Zhang Zhengxiang, 58, from Kunming , Yunnan province , has long fought pollution in the 298 sq km Dianchi Lake nearby. After 28 years, he says, he has finally gone bankrupt. How did you begin protecting the lake? My parents died when I was seven. My two little brothers then died of hunger. I started to feed myself on fruit and spring water from the Xishan forest beside Dianchi Lake. I lived in caves and temples until I came back to my village at 13. I became a peasant afterwards and got wealthy by breeding pigs and fish. I had about 100,000 yuan in savings back in the early 1980s. I feel as if Dianchi Lake was the mother who raised me. I cannot stand any behaviour that damages its ecology. When many thieves felled timber to sell in the 1980s, I felt a natural urge to fight it. How did your conservation efforts go in the early days? Not smoothly at all. Local peasants guarding the forest were bullied and driven away by timber thieves. I had to adopt indirect methods, including destroying the roads the thieves used to transport the timber out. They constantly beat me up and even slashed me with knives in 1981, leaving me with a big scar on my leg. Are your family and friends supportive of your cause? Not really. My first wife divorced me because she didn't understand why I was protecting Dianchi Lake. My second wife was a target of revenge against me and lost her land because of me. She then left me as well, and I still don't know where she is. My three daughters and one son don't support me either because they were fined by a village cadre and are afraid of losing their land and houses. They rarely contact me. To be honest, I owe money to all my friends, more than 100,000 yuan with which I used to protect the lake. Some no longer talk to me. Farmers who support me suffered from revenge attacks. They can help me only in secret. What do you do to protect the lake? I go to the lake every day to check if there is quarrying going on at the nearby mountains, any discharge of pollutants into the lake or anybody catching rare, protected fish. People who damage the lake's underground water source ruin its capacity to cleanse itself, and this has given rise to algae that makes the whole lake smell. I take photos, write reports and collect facts before I report to the media or local supervisory bodies, sometimes even to the central government in Beijing. I have also sued quite a few local officials who have allowed factory owners to mine Xishan. I reported to the state environmental protection authority that the Dianchi Lake Scenic Area was damaged by Biji town officials and mine owners, which was then exposed by People's Daily. In 2003, the director of the scenic area was removed from his post and a Fushan village official was sentenced to 11/2 years in jail. I used to go to local management departments almost every day, but some guards often beat me up and don't let me in. To them, I am a troublemaker. So I can report only by making phone calls. I also stay in touch with national and local reporters. I just call reporters if I find any activities which are destroying the environment of Dianchi Lake. Farmers also gather facts on many instances of pollution and give them to me. How did you acquire knowledge of the environment and law? I have never been to school. I learned reading and writing all on my own. I have read more than 300 books on environmental law. Do you fear revenge from the powerful people you upset? No, I don't. People who beat me cover their faces with cloth and ride motorcycles - they are not normal people. They have knocked my teeth out, broken my left hand, stolen my mobile phone and camera. The only solution to protect myself is to report their behaviour. You were a wealthy peasant in the 1980s and are now a poor man with no income and heavy debts. Do you have any regrets? I was fed and raised by nature - Dianchi Lake and Xishan. Human beings can survive without houses or cars, but not without a good environment. No life can exist without ecological protection. I made up my mind to devote myself to protecting and paying back my 'mother', Dianchi Lake. I don't regret even that my family left me and I lost all my savings. I will continue to fight all my life.