, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region on March 31, 2023. Photo: VCG

The government in Lingwu, Northwest China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, announced on Friday that it had provided water and implemented protective measures for the young trees in a local tree farm, bringing a temporary resolution to a dispute that had been circulating on Chinese social media platforms for several days after a video of the farm's owner kneeling on the land, pleading for water, went viral earlier this week.

According to the Lingwu government, the authorities in Majiatan town, where the tree farm is situated, have arranged for water carts to irrigate the 890 Euonymus maackii trees recently planted by the owner, Sun Guoyou. In addition, local authorities have taken protective measures to prevent any of the over 1,000 of the same trees that have not been planted from dying before the dispute is resolved.

The government also stated that it had arranged for professionals to protect some willow trees that Sun had not planted, and committed to closely monitoring the issue to prevent any secondary issues, such as pollution.

The dispute over the water source between the owner and a local mine under the Ningxia Coal Industry Co., Ltd. caught the public's attention on March 27 when a viral video clip showed Sun kneeling on the land crying for water for his "10,000 mu (666.7 hectares)" of trees, after the mine failed to supply water to his farm that day as promised.

According to media reports, the dispute has lasted for more than a decade.

Sun, born in 1959 in Southwest China's Sichuan Province, contracted a road building project in Majiatan, Lingwu, in 2003. During its construction, he discovered an underground water source in a local desert and then contracted 10,000 mu of desert in Majiatan to plant trees. The contract period is 50 years, according to media reports.

Sun told media that the mine, built in 2008, damaged the local water source, causing the trees to die.

The two sides reached an agreement in 2011 stating that after the mine completed the construction of a water treatment station, it would bear responsibility for providing water for the trees and for the farm's daily living necessities during the period of Sun's contract, media said, citing the agreement provided by Sun.

Despite the agreement, the farm's water supply problem has still not been effectively solved, Sun told media.

Amidst a recent social media backlash, the Lingwu water company informed the media that the mine's wastewater had met national standards after undergoing treatment. However, the water still had a high salt content, making it unsuitable for use on trees.

According to media reports, Sun and the mine are also embroiled in a land ownership dispute. In December 2012, the Ningxia forestry resource judicial expertise center evaluated the two sides' lands and decided that the mine illegally occupied 1,817 mu of Sun's property. The local court then judged that the mine had to pay Sun more than 7 million yuan ($1.02 million) in compensation for the losses caused by the illegal encroachment.

The video of Sun, with his darkened skin and dirty appearance from head to toe, crying for water touched many Chinese netizens. Following media reports of Sun spending 20 years and allegedly all of his wealth on planting trees made some netizens even more appreciative of his efforts over past decades to help combat desertification, dubbing him "the desertification combat hero."

However, Sun has also encountered doubts over his account. Some netizens judged from the video that the trees behind Sun is a kind of arbor, which needs a large amount of water to grow and is not suitable for fighting desertification, as it is difficult for them to grow in the desert and they would probably damage underground water sources and the desert ecology.

In response, Sun told media that anyone with doubts can invite experts to examine his farm. He said that if the trees he plants are not suitable, he would be willing to accept the experts' advice and plant other trees.

Sun also denied that he was planting trees for money, saying his aim was to prevent wind and fix sand out of social public welfare considerations.

According to media reports, Sun is also allegedly running a cattle farm in Lingwu and selling products on social media platforms to make money. The account run by Sun and his daughter on Douyin, a Chinese version of TikTok, had attracted nearly 2.3 million followers as of Friday.

He is currently and formerly connected to a total of six companies, according to Chinese company information search platform Tianyancha.

Among the six companies, an ecology construction company whose business scope covered fighting desertification was shut down in April 2018.

Global Times