FUJIAN, November 4, China daily -- For as long as Zhu Qinggui can remember, the forests near his home have offered a rich abundance of firewood for cooking, heating and drying the lotus seeds his family grows as its main source of income.
Explaining his lifestyle, the 49-year-old quotes a Chinese proverb that states, "If you live near the mountain, you try to make a living from it."
The proverb has held good for the family, which lives in Dayuan, a village in Sanming, Fujian province.
However, with the recent enforcement of a logging ban in the village, the family has abandoned wood-burning stoves and turned to liquefied natural gas and electricity for cooking. Local authorities offered a one-off subsidy of 500 yuan ($75) to buy new cookers and each family member 20 yuan a month to cover additional costs.
Electric machines to dry lotus seeds have been promoted in the area to replace those fueled by wood, a move widely welcomed by farmers, as the new machines have proved far more efficient and can produce seed products with a much higher quality.
Meanwhile, the many lotus farms located in terraced fields in Zhu's village are being developed into a tourist attraction, with more than 50,000 such visits made so far this year.
With tourists crowding the local roads when the lotus plants bloom, Zhu and his fellow villagers have been able to sell their produce at much higher prices than in previous years.
"The government has repaved the roads and built new public facilities to accommodate the influx of tourists. We have deeply appreciate the words 'green mountains and lucid waters are invaluable assets'."
Zhu's family is just one of many in Sanming to benefit directly in recent years from the campaign to bolster local ecology and the environment.
The protection efforts, including measures to safeguard forests and reduce pollution from industries, have paid off, with tourism now an important pillar of the city's economy. During the National Day holiday at the start of this month, Sanming received 4.22 million tourist visits, and during this period, the sector generated 2.47 billion yuan in revenue.
City officials said they have been inspired by President Xi Jinping's long-standing emphasis on ecological and environmental protection, including comments he made during his 11 visits to Sanming while serving as a leading provincial official.
During a visit to the city in April 1997, Xi, then deputy secretary of the Communist Party of China Fujian Provincial Committee, told local officials that "green mountains and lucid waters are invaluable assets".
He said it was important for areas such as Sanming to devise viable plans to explore mountain, river and farmland resources.
During another trip to the city in June 2002, when he was Fujian governor, Xi emphasized that environmental development was of paramount importance.
He said at the time that it might seem that green mountains and lucid waters are of little value, but in the long term, they are priceless assets. He also urged local officials to strive to transform economic growth and to avoid wasting resources and damaging the environment.
During his later tenure in Zhejiang province, Xi continued to stress that "green mountains and lucid waters are invaluable assets", with the concept becoming well-known and summarized as the "Two Mountains Theory".
The concept was set out in Xi's report to the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in 2017 to guide nationwide environmental and ecological protection campaigns.
Liu Xiaoyan, head of the Sanming forestry bureau, said Xi's vision played a significant role in pushing forward reform of the city's forestry sector, a key element of protecting the local environment and ecology.
To carry out Xi's instructions, the authorities explored a number of reform measures, including taking steps to encourage farmers to transfer their timberland to forest cooperatives and other operators, and issuing more loans to forestry businesses to solve their financial problems, Liu said.
In recent years, the city has added an average of 13,300 hectares of forest annually, and last year its forest coverage rose to just over 78 percent.
Liu said State-owned forest farms in Sanming are offering tree-planting, forest-tending and management jobs to more than 4,000 farmers, including those from poor families, to ensure rural families have a good standard of living.
Lin Damao, head of the Sanming bureau of ecology and environment, also underscored Xi's vision in guiding the city's protection campaigns.
Xi's emphasis of a holistic approach to protecting mountains, rivers, forests, farmland, lakes and grassland has been an important source of inspiration, he said.
A bird's-eye view of Sanming, Fujian province, including the Fujian Sangang Group steel plant (center). ZHENG YULIN/XINHUA
Despite its high proportion of forest coverage, Sanming has faced challenges from industrial pollution.
The city used to rely a great deal on heavy industries, such as those producing steel and cement, and industry still accounts for more than 50 percent of the area's GDP,which reached just over 260 billion yuan last year.
Chen Rongnian, an executive from Fujian Sangang Group, said pollution from the company's steel plants used to be so severe that employees joked they could inhale particulate matter the size of a brick for a year.
Since the launch of the country's 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-15), the company has invested about 2 billion yuan to cut its emissions from pollutants, he said, adding that it has recycled all its discharged gas, including carbon monoxide, for power generation.
"For our employees, their biggest sense of achievement over the years has been the optimized work environment. Some have even said the company's plant is cleaner than their homes," Chen said.
He added that the company premises have even been certified as a scenic spot by tourism authorities－a strong endorsement of its commitment to environmental protection.
Lin Xinglu, secretary of the CPC Sanming municipal committee, said that while protecting the city's environment and ecology has always been a policy priority, the authorities are also looking to make better use of local resources.
The enhanced attractions of the city－including its top-quality air and water－have resulted in more businesses and individuals looking to explore opportunities brought by the rising number of tourists.
Last year, Qiu Liang decided to quit his career as the owner of an advertising business in Xiamen, Fujian, to open a hotel in Jixi village.
"Everything here is fresh and free from contamination, including what we eat, drink and breathe. This kind of experience is exactly what city-dwellers long for," he said.
More than 800 guests have stayed at Qiu's hotel since it opened in August last year, with most choosing it as a base for their vacations.
In 2015, Chang Sin Yee, a rural development planner from Malaysia, was invited to plan an upgrade for the village, with the aim of providing a tourism program offering "rural life and health maintenance experiences".
She said the local ecology and rich natural resources are key reasons she enjoys working in the area. "The variety of natural produce also excites me. I can often see glowworms at night," she added.
Zhu, the villager, said that only a few decades ago, so many trees were felled by villagers that parts of the mountains became barren and rainstorms triggered mudflows.
Efforts to afforest the mountains proved immensely difficult, as the soil lost its fertility due to erosion, a lesson villagers learned the hard way, he said.
"That is why we welcome the logging ban from the government. Everyone likes a good environment."