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Heavenly Hainan> Beijing Review Archive> 1984
UPDATED: February 3, 2010 NO. 27 JULY 2, 1984
Hainan - A Treasure Island (1)

A Japanese correspondent said not long ago that after adopting the policy of opening to the outside world, Hainan Island will be known as "China's Hawaii."

The total area of Hainan Island is almost the same as that of Taiwan, China's biggest island. It covers 34,000 square kilometres and the difference between the two is only 3 to 4 percent.

Because of historical reasons. Hainan Island had always been out of touch with the rest of the world. Before the policy of opening to the outside world came into effect, it was even a mysterious "forbidden zone" in China. It was unknown to the people of the new generation.

If my trip to Hainan Island had taken place 1,000 years ago. it would have been the most dangerous, difficult and terrifying journey in China.

In 847 A.D., Li Deyu, a prime minister during the Tang Dynasty, was sent into exile to Hainan Island when he found himself losing ground in some factional fighting. He called Hainan Island the "gate of hell" in a poem.

The "damnable place," as people used to call it, reflects their dread of the minority people who were then still living in a primitive society, but more specifically refers to the inconvenient traffic, scorching sun, humid weather, and dense and unconquerable virgin forest infested with various snakes and beasts of prey. But the most awful problem was the communicable tropical diseases, such as malaria, which threatened the life of many people.

The people of Hainan Island have worked hard to gradually change this impression of their home. But compared with other regions on the mainland, the island is still economically backward.

Hu Yaobang, now General Secretary of the CPC Central Committee and then Secretary of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Youth League, made an inspection tour of Hainan Island in 1955. In his speech in Hai-kou, capital of the island, he called Hainan a "treasure island." The phrase quickly caught on, and in the ensuing three decades it has become almost synonymous with Hainan. But is it just a name?

Tropical Rain Forest

In fact, Hainan's vast tropical rain forest offers a variety of treasures. Looking from an airplane. the South China Sea looks like a green jadeite tear drop inlaid in a huge jade sea. On the southwest of the island is a group of zigzagging mountains, extending to the centre. The highest is Wuzhi Mountain, 1,867 metres above sea level. Its five peaks are like the fingers of a huge hand. Below the mountains is China's biggest tropical rain forest.

There are about 333,000 hectares of tropical rain forest in this region, whose produce and woods have become quite popular. The trunks of the trees in this region are straight and hard. There are no borers in the trees. Fructus aurantii immaturus, homalium hainanensis and other precious trees are as hard as iron, and a 3 hp chain saw can hardly get through them. They don't rot even when soaked in water for decades, and won't crack when they dry.

The woods range from dark green to black to bright red and their fine grain is like the clouds swirling around the mountains. Other trees give off a subtle fragrance.

Wood from Hainan Island has been used in ancient buildings such as the Palace Museum, the Ming Tombs and the summer resort in Chengde. A large part of the wood used in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing came from Hainan.

Many trees are also used in medicine. For instance, the famous cephalotaxus fortunei contains 21 single alkaloids, four of which can be used to treat cancer. Esterase extracted from cephalotaxus for-tunei can be used to treat leukemia, and is also effective against lung cancer. It was the first chemical substance used to treat these diseases in the world.

The inner heart of ormosia henryi can be used to replace acronychia pedunculata, stop bleeding and ease pain. Maoyedinggongteng can treat rheumatism. Sanchaku can be used to treat skin disease. Chaulmoogra can beused to treat leprosy and psoriasis. Extracts from wattle trees can stop internal hemorrhage and dalbergia hainanensis can be used during chest operations to help the incision heal.

There is a kind of fruit called haimangguo on the island, belonging to nerium indicum. Its white flowers, curved twigs and long and thin leaves are pleasing to the eye, but it one cats the fruit, death comes instantly. It is said that in the past. women who wanted to commit suicide would eat haimang-guo. But now this deadly fruit can be used to treat rabies.

The most famous tree on the island is the high upas tree. Its branches are white, and if the branch is cut, a milky substance drips out. Previously, people of the Li minority would smear this on the tips of their arrows. Animals and enemy soldiers would die immediately when struck. Now the tree is protected by the state, and its poison is used to counteract the venom of snakes.

Other trees also have their special uses. The resin of vatica astrotricha is an anti-coagulant. When mixed with lubricating oil, the oil will not solidify even in 54 degrees centigrade below zero.

