Josie Liu: Some Thoughts on China’s Environment

I ran into a friend on Facebook the other day and chatted with him online. He is from Texas and his family of seven moved to Kunming, Yunnan last year as he was hired as a teacher at an international school there. He told me during the short chat that he and his wife went to see the “green paint” in Dianchi Lake, which was its greenish water. It was pollution, I told him. It was terrible and very sad, he wrote, the lake was a beautiful place. I swam in that lake when I was a little girl, but today nobody dares to touch the water. A huge amount of money has been spent to clean the lake up, but the damage is probably irreversible. The lake, once dubbed the “pearl of the plateau” (Yunnan resides on a major plateau in China), is now but a stinky sore on the landscape.

Dianchi is just one of the many, many heartbreaking stories of China’s environment. A few days ago, another American friend posted on Facebook that “Mongolia was amazing” and that he was heading to Beijing. My first impulse was that he was talking about Inner Mongolia in China, and I was blissful to hear him calling it “amazing,” because that would mean that (Inner) Mongolia was still a beautiful place despite the fact that the grasslands there have been overgrazed. So maybe things are not that bad, I thought. But I was still suspicious, because, honestly, I have little confidence in China’s environmental situation. So I left a comment: “Inner Mongolia or the Republic of Mongolia?” “The republic of…” he replied. Of course…I doubt that had my friend visited Inner Mongolia, he would still call it “amazing.”

It is just sad that Chinese people are seeing their lands, lakes, forests—that is, the physical body of the country— destroyed piece by piece due to relentless industrial development, lack of environmental regulation and blind pursuit of profit.

And it’s not just about the environment or even people’s quality of life or health. I remember reading in my middle school textbooks many articles appraising the beauty of the motherland–the spectacular Three Gorges on the Yangtze River, the roaring Yellow River, the endless, green grasslands in Inner Mongolia, to name just a few–which was the foundation for teaching students to love the country. I don’t know how teachers in today’s China are going to educate children. The breath-taking scenery of the Three Gorges is gone for good. The Yellow River has suffered water deficit for years and sometimes simply dries out for miles. And the massive grasslands in northern China are gradually turning into massive deserts

People around the world praise the beauty of their motherland as the common reason they themselves, and others, love their country. Sadly, it seems that Chinese people are running out of beautiful places to boast about and appreciate.

I once talked with a Chinese scholar who taught in the US. He told me that he loved going back to China to visit but would not live there. “Everything is great back in the country, only the environment is too bad,” he said. I’m sure he is not the only overseas-educated and successful Chinese who would rather stay overseas to stay away from the dirty air, water and landscape in the homeland. On the other hand, had the environment been well-preserved and cleaned-up in China, the country could have attracted more talent to live and work there. Not to mention that, after all, the country needs rich lands, clean water and air, as well as its natural beauty, simply to survive as the habitat for a billion people.