GUIZHOU, May 11, Xinhua -- For 18 generations, people in Denglu village in Taijiang county, Guizhou province, have kept their ancestor's oath to guard a primeval forest of Chinese cedar trees.

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Women parade through a cedar forest in Denglu village in Taijiang county, Guizhou province during last year's Spring Festival. Liu Kaifu / Xinhua

The large, slow-growing evergreens were the precious timber used to build imperial palaces, such as Beijing's Forbidden City, and to furnish imperial houses. However, overcutting has driven the plant species to near extinction in China.

Denglu, secluded in a cedar forest about 11 kilometers from a county-level town, has 140 households, many in wooden houses supported by sturdy trunks.

Zhang Shengyi, Party chief of the village, said the wood is a symbol of longevity, and residents had maintained a tradition of cedar worship. There are more than 20,000 cedar trees in the forest and nearly every big tree blossoms with red prayer ribbons.

During the village's 600-year history, every generation of Zhang clan has pledged to guard the rare trees, swearing an oath and drinking wine with drops of their own blood in a traditional ritual.

There is a major economic interest, as traders covet the precious timber. But the residents say they would rather live in poverty than make a fortune from the wood.

Zhang said a businessman once offered him 2.8 million yuan ($439,000) for a single tree, in addition to a brokerage fee of 500,000 yuan and property in the county. But he refused.

In 2015, the county government joined residents' efforts to protect the trees after some illegal logging occurred. The government helped identify individual trees that were more than a century old and entrusted the residents to manage the forest.

As part of poverty relief efforts, a paved road to the village was built, 4G mobile services were introduced and a primary school was built. The pristine woods and the legendary village are drawing more artists and tourists, and residents hope that the wood will bring them some fortune in a sustainable way.

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