|File photo of Xu Xiujuan with a red-crowned crane. [Xinhua]|
Every year red-crowned cranes, an endangered bird, migrate to the wetlands of Yancheng National Rare Bird Reserve in Yancheng City in east China's Jiangsu Province in December. The reserve, a haven for the rare birds, also has a graveyard of China's first environmental martyr Xu Xiujuan, who is also known as the "red-crowned crane girl."
In 1986, a 23-year-old Xu Xiujuan from northeast China's Heilongjiang Province traveled to Yancheng with three red-crowned crane eggs. She helped establish a natural reserve and participated in the artificial hatching experiment of the cranes.
For Xu protecting red-crowned crane was a family profession. Her parents also worked as protection workers and contributed in building Zhalong National Nature Reserve in Heilongjiang Province, the world's largest captive breeding center for red-crowned cranes.
Xu became passionate about bird breeding and wildlife protection. With her hard work, the Yancheng natural reserve saw its first successful artificial hatching, which was branded "a miracle born from love" by domestic and international wildlife experts.
"I'm willing to sacrifice everything for the career I'm passionate about, including my life," Xu wrote at the back of one of her old photos.
The simple message, however, ended up predicting the young woman's destiny.
On September 16, 1987, one of the rare birds that she raised went missing. Xu spent long hours swimming in the swamp to find the lost bird but drowned out of exhaustion.
Her sacrifice moved many, and a song was written to commemorate Xu's death. The song read:
"Walking past the reed and rivers, have you ever heard of a girl who left behind a song? For what the clouds shed tears in silence. For what the wind keeps whispering. A line of red-crowned cranes fly by ever so gently."
Xu was recognized as China's first martyr in the field of environmental protection.