Old parasol trees are cut to make way for a new subway line on Taiping road in Nanjing. (PhotoCFP)
A kind of micro democracy is emerging in China as a recent grassroots movement which successfully resisted the uprooting of Nanjing's old trees has demonstrated.
The plan to fell old trees in Nanjing to make way for a new subway line has been called off, Lu Bing, the city's vice mayor, told local media after he visited the planned site of the subway project accompanied by government officials. He stated that the city government will try to improve the construction plan in order to reduce the number of trees to be removed.
Earlier this month, Nanjing citizens found that a dozen flourishing Chinars planted along both sides of a stretch of downtown Taiping Road had disappeared.
The removal they witnessed proved to be just a tip of the iceberg, with plans emerging from the local authorities to cut down a total of 600 trees of various species, including some 200 Chinars planted nearly 60 years ago, in order to make way for a highway that is expected to run across the city.
Civilians mobilized in time to save the tress. Netizens expressed opposition and indignation on Internet forums which later received serial media coverage. Some local residents even went to the site to protest against the excavation team.
Wang Lin, a 45-year-old native of Nanjing, yelled at city government officials, saying, "The trees are a cultural symbol of the city. Many of them are even older than me,"
"They are the pride of the city, we can't accept the fact that they will disappear," said Chen Shaohua, who lives near the designated construction site.
Encouraged by environmental protection groups, local residents tied green ribbons around tree trunks to symbolize care for the trees and opposition to the removal campaign.
In response to the anger of residents, Nanjing's local government changed policy and said that cutting down the trees was its last recourse. Prior to people's protests, the city's subway and urban administration authorities had managed to halt the removal of some 900 trees by changing the location of subway stations and limiting their size, according to the government.
"A subway project usually consumes large areas and one station requires at least 200 square meters of land. In a densely inhabited city like Nanjing, replanting trees is inevitable," said Xu Shaolin, spokesman of the city's Urban Administration Bureau, who promised that the trees will find new homes in squares and public places and that the trees will be planted around subway stations.