Xu Jian is proud of having personally pioneered an environment-friendly lifestyle several years ago. When he was a freshman at Beijing Forestry University, Xu first began to pay attention to environmental issues, organizing and participating in many related activities. In 1997, he, together with several colleagues, launched a Disposable Chopsticks-Free Campus Campaign. He recalled, "The first time I took my own utensils to the dining hall, I knew I was a public laughingstock. But many of my peers have recently said that they, too, have become bring-your-own-utensils advocators."
Xu is currently an editor, but remains a director of Senol, an environmental conservation organization of his alma mater. He said, "At the beginning, it was a forestry major's sense of responsibility that drove me to be involved in environmental conservation, and this sense had been consistently enhanced, especially when, during my fieldwork, I saw how badly nature had been damaged. I believe that an awareness of environmental conservation constitutes an important personal quality. The undertaking not only consists of individual activities, but penetrates to every aspects of life."
Xu spoke highly of the "green lifestyle" concept put forward by Liao Xiaoyi, a Chinese environment activist and founder of Global Village Beijing, a non-profit nongovernmental organization. Liao suggests that people should save water, sort garbage into separate classifications, use public transport, not eat wild animals and use recyclable commodities. Xu said a "green lifestyle" would make people think about environmental conservation more.
Xu is optimistic about the future development of China's environmental conservation cause. "When more and more people begin to refuse throwaway food containers, environmental conservation will win popular support. The situation will be increasingly encouraging."
Huang Youwen, a sociologist, has long focused on environmental issues. He said a green lifestyle is becoming fashionable among Chinese citizens, especially well-educated, high-salaried urban youth with high self-esteem. "Many have taken it as a way to raise their personal image and win public respect," Huang added.
Living a Green Lifestyle
"Outing to Nature" is an independent hiking organization, whose members mostly belong to the high-salaried financial and IT sectors. Wang Bingjun, a freelance worker, has spent almost all his weekends and holidays over the past three years on nature outings. He said no one who participates in the organization's activities, even if they do so just once or twice, would dispose of garbage casually again. Wang, himself, for example, carried four-kg of garbage and a 20-kg pack on his back during an eight-hour trip to Taibai Mountain in Shanxi Province recently.
Environmental conservation is a customary practice among all "Outing to Nature" members. If somebody fails to observe this, he or she will suffer criticism from others, although sometimes this is very gentle. During the Taibai Mountain trip, Wang recalled, no sooner had he unconsciously written his name on a ruined building, one of his colleagues erased the characters. "I would never do such a thing again," Wang said with a smile.
A travel story had appeared on the organization's website, in which the author depicted how he and his several companions had eaten a dying wild boar. The story aroused great anger among "Outing to Nature" members. Consequently, online denouncements against those people lasted almost two months. "In addition to not killing wildlife, you should just follow the paths of the local people, and you should never obtain water or light a fire at the sacrifice of living trees, unless your life is at stake," said Wang, adding that this is the constitution for all members of the group.
In addition to self-discipline, Wang and his companions have also tried to affect local people's attitudes toward the environment wherever they have been. At a scenic site in Henan Province, they succeeded in persuading a local official to put a ring-pull drink can, which the man had just casually thrown away, into the trash can; and at the Badaling section of the Great Wall, they became involved in a fierce quarrel with a couple who tried to carve their names into bricks on the wall. Wang said he always saves water, never pouring it away until it cannot be further reused.
Xu Jian shares Wang's feeling. Xu has both launched and participated in many environmental conservation activities during his university years. He was among the initiators of activities involving the Disposable Chopsticks-Free Campus, the refusal to use New Year cards so as to protect forest resources, lectures tours on protection of Tibetan antelopes and contribution of voluntary labor in the construction of the Hoh Xil Tibetan Antelope Protection Station. Xu has visited a number of universities, one after another, to advocate the classified disposal of garbage, and aided dropouts with money raised from the sale of collected used paper. Xu, together with dozens of other Senol members, camped during the night in Beijing's Purple Bamboo Park for a month in 1998, in an endeavor to keep a pair of wild geese, about to hatch their eggs, from unexpected harm. "It was exciting to see the birth of new life and, more importantly, the event greatly raised public awareness of environmental conservation," Xu noted. Though the busy Xu doesn’t have much time to participate in environmental conservation activities nowadays, they are part of his life. "Most of my peers also live such a life," he added.
