sclayton May 24th, 2009
Closing thoughts from Susan
My impressions about the state of environmental awareness in China suggest a picture that’s not quite what I expected. People do value the environment and seek out opportunities to spend time in nature — this was reflected in stories in the airline in-flight magazine, celebrating China’s natural scenery, and in the nature tourism that we saw. But nature as unmediated by humans, the wilderness that we celebrate in the West, may be a more foreign concept and even (according to some of our Chinese colleagues) a frightening one. Here is a photo of a plastic tree that was in the Kunming flower market; we also saw nature enhanced by neon, and in other ways a product of human constructions.
What we did observe was a very high level of official concern about practices that could harm the environment — more so, I would say, than in the U.S. This list of green practices from the Chengdu hotel is very extensive! Every (English-language) newspaper that we saw had articles and editorials relating to environmental concerns. The people we spoke with confirmed that it was a default priority. They are all aware that China has a large population and environmental resources that are threatened or limited. It’s not about an altruistic (or ecocentric) love of nature but about survival as a country.
This national priority does not necessarily translate to the level of individual awareness or empowerment, which may be one reason that official policies may be subverted at the local level. And opportunities for individuals, particularly children, to connect with nature in the city seem limited. So can a powerful central government prescribe not just behavior but values? And is that necessary?