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River's rebirth brings life to Shanxi

Time:2022-07-18 08:59   Source:CHINA DAILY

An aerial photo of a bridge spanning the Fenhe River in Taiyuan. [Photo provided to China Daily]

From smelly and polluted to environmentally sound, the resurrection of the Fenhe has brought opportunity all around

Editor's note: China has seen tremendous changes nationwide, from economic growth to environmental protection, from social improvement to cultural progress. In this series, China Daily maps the changes and tells the stories of the people who lived through them.

The Fenhe River, which originates in Ningwu county in the north of Shanxi province, is one of the few rivers to flow from north to south in China, where rivers mostly flow from the highlands in the west to the coast in the east.

Stretching 713 kilometers and with a drainage area of 39,721 square kilometers, the Fenhe is the second-largest tributary of the Yellow River, which is the second longest river in the country and considered China's "mother river".

In turn, the Fenhe is the "mother river" of Shanxi, a region roughly the size of Florida and home to 34.8 million people that is famous for its coal reserves, cooked wheaten food, vinegar and long history as a cradle of Chinese civilization.

The 43-km section of the river winding through downtown Taiyuan, the provincial capital, has been turned into a green belt-like city park that is popular with residents.

He Xiaofei, an engineer working for the Fenhe River scenic area administrative committee and a photographer, said the river landscape is woven into the city, and the river park has become one of its calling cards.

It wasn't always this way. Twenty-three years ago, the Fenhe was synonymous with polluted, foul-smelling water back when the three most seriously polluted cities in China were located in the province. At the time, the river served as a de facto gutter for cities and factories, ranging from coal chemical plants to coal cleaning plants.

"Shanxi's mother river is dead," is the way many locals described the Fenhe at the time.

A white egret winters at the Fenhe River Wetland Park in Taiyuan, Shanxi province, in December. [YANG CHENGUANG/XINHUA]

In 1999, all 27 counties along the river's drainage area took coordinated action to treat pollution. All water discharged into it had to be treated to specific standards; the river was dredged, clean water was channeled into it and its banks were planted with trees.

After being sustained for over two decades, the efforts paid off. Not only has the riverine ecology been restored, but its surrounding environment has also markedly improved.

The section near Jinyang Bridge in Taiyuan is about 300 meters wide and 7 meters deep, and has become a water sports training center for canoe and kayak events, which speaks volumes about the quality of the water.

According to He Xiaofei, the improvement of the Fenhe should be attributed to the management of the entire basin in the upper reaches of the river, including the purification of water by aquatic plants in the large wetland in the Fenhe River scenic area, which is now home to 165 species of birds and over 230 kinds of trees and flowers.

In the Jingle section of the river in Xinzhou, about 300 hectares of river wetland were recovered through water compensation, wetland vegetation restoration and returning grain plots to wetland, which has once again attracted flocks of swans and other kinds of migratory birds to the spot, known historically as "swan town".

Jingle county also took advantage of the restoration project to enlarge its forest area by 1,300 hectares in the mountains and mud flats near the river.

The springs at Taiyuan's Jinci Temple, which was built during the Song Dynasty (960-1279) and dried up in 1994, once again flow thanks to the work done to the river, and the paddy fields near the temple where the famous Jinci rice was grown have also recovered.

"The beauty of the river has brought tourists to the valley, and we have returned grain plots to the forests. The revenue from tourism is much higher than that from planting barren mountain fields, and our hand-to-mouth life has been consigned to history as the river has come back to life," said Wang Guishuan, a farmer running a homestay and restaurant in Shiyaogou village.

Farmers in Yuncheng, a national wheat production center and the last city the Fenhe River flows through before joining the Yellow River, all speak highly of the river's resurgence, as the improvement of its water and the increase in flow have boosted grain production.

Quwo county has taken advantage of the river water to develop a smart, modern agricultural sector, using 5G technology to manage farmland.

Wenshui county has turned the river wetland into a 73-hectare tourist site that not only boosts economic growth, but also creates jobs so that the farmers don't need to work as migrants in faraway cities.

Li Junhu, a writer who grew up in a village near the river, said the main reason the Fenhe was able to recover was that all 27 counties along its course worked together at the same time and with the same sense of urgency to save the province's mother river.

The Fenhe River Economic Belt, which has grown around the resuscitated river, is known for its modern agriculture, sports, tourism and financial sectors. "The mother river is back. We have made it more beautiful, and it has made our lives better in return," said Zhang Pengcheng, a sweeper at Taiyuan's Fenhe River scenic area since 2010.

Farmers harvest pumpkins in Lingqiu county, Shanxi. [CHAI TING/XINHUA]

Forestation over the years has turned Taiyuan's Xishan Hills into a park. [WANG JING/FOR CHINA DAILY]

Villagers stage a local opera in front of a homestay for tourists in Songjiagou village in Kelan county, Shanxi. [ZHAO WENJUN/FOR CHINA DAILY]

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