Yongshun Ma was a lumberman in Heilongjiang Province of China. When he retired in 1982, many people encouraged him to relax during his last days. His response was always "I cannot until I have paid off a debt".
As a lumberman, he suffered from a sense of guilt, and reproached himself that if he had not overlogged, if he had paid more attention to protecting the environment, there would not have been so much environmental degradation. He decided to devote the last part of his life to the protection of the environment, and to plant 36,500 trees to make up for those he had cut down. He calculated that the difference would be 8,180 trees beyond the 28,320 trees he had planted over the last 21 years. Every season, people would see him planting trees.
In 1991, when he reached the age of 78, he counted that there were around 1,000 trees left to pay off his debt. He convinced all of family -16 people spanning three generations - to plant trees on holidays. At the end of that spring, at last his debt was paid off. By 1996, he had planted 40,000 trees and built a breeding base for trees of high quality.
Motivated by his actions, more and more people in the region are planting trees each year and the forest is growing at an ever increasing rate. He has taught others how to breed and plant successfully, and under his guidance, his students' tree planting efforts have a success rate of 95 per cent.
Today, at 84 you can still see Yongshun Ma, spade in hand, stirring the black soil, planting trees.