Protests planned in Nanjing as historic trees are cleared for subway

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 March, 2011, 12:00am

Residents of Nanjing, Jiangsu, are planning to take to the streets this weekend to protest against hundreds of decades-old trees being cleared to make way for an expanding subway network.

Work has already begun to remove at least 40 trees from the route of the city's No 3 subway line, construction of which began recently.

Residents have reacted angrily to the plans, which will see some 600 trees removed for line three, with another 500 due to be taken away when work begins on line 11.

About 200 of the trees are Oriental plane trees - also known as French wutong trees - which date to the early Republic of China era and have a special place in the hearts of Nanjing locals. A number of upset residents have referred to the trees as 'our family members' in online forums.

'Give us back our wutong,' said one message forwarded by text message and over the Web, calling for protesters to gather at the central library on Saturday afternoon.

The controversy has crossed to Taiwan, with a prominent politician in the Kuomintang, Chiu Yi, outraged that trees planted as a memorial to Sun Yat-sen could be removed.

Photographs posted on Nanfang Daily's website showed a row of trees that had been partially uprooted and drastically pruned back to their core trunks. The image was in stark contrast with an earlier picture.

The Nanjing government has responded to the criticisms by expressing regret, but saying the removal was an 'unavoidable' consequence of constructing the subway. Although the trees are to be replanted outside the city, experts expect some 80 per cent of them will not survive.

A spokesman told local media that stations had to be a minimum width of 22-24 metres - meaning they would inevitably take up the whole of the streets in question, for which the combined road and pedestrian area totalled just 20-23 metres.

Chiu yesterday called on his party to get involved. He said many of the trees had been planted by Chiang Kai-shek in memory of Sun - the founder of modern China.

The two new subway lines are initial phases of a massive expansion of the Nanjing Metro network, which currently has just two lines. The plan is to expand to 17 lines by 2030.