"Please don't pollute the river. Just put waste into a paper bag. Please help us keep the Lesser Three Gorges clean. Thanks."
While passengers take their seats in a yacht cruising the Daning River along the valley known as the Lesser Three Gorges, they hear such words from a guide at the very beginning.
"The river is a branch of the Yangtze River and it is so clean that many foreign tourists just drink their bottles dry of mineral water and replace it with the river water," said Wei Linxuan, a guide from the Yangtze River International Travel Agency.
For a long time, domestic and overseas travelers regarded the scenic Three Gorges as the top destination for their Yangtze cruise, but the Lesser Three Gorges now seems to have taken over the crown due to its limpid water, odd peaks, green vegetation, suspended coffins on cliffs, and flocks of macaques. "The Lesser Three Gorges is an integration of the Three Gorges and the beautiful mountains and waters in Guilin," said Wei.
Since China's reform and opening drive was launched in the late 1970s, local people in Wushan County, Chongqing Municipality, have developed the Daning River valley into a tourist site and named it the Lesser Three Gorges. Since then, millions of tourists from home and abroad have visited the area.
In 1997, tourist arrivals peaked at 1.4 million as some travel agencies lured people by claiming that the Three Gorges and its surrounding scenes, including the Lesser Three Gorges, would disappear once the giant Three Gorges Dam is completed.
Local people had to evacuate their homes and offices to make room for the large number of tourists who were eager to take a last glance at the legendary scenes in the area. Afterwards, the local tourism industry fell into a depression until last year, when the number of visitors surpassed 400,000.
As the pillar industry, tourism contributed 25 million yuan, or one third of the county's revenue last year. As a result, the county government has attached great importance to protecting the environment in the Lesser Three Gorges area. "If the local environment is damaged, we will have nothing left," said the county magistrate, Wang Chao.
In recent years, the local government has tried every means to protect the local environment by closing down all polluting factories, distributing subsidies to farmers to let them buy and burn coal instead of cutting down trees, planting trees and grass, and buying a special garbage-collecting boat to gather waste from the river water and yachts.
The local tourism industry has been developing strictly according to market law, though the government has always played a big role to coordinate. "The monkeys are the only group in this area enjoying a planned economy," said Wu, jokingly.
According to local officials, the macaques are a protected species, but they used to damage large amounts of crops belonging to local farmers who were so angry that they went to the county government for help.
The government then decided to spend public money to purchase 40,000 kg of grain a year to feed the short-tailed creatures.
(China Daily 07/16/2001)