After a hard morning planting fresh shoots in the dunes on the edge of the Gobi Desert, 78-year-old farmer Wang Tianchang retrieves a three-stringed lute from his shed, sits down beneath the fiery midday sun, and starts to play.
"If you want to fight the desert, there's no need to be afraid," sings Wang, a veteran of China's decades-long state campaign to "open up the wilderness," as he strums the instrument, called a "sanxian."
Tree-planting has been at the heart of China's environmental efforts for decades as the country seeks to turn barren deserts and marshes near its borders into farmland and screen the capital Beijing from sands blowing in from the Gobi, a 500,000 square-mile expanse stretching from Mongolia to northwest China, which would coat Tiananmen Square in dust nearly every spring.
But in March, heavy sandstorms hit Beijing for the first time in six years, putting the country's reforestation efforts under scrutiny, with land increasingly scarce and trees no longer able to offset the impact of climate change.
Now a local institution in northwest China's Gansu province, Wang and his family lead busloads of young volunteers from the provincial capital of Lanzhou into the desert each year to plant and irrigate new trees and bushes.
Their painstaking work to rehabilitate marginal land has been promoted as an inspiration for the rest of the country, and they are the subject of government propaganda posters celebrating their role in holding back the sand.