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The Green, Green Grass of China

ENVIRONMENT — New Canadian citizen planted 160,000 trees in 2008 Olympic host city

Jonathan Fowlie – Vancouver Sun – Friday, May 23, 2008

BEIJING – By all accounts, Sharon Li is a private woman, but as the world gets ready to descend on this city of air pollution and skyscrapers, she is about to make a giant impression.

Li, a recent Canadian citizen who splits her time between Richmond and China, owns 100 hectares in the 680-ha Olympic Forest Park just north of the Bird’s Nest stadium.

Over the last three years, the chairwoman of SenAo Culture and Art Development Co. Ltd. has been converting the land into an undulating vista of grass, water and trees so tranquil that visitors almost forget they are in China’s second-largest city.

In total, Li has planted 160,000 trees on the land, nearly 50,000 of them relocated from the site of the Three Gorges Dam.

She has also helped Canadian officials to establish the B.C. Canada Pavilion, which opened for its first full day Friday.

However, she refuses to talk about her work or take credit for any part of what she has done.

“I don’t need praise. I don’t need interviews,” she said Friday afternoon while perched in a chair beside a large pond.

“I just like working in the background silently.”

“I think it belongs to a lot of people,” she said of the park. “It’s not just about me.”

Li did, however, receive B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell when he made a brief visit to the park Friday. She told him she has bought 300 old heritage homes she plans to have reconstructed on the land. She added that she has moved a total of 320,000 trees from the Three Gorges Dam site but said most won’t grow in Beijing, so she donated them to a school in Shanghai.

Li said she would like to see some of those trees planted at a Canadian pavilion planned for Shanghai to coincide with the 2010 World Expo.

Campbell, who was in the park to plant a tree, agreed the relocated trees would fit nicely into the Shanghai pavilion.

Afterwards, he remarked on how impressed he was with Li and her achievements.

“What a great citizen! It’s a really exceptional example of what citizens can do when they put their minds to it.”

On Friday, workers throughout the park were still laying sod, planting trees and landscaping areas of the massive park, which is located in the north of Beijing.

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