GUIYANG, May 9 (Xinhua) -- For 18 generations, people in Denglu Village, southwest China's Guizhou Province, have kept their ancestor's oath to guard a primeval forest of Chinese cedarwood (Phoebe nanmu).
The large, slow-growing evergreen trees are better known as the precious timber for constructing imperial palaces like the Forbidden City and furniture in imperial houses. However, overexploitation has driven the plant species to a near extinction in China.
Secluded in a cedarwood forest, about 11 km away from the nearest county seat, the village has 140 households, living in wooden stilted houses supported by sturdy wood trunks.
There are over 20,000 cedarwood trees in the forest, over 960 of which have trunks over 20 cm in diameter.
Zhang Shengyi, Party chief of the village, said the wood was a symbol of longevity. Villagers have sustained the tradition of cedarwood worship. Nearly every big cedarwood in the forest is tied with red ribbons for praying.
During the village's 600-year history, each generation of the village clan surnamed Zhang has kept the pledge to be the guardian of the rare trees by swearing and drinking wine with drops of their own blood, a traditional ritual for taking an oath.
There is a huge economic interest in the rare wood, as traders covet the precious timber.
However, the villagers would rather live in poverty than make a fortune in exchange for the cedarwood.
Zhang said a businessman once offered him 2.8 million yuan (439,000 U.S. dollars) to buy a single tree, in addition to a brokerage fee of 500,000 yuan as well as a property in the county. But he refused.
In 2015, the Taijiang county government joined village efforts in the protection of the trees after some illegal logging occurred. The government helped survey trees aged more than 100 years, and entrusted the village to manage the forest and the county procuratorate to supervise its management and protection.
As part of poverty-relief efforts, a road was paved to the village, 4G mobile services introduced, and a primary school was built.
In April this year, the first guest house in the village was set up. The pristine woods and the legendary village are drawing more and more artists and tourists, and the villagers hope that the precious wood will bring them some fortune in a sustainable way.