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Peak experience helps in hunt for rare herbs

By Zhao Ruixue | China Daily | Updated: 2017-06-05 07:41

Former porter Zhang Yuqing began exploring for herbs unique to the mountain in the 1980s and now runs a planting base.

Working as a porter on Taishan Mountain during his early 20s left a lasting impression on respected "herb hunter" Zhang Yuqing.

"Once you do that job, you feel like you can succeed at anything," said Zhang, who spent about three years carrying goods up steep, winding passes during the late 1960s and '70s.

Today, at 69, he is better known in his native Shandong province for his tireless work in finding and cultivating rare herbs that grow on the mountain.

After his time as a porter, Zhang, who comes from Fanjiazhuang village in Tai'an, was inspired to join the army of entrepreneurs starting their own businesses after China launched its opening-up and reform policy in 1978.

Yet it was not until he was 38 that he found his true calling.

"I was reading an ancient book that said the mountain had four unique herbs," he said. "I'd heard about these rare herbs from my relatives before, so I decided to set out and find them."

As he was familiar with the terrain thanks to his time as a porter, Zhang began his search in 1986, taking in many parts of the mountain that are hard to access.

"I would spend entire days on the mountain looking for those herbs," he said. "I survived on a local style of pancake, made of corn, millet and peanuts, and drank water from mountain springs."

It was 15 years before Zhang had all four herbs.

"I didn't expect it to take so long, but at no point did I ever think of giving up," he said. "In many ways, my search was a lot like working as a porter - when a porter reaches 18 Bends, the most difficult part along the route to the top of Taishan Mountain, he is already exhausted, but he has to keep going.

"It took eight years to find three of the herbs, and another seven to find the last one."

During that time, he said, he learned from herb experts and read many books about how to cultivate them, and eventually established a base for growing the four herbs, as well as the other, more common herbs found on the mountain.

Since 2001, Zhang has been spreading the seedlings he cultivates around the mountain.

"I want Taishan Mountain to be a real treasure trove for herbs," he said.

Encouraged by Zhang's efforts, many people in Dajinkou town, which includes Fanjiazhuang village, have started to plant herbs.

The town now has more than 260 hectares of herb gardens, helping to grow a major local industry.

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