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Building Spree Should Not Damage Nature and Ecology
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Not only has building a new countryside become a catch phrase, but it has also sparked a new construction binge in villages across China.


Rural communities that media have publicized as role models invariably look new, with row upon row of new multi-storey apartments, condominiums or individual houses.


Moreover, some villages have built parks, opened village squares, or even dug out canals surrounding their residential areas.


They have been exemplified over the past month via the Beijing Television news program, which called for viewers to vote for the 10 "most beautiful villages in Beijing" from a candidate list of 33, out of some 4,000 villages in China's capital.


It is really encouraging to see the villagers lead lives comparable to those of their urban pals - if not better, since many enjoy far bigger houses and cleaner air.


That is why these villages have drawn a lot of urbanites, who go to farms and nature for a leisurely weekend. In Miyun's Shitanglu Village, tourists come to eat farmers' dishes after scaling some hills to see the ruined ancient Great Wall.


In Pinggu, Beizhai has become a hot backpackers' spot because the locals grow what are arguably the best apricots in north China.


The Cuandixia in Mentougou, meanwhile, lures tourists by showing off their ancestors' houses, which go back to the 16th and 17th centuries.


By accommodating and entertaining urbanites with their products as well as nature or relics, these villagers have become prosperous.


However, the nature and the ecology in some places may have suffered during the craze to attract more urbanites to rural suburbs.


Over the weekend, a friend of mine who is an avid bird-watcher went to look for migratory birds in the hills of Kuangou, Huairou in the suburbs of Beijing.


To his disappointment, the woods where he had spotted some pretty, precious migratory birds last year had been replaced with fruit trees.


A pond where migratory birds once drank water is now quite smelly. No more wild water fouls would take a rest there now, because a local farmer has turned the pond into a duck-breeding centre. The stench may have been caused by the farmer trying to raise too many ducks there.


I believe some experts are right to point out recently that the concept of the new countryside does not mean building new houses alone.


Some villages seem to show more merit - such as Zhuanghu in Huairou, where the villagers have embraced ideas of energy conservation, installed solar-powered heating devices for hot water and cooking, and built water and garbage treatment facilities.


And the 420 households in Nanhe, Fangshan, grow vegetables in the "green" way without using chemicals; some have started to try going "organic." Half the homes now use gas or solar heating devices.


Whatever merits these villages show, the new countryside should also bring in a way of life and production that protects the environment and conserves energy, wildlife, nature and ecology.


It is a pity that very few of the model villages on the candidate list demonstrate that the villagers have made some efforts along those lines.


We have to remember that excessive construction, without consideration of a place's natural surroundings, will only turn visitors away. The deterioration of the once natural enclave in Huairou is one bad example.




(China Daily October 26, 2006)

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