The ex-journalist switched to activism in 1997 after hearing Chinese hydro-engineers boast that the Yellow River was a model of water management, even though it was so over-dammed and exploited that it failed to reach the sea on more than 200 days each year. That inspired Ma to write an influential book warning of an impending crisis.
There was not much an ordinary citizen could do then, when green campaigners were considered a threat to a government fixated with economic growth regardless of the environmental cost. But much has changed. Since 2003, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao has done more than any leader to press the environmental case. Five years ago, there were fewer than 50 registered green NGOs in the country. Today there are almost 3,000. [Full text]