Text by Dan CongPhotographs by Wang Yizhong
Morning arrives late in Mekong Villa.Around 9:00 a.m., long after sunshinebegins penetrating the thick layers oftrees to caress forest roads, the newday begins. Ten years ago, Dr. Josef Margraf and hiswife, Li Minguo, built a villa amidst a rubber plantation.Now, the former plantation is home to more than600 varieties of plants. Actually, the place looks likemore of a poetic model for human living, with varioustrees, flowers, and other creatures living togetherharmoniously.
Josef Margraf was born in Munich, Germany, in1953. He passed away in China in 2010 after a heartattack. Greatly influenced by German environmentalism,Margraf’s passion for biodiversity and the envi-ronment began at an early age. He received a master’sdegree in ecology and a doctorate in tropical agriculturefrom the University of Hohenheim. In 1989, as atrained biologist, Margraf created a new way to recoverand renew rainforests on Leyte Island in the Philippines.
His work is highly regarded by European Unionand became a model for biodiversity and rainforestrestoration. In 1997, he was assigned by the Germangovernment to lead a panel on rainforest protection inChina.
In China, Margraf married Li Minguo, a womanfrom the Naxi Ethnic Group. They met at a receptionfor the Peruvian ambassador ten years ago. “I justknew this man was precious,” recalls Li. She adds thatMargraf possessed true inner strength, and after they got together, the couple rarely parted. “Rather thanpromises of wealth, my husband brought me countlesssurprises and possibilities.”
Away from the chaos of metropolis, Margraf andLi settled in Yunnan’s Xishuangbanna, and establishedtheir home, Mekong Villa, on the Lancang River. Thearea was formerly a rubber plantation. Little by little,the couple transformed the land into a private gardenwith more than 600 varieties of plants.
Now, with visuals dominated by greenery, serenadedby birds singing, it is hard to imagine that once onlyrubber trees could be found there. The couple choppeddown the rubber trees with help from family and hiredworkers, leaving only a handful to commemorate thepast. Margraf conceived the idea of restoring the rainforestthrough interplanting.