The white poplar is no ordinary tree. Let me sing its praises.
When you travel by car through Northwest China’s boundless plateau, all you see before you is something like a huge yellow-and-green felt blanket. Yellow is the soil—the uncultivated virgin soil. It is the outer covering of the loess plateau accumulated by Mother Nature several hundred thousand years ago. Green are the wheat fields signifying man’s triumph over nature. They become a sea of rolling green waves whenever there is a soft breeze. One is here reminded of Chinese expression mai lang meaning “rippling wheat” and cannot help admiring our forefathers’ ingenuity in coining such a happy phrase. It must have been either the brainwave of a clever scholar, or a linguistic gem sanctioned by long usage. The boundless highland, with dominant yellow and green, is flat like a whetstone. Were it not for distant mountain peaks standing side by side (which, as your naked eyes tell you, are bellow where you stand), you would probably forget that you are on the highland. The sight of the scene will probably call up inside you a string of epithets like “spectacular” or “grand”. Meanwhile, however, your eyes may become weary of watching the same panorama, so much so that you are oblivious of its being spectacular or grand. And you may feel monotony coming on. Yes, it is somewhat monotonous, isn’t it?
Now what will become of your weariness if you suddenly raise your eyes only to catch sight of distant row of trees (or just a couple of them) standing there proudly like sentries. For my part, I cannot keep from uttering an exclamation of surprise!
They are white poplars. Though very common in Northwest China, they are no ordinary trees!
With straight trunks and branches, white poplars aim high. Their trunks are usually over ten feet tall and, as if wrought by human effort, utterly bare of branches below ten feet. Their twigs, also like things artificially shaped, all reach out towards the sky and grow close together in a cluster without any sideway growth. Their leaves are broad and point upwards with very few slanting sideways, much less upside down. Their glossy barks are a faint light green with hazy silver spots. They stand erect and unbending in face of North China’s violent wind and snow. Though they may be only as big as the mouth of bowl, they strive to grow upwards until they reach the towering height of some twenty feet and stand indomitable against the northwest wind.
They are white poplar. Though very common in Northwest China, they are no ordinary tree! You may call them unattractive because they have neither the graceful carriage of a dancer, nor such branches as can twine and climb. But nevertheless they are big and tall, honest and upright, simple and plain, earnest and unyielding—and not without gentleness and warmth though. They are giants among trees! When you trudge through the melting snow of the highland and see one or a row of white poplars standing proudly on the vast plains, how could you look upon them as nothing but mere trees? How could you forget that with all their simplicity, earnestness and unyieldingness, they are symbolic of our peasants in the North? How could you fail to associate them with our dauntless soldiers guarding our homeland all over the vast rear? How could you fail to see that these trees, ever striving to put out their closely knit branches and leaves in an upward direction, are symbolic of the spirit and will of our men who, fighting heroically all over the northern plains, are writing the history of New China with their own blood?
White poplars are no ordinary trees. But these common trees in Northwest China are as much ignored as our peasants in the North. However, like our peasants in the North, they are bursting with vitality and capable of surviving any hardship or oppression. I pay tribute to them because they symbolize our peasants in the North and, in particular, the spirit of honesty, tenacity and forging ahead—a spirit central to our struggle for national liberation.
The reactionary diehards, who despise and snub the common people, can do whatever they like to eulogize the elite nanmu (which is also tall, straight and good-looking) and look down upon the common, fast-growing white poplar. I, for my part, will be loud in my praise of the latter!
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