There is another kind of tree called bread fruit. Its fruit is like a ball, and weighs over 20 kilogrammes. If picked before it is ripe, it can be sliced and roasted. and it tastes just like bread. Its trunks, branches and roots all bear fruit. From blossoming to bearing fruit takes nine months. But if the tree is domesticated and improved. one tree can provide two people with enough food for one year.

The diesel-oil tree grows over 30 metres high, and can reach 1.2 metres in circumference. Oil pours out when a saw hits the heart of the tree. About 10 to 25 kilo-grammes of oil can be obtained from one tree; the most ever was 50 kilogrammes. According to appraisal by experts, the combustibility of the oil is more or less the same as diesel oil. These trees total more than 10,000 cubic metres on Hainan Island.

There are 4,200 species of plants on Hainan Island, accounting for 15 per cent of the nation's total. Of these, 600 are unique to the island. There are also 800 varieties of arbor trees, one-third of all the species in China. Forty per cent of these are rare trees protected by the state.

Entering the tropical rain forest reserve on the island, one is lost in wonder at the tangle of life all around. The trees average 30-40 metres tall. In between their tops and their roots, plants cascade down on five different levels, ending with the green ground cover. In the densest part of the forest, five trees will crowd into two square metres. Besides their economic value, the trees are a treasure for horticulturists studying tropical plants.

In addition to the rain forests of the mountains, there are peculiar mangrove forests on the seashore.

Mangrove swamp forests are part of a group of water plants which grow in sea shoals. When the tide rises, these plants are mostly under the water, with only their tops showing. They join together, like a huge green floating carpet. When the tide ebbs, they stand firmly on swamp shoals, exposed to strong wind and scorching sun.

These plants and trees, which line the coasts of Hainan Island, serve as protection against typhoons and waves, shielding banks, ports, farmland and villages on the seaside like a green great wall. They also have a high economic value. The bark of most trees contains tannin, used in tanning and dyeing. Their hard wood is good for houses, bridges, ships, handicraft objects and furniture. Extracts can also be used as medicine.

Island Wildlife

The tropical plants on Hainan Island are not the only treasures. The rich variety of wildlife living amidst these plants are also precious.

The rarest animal on the island is the Hainan deer, also protected by the state as other scarce animals as the giant panda and the snub-nosed monkey. It is said a British businessman came to the island 50 years ago to purchase hides and brought back some pieces of Hainan deer fur for exhibition. They caused a sensation among British zoologists. They had never seen the animal before.

In fact, the Hainan deer is only found on Hainan Island in small numbers. It is the most valuable of China's 17 varieties of deer for research and medicine. The Hainan deer resembles sika in appearance, but is thinner. In the same dark red, sika deer has white spots over the whole body. while the Hainan deer has white spots only on the sides of its back. The horns of a sika turn inwards, while those of a Hainan deer turn out.

The Li minority hunters on the island say these deer protect their antlers. When their antlers begin to grow, they are unwilling to move about for fear their antlers will be damaged. If they are chased they always run to the grassland instead of into the forest, to avoid damaging their antlers.

Unfortunately, the Hainan deer were caught and killed at random in the past. There are now only about 40 left in two nature reserves covering 2,500 hectares of tropical glasslands on the west side of the island.

The black-headed gibbon is another rare Hainan animal under strict state protection. Living in Asian tropical forests, these gibbons are now found in China only in small numbers on Hainan Island and in Xishuangbanna, Yunnan Province. They are the only apes in China, and are very valuable for scientific study. In the past there were about 20,000 living all over the island. But past hunting and trapping reduced their numbers to just 30, living in the Bawang and lianfeng Mountain Nature Reserves.

On the Nanwan Peninsula in southern Hainan, 600 rhesus monkeys live in 16 groups in a rhesus monkey protection area in China. Because their physical characteristics are similar to those of humans, these monkeys are very important in scientific experimentation.

Hainan is home to more than 80 kinds of animals. There are Hainan flying squirrels, Hainan rabbits, Hainan neofelis nebulosa. black bears and pangolins, all unique to the island and protected by the state.

The island also accommodates 340 kinds of birds, such as red jungle fowls, Hainan hill mynas - which can imitate human language, peacock pheasants with beautiful feathers, curltailed magpies and red-chested parrots.

These rare animals and birds living in the tropical rain forests and grasslands are sources of quality hides, medicines, delicacies and great beauty. They are the living treasures of Hainan.

(To be continued)

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