Li Hongqi, 87, is not called the "grandfather of the trees" for nothing. He has been planting trees for Jinchang since he retired from Jinchuan Group in 1996. Some of the area he toiled in has been named after him.
Li, who was originally from Shandong province, is a straightforward person with a booming voice. "I came here in 1960 and was in charge of the canteen," Li said.
"Despite harsh conditions in the early 1960s, I stayed positive. I believed that one day Jinchuan will get better and the country will get better."
In 1996, when Li retired and moved to the No 6 residential district belonging to Jinchuan, he found the area strewn with garbage and quickly made a decision. "I wanted to plant trees on the 117 square meters of land," Li said. "I bought pickaxes and shovels, borrowed trucks and encouraged my family to help me. We dug out seven ponds and 84 dumper trucks of waste rocks were cleared out. In the following year, I planted seven willow trees."
When these willow trees sprouted in 2000, Li's neighbors joined him in the efforts. "The environment inside the district was improved, but the waste treatment plant nearby became a headache," Li said. "On rainy or windy days, garbage would fly through the sky."
To solve that problem, Li led his team to plant more than 6,000 trees and 20,000 sq m of flowers. That year, the residential district he lived in was named a provincial green civilized community, and Li became known as the "grandfather of the trees".
In 2004, Li turned his attention to an abandoned mine area at the back of the district. "It was possible to transform this land into a park. Luckily, the mayor of Jinchang city took my advice," Li said. "After 40 years of weathering, the mine lands were suitable for the growth of trees."
"There were so many rocks throughout the mine land, which made it hard to dig a ditch. I found a helper and paid him all my monthly wages of 1,100 yuan (about $160 today)."
A total of 10,000 retirees of Jinchuan joined forces with Li to build the park. "It was harder than raising a kid," Li joked.
They planted 116 varieties of trees, such as peach, elm and mulberry, on the slag and rocks. In total, 740,000 trees were planted and covered an area of 1 square kilometer.
Standing at the foot of Longshou Mountain, the park became a local landmark and was later named Jinchuan National Mine Park.
According to Jinchuan Group, the forest on the hillside of the park, on which Li and his team worked, was named after him.
"I used to live in a burrow with no electricity, but now everything has changed. I am now living well and times are good," Li said.
"My advice to the young generations is listening to words of wise men and working hard."