China's environmental conservation, especially in the nongovernmental field, began late, but has made great strides over the past 10 years.
Yang Xin began to devote himself to protection of sources of the Yangtze River in 1995. He has organized an investigation of the local ecological environment and participated in setting up the Hoh Xil Tibetan Antelope Protection Station and the Monument to Environmental Conservation of the Sources of the Yangtze River. Protection of the sources of the Yangtze River has been a symbolic environmental conservation project in China, leading others in terms of both altitude and time span. "I'd liken environmental conservation to a radial that has only a start but no end," said Yang, who vowed to advance protection of the sources of the Yangtze River to the end.
Nongovernmental environmental conservation organizations and volunteers have played key roles in cultivating and raising public awareness of the environment. In the wake of the awareness prevailing day by day, more and more volunteers like Yang Xin are emerging. In recent years, many nongovernmental environmental conservation organizations have been established, including Friends of Nature, Global Village Beijing and Green Home, which have constituted the mainstay of nongovernmental environmental conservation forces in China.
More individuals have become involved in environmental conservation. In Inner Mongolia, Yin Yuzhen and her husband, totally on their own, planted trees on 2,600 hectares of land in a 16-year period from 1985, improving not only their own standard of life but also the local ecology. Wei Guiying, a 65-year-old Beijinger, spent more than 10 years afforesting a 330-hectare barren hill that she contracted in 1984. Tian Guirong is a famous figure in Xinxiang City, Henan Province, for she alone collected 52 tons of discarded batteries.
Young people and teenagers are increasingly contributing to environmental conservation. Yuan Rishe, an eight-year-old pupil at Beijing Donggaofang Elementary School, launched a One Sheet of Paper campaign in 1994. So far, he has recycled more than 70,000 sheets of used paper. It would have taken 14 three-meter-high trees to supply the materials used to produce this much paper.
Advanced technologies have also been introduced to environmental conservation. The influence and number of websites featuring environmental conservation are both rising. A year after its establishment, daily visits to ep.net, a leading environmental conservation website in China, have exceeded 100,000. Liu Weiping, the website's manager, said the Internet has offered a new channel for environmental conservation education. "Our website aims to publicize environmental conservation knowledge via the web, in order to turn such an idea into common voluntary practice," he said.
Prof. Qu Geping, former Minister in charge of the State Environmental Protection Administration and a witness to the development of China's environmental conservation undertaking, held that China’s environmental conservation cause is ushering in its best development period in history. He said, "Currently, consciousness of environmental conservation has remarkably increased at Central and local governments, among officials and ordinary citizens, and in cities and the countryside. A lot of unsung heroes are contributing to this undertaking at a grassroots level, which should earn them social recognition and respect."
Influences of a "Green Olympics"
After Beijing won its bid to host the 2008 Olympic Games last July, the excited Liao Xiaoyi, advisor for environmental issues of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games Bid Committee, felt heavier pressure and severer challenges.
"Green Olympics" constitutes one of the three main themes set for the 2008 Olympic Games, which is expected to facilitate the city's environmental quality improvement and promote a green lifestyle.
As China's environmental quality will face worldwide focus, Liao holds environmental conservation should be a task of both the government and ordinary citizens, thus making mass environmental conservation, based on individual consciousness and behavior, a tendency of the 21st century.
In the seven years ahead, Liao said, it is imperative for Beijing to effectively raise people’s awareness of environmental conservation and perfect the public participation mechanism, in order to honor its pledges concerning the "Green Olympics."
Liao believes education on environmental conservation is the key. "When today's education endeavors blossom into successful fulfillment of the 'Green Olympics' idea in seven years time, it will be a gratification to our environmental activists. Almost every citizen and all nongovernmental environmental conservation organizations are working hard for that exciting purpose," she said.
The painstaking efforts of the Chinese in advancing environmental conservation have earned increasing global appreciation as well. In Oslo, Norway, on June 14, 2000, Liao Xiaoyi was granted the 2000 Sophie Prize, one of the world's biggest and most significant environment awards, for her outstanding contributions to China's environmental conservation. This year, she received another important global environment award in Australia. Liao said most of her overseas counterparts agree that Beijing will benefit from hosting the 2008 Olympic Games, thus remarkably improving its environment.
"I am confident that Beijingers' consciousness of environment and their participation in this undertaking will reach a new height in 2008," declared Liao.
(Beijing Review December 18, 2001)