Nanjing residents nostalgic for pre-Communist days as government uproots trees

March 13, 2011Jing Gao3 Comments, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Nanjing Municipal Government is unleashing an offensive to the city’s thousands of 70-year-old trees for subway construction. The government promised to transplant them to somewhere else. However, furious citizens distrust the government. They get up a petition and call for a protest online. The protest effort has been obstructed by China’s largest social networking site Renren.com.

Most visitors to Nanjing are impressed by Nanjing’s tree-lined boulevards. The city’s wutong trees(梧桐树), or Chinese parasol trees, that line the roads and take over the pavements lend the urban area a glorious leafy complexion. Residents take pride and comfort in the fact that despite the city’s scorching summer sun, bicyclists are pedestrians can walk on the city’s many streets in pleasant shade. Such a privilege is shared in few other major cities of the country.

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Thanks to wutong trees that line the streets, even during summer, Nanjingers are free from the scorching sun.

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“Green tunnel”

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“Green tunnel”

Therefore, when people in Nanjing found that trees were victimized on a large scale, they also showed indignation that is rarely seen in any other part of the country. Since March 9, the city government has begun uprooting wutong trees, whose boughs had already been chopped off beforehand. Citizens, on seeing big trees beheaded and eradicated, could no longer remain silent.

Nanjingers accuse the government of lying that trees can be planted somewhere else after being pulled out of the ground. They remembered the same rhetoric employed a decade ago by then mayor Wang Wulong, who was given the epithet “Tree-felling Mayor”, to put concerned people at ease. However, according to one microblog post, workers wrapped tree trunks in plastic and pretended to handle it nicely. After trees were trucked to the city’s suburbs, they dumped them altogether. Even among trees that were indeed replanted, only 50 percent managed to survive.

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A few days before mass destruction done to Nanjing's wutong trees.

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The scene is especially disheartening to older generations. In 2000 when three thousand trees were felled, old people surrounded those timberjacks and questioned them with tears in their eyes, “Why do you fell it?” These trees, which have been a part of their childhood memories, were intact even during Nanjing Massacre when Japanese invaders committed bloodshed. But they fell down right in front of their eyes before the end of their lives. Many young people, by contrast, have a “vested interest” in protecting trees: Without these “green tunnels,” how can we bear cycling to work during the summer?

On the same day the massive destruction began, Nanjingers launched a tree-protection campaign in Sina’s microblog. Within less than five days, over 9,000 people joined the campaign and signed the online petition. Almost all commenters denounced the incumbent mayor Ji Jianye, believed to be the mastermind of the offensive, uploaded pictures of the beheaded trees, and told their love for the trees and the city. Calls for protest was also widely spread around in renren.com, a facebook copycat, before moderators deleted all of them.

Down the memory lane, some evoked yearning of the previous regime. Most of Nanjing’s towering wutong trees and cedars that line the city’s streets today have grown from seedlings sowed by Kuomintang, or the Nationalist Party, in 1920s and 1930s when it was in power and chose Nanjing as the nation’s capital city. Dr. Sun Yat-sen, founding father of Nationalist Party and the Republic of China, a figure widely revered in China even to this day, was a major advocate of afforestation in his life, because he considered the basic way to avoid flood and drought, and thereby improve people’s livelihoods, is to plant trees and form forests. He died on March 12, 1927. To commemorate his passing and promote his ideal, then central government of the Republic of China established March 12 as the nation’s Arbor Day, or Tree Planting Day. The Communist Party has continued this policy.

Now the trees at stake around Arbor Day renewed their nostalgia for the past and reignited their anger with the present. Much profanity-laced vitriol was thrown at the incumbent mayor Ji Jianye.

止语人生: They felled (trees) year after year. Never seen they plant many. Nationalists planted them. Communists felled them. What kind of era is that!

valleyyao: “Ancestors plant trees, offspring enjoy the shade.” (Chinese proverb) Now it turns out that Chiang Kai-shek (then Nationalist Party paramount leader) plant threes, only to be felled by Communists.

丘山果冻: The despicable government. They ruined all of this great heritage.

子奎: I absolutely object to it! What’s wrong with Chinese people? Do they have to fell trees? Back then when the People’s Liberation Army (Chinese Communist military force) entered Beijing, they ruined so many historical relics in the name of widening streets. If they were ill-educated, fine. They are still ill-educated now? What kind of people are ruling?!

LaDolceVivita: It really pisses people off! Road construction every day, tree felling every day. What’s left of welfare that was handed down by the Republic of China? Nanjingers have attachment to wutong trees. It’s been a hundred years since these towering trees took root and rested on the ground. They’ve been sheltering Nanjing’s citizens from countless storms and torrid summer days. Why fell it at will? Can the government do any good? What glamor does the city of Nanjing have without wutong trees? What is special about it to be seen?

小胖猫关耳: Esteemed mayor, Nanjing to you is but one stop on your political career path. However, to us, it is our hometown. For these trees that have accompanied our growth since our childhood, their chance of survival after transplantation will not be that high.

爱玩车轱辘的妙妙: I said this a long while ago, mayors treat the city as a tool of promoting themselves. Each one of them. They dig roads, fell trees, make media beat the drum, and then leave. But they leave Nanjingers losing memories of their hometowns little by little. Mayor Ji, can you see it? Are you still immersed in the satisfaction brought by a school children’s letter praising your giving her a place to live? Are you fooling all people in Nanjing as if they were nitwits?

Wang Wulong, the previous tree-felling mayor of Nanjing, was sent behind bars for corruption in 2006 and is still serving his time.

年轻时缺过钙: Sooner or later, Ji Jianye will come to the same end as Wang Wulong did!

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The sign reads, “Nanjingers, feel pang of pain about felling trees! PROTEST TREE FELLING!”

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3 comments to “Nanjing residents nostalgic for pre-Communist days as government uproots trees”

  1. blob bert | March 14, 2011 | Permalink Reply

    So sad and I am not even an environmentalist. I am just a normal person who can respect nature. Are these thugs so stupid? I guess yes.

    • Jing Gao | March 14, 2011 | Permalink Reply

      I feel sad and ashamed too. Those who gloat and use history as an excuse are narrow-minded and heartless. Luckily, they are not the majority.

  2. tan | March 16, 2011 | Permalink Reply

    Stupid pieces of shit! That is what made Nanjing streets so lovely! The mayor needs to be shot! How fucking disgusting! I am an american and I don't even live there and it makes me so disgusted.

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