Environmental improvements raise incomes
White egrets gather on the banks of the Lijiang River, which runs through Guilin city, Guangxi. CHINA DAILY
The fame of Guilin's natural landscape has long been known to visitors worldwide, while the Lijiang River is regarded as the jewel in the city's crown.
The river, in South China's Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, resembles a classic Chinese ink painting that shows mountain ranges, canyons, waterfalls and karst landforms, along with their inverted images in the water.
Having long been considered a calling card for the country, the Lijiang River has attracted the attention of the central leadership over the years.
In 1960, Premier Zhou Enlai proposed the planting of bambusa multiplex, a species of bamboo, along the banks of the Lijiang.
Today, those plants have become a major attraction for sightseers and tourists. In 1963, Zhu De, a military leader, suggested greening efforts to add natural color to the gray stone mountains that flank the riverbank.
In 1973, as the city's industries developed, Deng Xiaoping, later the "chief architect" of the reform and opening-up policy, urged local authorities to protect the Lijiang from pollution.
His remarks played a positive role in the drive for greater protection of the river, and more than 60 heavily polluting factories were later shut down.
President Xi Jinping was impressed by the Lijiang when he visited the river as a young man. He has made important comments about the Lijiang several times, stressing the importance of protecting it.
In 2013, Guilin initiated an unprecedented reform of the river's management. A proposal to initiate a resort along the riverbank was accepted, and the ensuing development covers more than 1,100 square kilometers and involves four counties, six districts, 26 townships and 151 villages.
A four-tier responsibility mechanism, from village- to city-level, has been established, according to Guo Hongxing, head of the Lijiang River Management Committee, who added that illegal construction, digging and business operations in the neighborhood of the river have been stopped.
The Qingshitan Reservoir, a backup source of water for the Lijiang, used to be polluted by unplanned fish farming, but since 2013, all the fish-raising cages that spread more than 100,000 square meters have been removed, Guo said.
Households that relied on the fishing industry have abandoned the trade and moved into areas such as ecotourism and agriculture. Now, the water in the reservoir is potable, Guo said.
In 2016, the local authority began dealing with quarrying operations that wreaked havoc on the environment around the Lijiang.
"The mountain repair and construction work was extremely difficult," said Luo Longliang, who was in charge of the recovery of the section of the river that flows through Linchuan county. "The overall slope of the mountain was 80 degrees, so machinery couldn't be used and we could only rely on manual efforts."
Workers drilled holes into the steep mountainsides, then they poured in soil and sowed plants.
In all, 21 quarries were closed, and an ecological area of 1.36 million sq m was recovered. As a result, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism named the river as a national green tourism model in 2016.
The in-depth protection and utilization of the Lijiang is in line with relocating urban and rural industries away from the waterway to reduce any negative impact, said Huang Feng, deputy director of Guilin's science and technology bureau.
He noted that environmental protection and restoration efforts have seen the Lijiang River Basin's ecosystem effectively repaired, managed and protected.
Targeted eco-restoration projects for scenic spots in Guilin's karst natural heritage sites cover more than 100,000 sq m, with forests stretching for more than 10,000 hectares and the forest coverage in the river basin growing by over 80 percent, he said.
Huang said the area attracts visitors from far and near, and has also drawn tourists from overseas and officials from other countries to Guilin.
On March 23, State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov held talks in Guilin, with the location having been chosen by Andrey Denisov, Russia's ambassador to China.
Wang hailed the choice of location and spoke highly of the local aquatic and mountain scenery.
The eradication of pollution and the improvements in the landscape have not only improved local living conditions, but also given tourism development a shot in the arm.
Zhang Jinming from Xingping township, northeast of Yangshuo, has been doing a brisk homestay business recently. Zhang used to live by fishing, but he switched to tourism after the Lijiang restoration project started.
"The image of the village and the views of the Lijiang basin have improved greatly, attracting a growing number of visitors," Zhang said.
The transformation of the Lijiang is just one part of the positive environmental changes in Guilin that have brought great benefits to local people.
An outdoor show called Impression Liu Sanjie that uses the Lijiang and the mountains as a stage is one of China's most popular and profitable tourist attractions.
Its combination of cultural and artistic performances regularly packs in visitors and provides job opportunities for about 1,000 local people.
The show has effectively boosted local economic development and raised incomes. As a result, many local people have grown accustomed to doing farm work and running small tourism business during the day, while taking part in the show at night.
At the same time, measures have been taken to ensure the sustainability of tourism.
At Fulongzhou, a popular island on the Lijiang in the heart of the city, the local government has invested 87 million yuan to implement and upgrade comprehensive environmental management, according to Guo with the Lijiang River Management Committee.
The move has addressed the problem of pollutants that were once directly discharged into the river by residents, and helped cut the amount entering the water by at least 8 metric tons a year, Guo said.
The island, which covers more than 6 hectares, is now an eco-park that allows locals and visitors to get close to the river and experience its beauty.
The Guilin government has also reformed tourism operations on the river to ensure that everyone living and working along the waterway can benefit.
The operation of all 1,200 tour boats on the Lijiang has been put under the guidance of three local scenic spot management companies, and the guides, all local villagers who have received training, now make a steady income.
Guilin's annual per capita GDP rose from 32,082 yuan in 2013 to 39,368($6,150) last year, while the figure jumped from 8,945 yuan to 17,345 in the city's rural areas.
A significant number of villages in Guilin have now been lifted out of poverty and have seen environmental improvements through green development.
"The scenery is so beautiful, I feel very good when I come here with my family," said Wu Cuidi, who was visiting the Liyunqiaoxiang pastoral fun complex on the river. "It's a nice place to take a holiday to commune with nature and experience the rural atmosphere."