Friday, January 02, 2009

The Missing Trees

In most places in China, and particularly in the North West, the lack of trees is stunning, once we start thinking about it.

We did see some trees, but mostly young ones, and dead ones. There were hardly any big, old, healthy trees, and certainly no forests. Based on historical records, it was not the case in the old days.

Deforestation has long been one of the most serious problems in China. Trees were cut down for many reasons: for agriculture, to make palaces, tombs and coffins, ... It was estimated that the coffin at the Mawangdui Han Tomb in Changsha, Hunan province, alone, used 200 cubit meters of prime wood, the equivalent of 1,200 big trees. I did see it, and it was impressive as an engineering feat. But at what cost?

Someone once said: Using the best wood, the British built great ships, the Japanese created great buildings, the Americans made fine furniture and art - but the Chinese made great coffins. It is, of course, a gross exaggeration. But not totally without truth.

We Chinese seem to care more about the dead than the living.