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What if nature could speak?

Chinese New Year presents the traveller with an opportunity to see some of China’s most beautiful natural heritage, says Wang Yongchen. But visitors must avoid destroying their country’s environment in the process.

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For Chinese people, the Chinese New Year is about family gatherings, meeting up with relatives and valuing the country’s traditional culture. But often I ask myself what impact this has on the natural world.

Many people enjoy the pleasure and freedom of getting close to nature. I do not know if the earth really can speak, but I first wished I could hear it in 1998, when I went to see the autumn leaves at Xiangshan (Fragrant Hills), near Beijing. A friend took me there to enjoy the scenery, but all I saw were visitors snapping off the leaves, keeping them as souvenirs or just dropping them underfoot, leaving weeping sores on the trees.

I felt I heard nature's lament again in 1999, during the National Day holiday to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic. A group of friends and I used our week-long holiday to visit Lushan, a scenic mountain spot where Mao Zedong once famously posed for a photograph. But we were surrounded by hawkers with megaphones, and had to walk into the forest to be able to hear the birdsong and the wind in the pines. I wondered why we could not hear these things back near the hawkers. A friend suggested that maybe they were making a silent protest against all the noise.

A fellow reporter told me that during the 2006 May Day holiday, 204 tonnes of rubbish was cleared from Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, with cleaners and their machinery working round the clock to keep up with the trash discarded by tourists. At the same time, 30 members of Green Earth Volunteers visited Fanjingshan, in south China’s Guizhou, as eco-tourists, where they could enjoy – and help protect – the mountain scenery.

In 1986, Fangjingshan became China's fourth internationally-protected nature reserve, known as a treasure both for people and planet. Its environment and forest ecosystem are virtually untouched, a perfect example of China's natural subtropical forests. It is full of rare plants, including the last survivors of a number of ancient species.

Apart from scientists attracted by its biodiversity, the rock formations on the summit are often visited by geologists. “Mushroom Rock”, formed by wind erosion, and an archway soaring over the “Golden Knife Gorge” are both majestic sights. Following the path upwards, there are numerous points to view the untouched scenery. One of these looks out to a 38-metre-high stone pillar reaching up into the sky.

Before we set off, we knew that we would have to climb almost 8,000 steps to reach these sights. But we never expected that our trip would involve another task – picking up rubbish.

Empty bottles and food wrappers were scattered among the flowers and trees. Visitors ignored nearby rubbish bins, preferring to crush the flowers under the weight of their litter. As we cleared up after them, we wondered how nature would respond, if only it could speak.

Later, we left Fanjingshan and headed for Zhenyuan, a historic town. The Wuyang River runs through it, lined with architecturally-unique buildings. Small wooden boats drifted up and down the river, and standing on its banks there was a sense of man and nature living in harmony.

But a local explained to me that the boats were, in fact, picking trash out of the river. They were not employed by the local government, but were private individuals who sold the rubbish on. And they could make a very good living, he added.

Looking out at the boats we couldn't help but wonder what the river would look like if there were not people hauling out the trash. And if we could understand the river, what would it complain of?

Moving on to Fenghuang, Hunan province, we stayed by the Tuo River. At dusk we stood by the window, watching a gentle rain fall on the water. With the locals washing their clothes on the banks and the moon hanging bright in the sky we were reminded of the poet Zhang Ruoxu's Spring, River, and Flowers on a Moonlit Night.

We left our wooden guesthouse for a riverside stroll, and I saw a woman who sold river tours throw her watermelon skin into the river. When I explained that the river needed to be looked after, she just told me to mind my own business, and I saw her rubbish float off downstream.

It rained the night before we left Fenghuang. The next morning we took a boat out on the river and saw plastic bottles floating past, followed by food containers and even shoes. If the river could speak, would it not river ask us why we treat it like that?

Xiangshan is known for a natural spring where one can drink fresh, sweet water. Many Beijing residents carry containers there to collect water. But they leave behind packaging from their food and drinks, which can be seen strewn around the spring, contrasting starkly with the natural beauty of the surroundings. I heard a young non-Chinese boy ask his mother if the water could clean itself when it got dirty.

I have been to southwest China’s Tiger Leaping Gorge a number of times, and enjoyed the beautiful but perilous walks along its sides. But now there is a stone bridge, and the scenery is no longer pristine. Facing this, there is a concrete toilet block, and no matter how you try to frame a photo, you cannot avoid including the toilet.

The cliff face at Xishui, in south China’s Guizhou province, has a natural fresco where the photographer Chen Fuli once stood for three days and three nights, unable to tear himself away. But a few years ago, the local government placed an electricity pylon in front of it, again leaving the scars of human activity on what once was a natural scene.

Xiangshan, Lushan, Fanjingshan, Zhenyuan, Fenghuang, Tiger Leaping Gorge: these are all just individual cases. A little bit more rubbish in our rivers and mountains; a building put here and there – perhaps it doesn't make much difference to nature as a whole. But China has three major holidays a year, and as people get richer they increasingly use them to travel the country. And as they go out to enjoy nature, I would like them to remember: don’t base your pleasure on nature’s suffering. If you want to live in harmony with nature, you have to try to listen to what it is saying. 


Yongcheng Wang is a reporter for China National Radio. Wang founded Green Earth Volunteers, a Chinese environmental NGO, in 1996. She is also a winner of the Globe Award, China's top environmental prize.

Homepage photo by Shenxy

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Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

元旦宴会

本文写得不错。不过,它没有提到吃饭的问题。据我来看,欢度元旦给我们一次机会反省我们所吃的食物对环境的影响。据英国路透社最近报道,野动物保护团体劝告说不要吃破坏环境的食物:“不论鲍鱼来自哪个国家,请在买之前询问供应者的鲍鱼是否有合法的来源。”据报道,野动物保护团体还警告消费者说渔人的“割鳍”方法危及鲨鱼种群的生存。“割鳍”之意,即割掉最值钱的鱼翅用来煲汤,通常用于节庆场合,而把剩下的鲨鱼体扔到海里,这样鲨鱼就会流血至死。“

New Year banquets

Good article - though I wish it had mentioned the question of eating, also.

It seems to me that celebrating Chinese New Year is a time also to think about the ecological impacts of what we eat. As Reuters reported recently, wildlife groups are urging diners not to eat in ways that damage the environment:

"Ask your supplier if their abalone has been legally sourced, regardless of the country it comes from, before buying," the statement said.

"It also warned that shark populations were under threat from finning, a pratice where fishermen just take the valuable fin -- used to make a soup served at auspicious occasions -- and dump the rest of the shark overboard to bleed to death.."

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

增加税收

政府可以借助增加税收负担来减少对濒危资源的消耗,同时也可获得更多的收入。

taxes

Reduce consumption of endangered and rare species with punishing taxes, and national governments can bring in more revenue at the same time.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

自然厌恶真空

蓝天是我们眼睛每天必须享用的食物。

Nature rejects emptiness

Our eyes need the blue sky, like our bodies need our daily nourishment....