SHANGHAI, Feb. 14 (AP) -- Villagers in southwestern China are scratching their heads over the county government's decision to paint an entire barren mountainside green.
Workers who began spraying Laoshou mountain last August told villagers they were doing so on orders of the county government but were not told why, media reports said Wednesday.
Some villagers guessed officials of the surrounding Fumin county, whose office building faces the mountain, were trying to change the area's feng shui, the ancient Chinese belief of harmonizing one's physical environment for maximum health and financial benefit.
Others speculated it was an unusual attempt at "greening" the area in keeping with calls for more attention to environmental protection. Photographs of the mountain showed the exposed rock covered in an artificial green the color of Astroturf looming over houses against a scrubby background.
The official Xinhua News Agency estimated the cost of the paint job at 470,000 yuan (US$60,600; €46,600) and quoted villagers saying that if spent on actual plants and trees, the money could have restored a far greater area of barren mountain.
Laoshou mountain was quarried for more than two decades but ordered shut recently following complaints about dust and noise from villagers.
Officials have also been trying to stem environmental damage in the surrounding Yunnan province where logging and development of mountain areas have been blamed for heavy floods down river.
A women who answered the phone at the Fumin county forestry department said they were also unaware of reasons behind the paint job.
"This is an order from above. You should ask the leader from above. I don't have any information on this," said the woman, who like many Chinese bureaucrats, refused to give her name.