Although more than five years have passed, Li Guozhang vividly remembers the scene when Chinese President Xi Jinping visited his company based in Yichang City, central China's Hubei Province.
At noon on April 24, 2018, as soon as Xi, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission, reached Yichang, he straightaway headed to Hubei Xingfa Chemicals Group Co., Ltd., China's largest fine phosphoric chemicals maker.
Accompanied by Li, chairman of the company, Xi inspected the site where the chemical enterprise had previously built production facilities along the Yangtze River, the longest river in China. The facilities had been relocated in consideration of ecological protection.
"The Yangtze River is China's mother river, and we must protect it, while enterprises are the major force in protecting and building the ecological environment of the river," Xi said.
"We must move all polluting enterprises away from the Yangtze River with resolve... to root out hidden dangers of pollution," he added.
After a two-day inspection of the cities in the middle reaches of the Yangtze River, including Yichang and Jingzhou in Hubei and Yueyang in Hunan Province, Xi chaired a symposium on promoting the development of the Yangtze River Economic Belt in Wuhan, capital of Hubei. He called for all-out efforts to protect the Yangtze River, noting that there should be no large-scale development of the river.
This was not the first time that the president emphasized the importance of the ecological protection of the around 6,300-km-long Yangtze River, as well as the high-quality development of the Yangtze River Economic Belt which covers nine provinces and two municipalities and accounts for more than 40 percent of the country's population and economic aggregate.
The status and role of the river and the economic belt mean the development along the river must prioritize ecology and "green development" to respect natural, economic and social rules, Xi said, as he presided over a meeting on advancing the development of the Yangtze River Economic Belt in Chongqing, a major city in the upper reaches of the Yangtze, on Jan. 5, 2016.
According to Li, it was this meeting that served as a curtain-raiser for Xingfa's green transformation. In the following two years, the company shut down 22 sets of production facilities with a total value of 1.2 billion yuan (about 167 million U.S. dollars) along the Yangtze River and carried out ecological restoration covering more than 900-meter river shoreline.
Efforts should be made to strengthen the protection and restoration of ecological and environmental systems and coordinated work on the upper, middle, and lower reaches of the Yangtze River, Xi said at a symposium on comprehensively advancing the development of the Yangtze River Economic Belt held in November 2020 in east China's Nanjing City, located in the lower reaches of the river. He reiterated that the restoration of the ecological environment of the Yangtze River should be a major priority.
"President Xi has a deep affection for the river," Li said. "His emphasis on the protection of the Yangtze River has promoted the upgrading and high-quality development of our company." During the transformation, the phosphorus manufacturer mapped a new plan to develop electronic chemicals and silicone materials.
Over the past years, China has taken a series of measures to protect the Yangtze River, including removing the chemical enterprises situated along the river, restoring the river shoreline, upgrading sewage treatment, and imposing a 10-year fishing ban along the river's main streams and major tributaries.
These endeavors have greatly improved the ecology and biodiversity of the river.
According to the Ministry of Ecology and Environment, water quality in the river has continued to improve, with the proportion of surface water of fairly good quality -- at or above Grade III in the country's five-tier water quality system -- within the Yangtze River Economic Belt rising to 94 percent in the first five months of 2023.
The population of the Yangtze finless porpoises, a barometer of water quality in the Yangtze River basin, had increased to 1,249 in 2022, up 23.42 percent from five years ago.
"Now when we walk along the Yangtze River, we can always see groups of fish swimming in the river, and it is no longer rare to see finless porpoises leaping out of the water," said Tan Bizhen, a resident of Xujiachong Village in Yichang.
Five years ago, Tan was engaged in her routine of laundry in the village when a special visitor, President Xi, came up to her and the other villagers during his inspection to Yichang.
Xi was very pleased to learn that, for the sake of river conservation, all villagers utilized non-phosphorus detergent and soap for laundry, and he was also informed about the sewage treatment process to ensure responsible discharge, Tan recalled.
Xujiachong Village, less than a 10-minute drive from the Three Gorges Dam resort, a major tourist site along the Yangtze River overlooking the world's largest hydropower project, has chosen tourism as one of its pillar industries in recent years, opening 38 homestays.
Last year, the total income of the village, boasting a population of 1,449, increased to 125 million yuan, with per capita net income reaching 28,480 yuan, thanks to the locals' relentless efforts to protect the ecological environment of the Yangtze River.
"We will follow President Xi's instructions and make concerted efforts to further protect our mother river and build a better homeland," said Xie Rong, Party chief of the village.