I think the wall talks about the Chinese invasion of Xinjiang…
PBS Frontline has produced an inspiring documentary short on Ai Weiwei and about how he got into trouble…with fears..and more…
Meanwhile, a Cuban artist has projected his image onto the building of the Chinese Consulate in New York City:
In Green Eyes’ Wildlife Rescue Center in Cangnan, Guangdong Province there is a small eagle that was rescued many months ago. He is skinny with dark black feathers and can no longer fly. This once great bird is relegated to walking in a cage that he shares with two peacocks and a duck. Although mostly healthy, the bird nonetheless appears anxious and neurotic. He walks back and forth in the same spot and his head twitches every step of the way. Volunteers believe he ate something poisonous and is suffering from some form of neurological disorder.
The twitchy bird oddly returned to my mind as I chatted with Fang Minghe, Green Eyes’ founder and director, about the state of grassroots nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in China. The sector is both thriving and anxious. On one hand, people working in green NGOs are excited by the Chinese government’s increasing prioritization to protect the environment and the international community’s attention and funding of grassroots groups that are addressing China’s immense environmental problems. On the other hand, there is a fear that too much success of a Chinese NGO might illicit the attention of political entities or individuals in China that perceive the sector as a threat.
While Western NGOs normally highlight media coverage of their accomplishments to boost their reputation, some environmental activists try their best to stay under the radar. When Green Eyes won a landmark victory in March 2009 and rescued a gray nurse shark, Fang was wary and unwilling to answer a few eager questions from an international paper. When I asked Fang to explain his reaction, he stated simply, “the gun shoots the bird that sticks out.” This popular Chinese saying refers to the risks of being too conspicuous in one’s public conduct.
BREAKING OUT OF THE CAGE
Sometimes Chinese NGOs must tread cautiously and anxiously like the caged bird and activists feel compelled to carefully avoid any missteps and hush themselves when they think they may be making too much noise. However, there are signs of more openness among Chinese green groups. For example, in early 2009, the Gansu NGO Green Camel Bell tried to utilize the new Environmental Information Disclosure Regulation to request a list of polluting enterprises from a local Environmental Protection Bureau (EPB). The Green Camel Bell staff received a phone call and an invitation for an in-person meeting, at which EPB officials told them that the information could not be released at the moment due to its potential impacts on companies that were already crippled by the economic downturn.
The EPB’s open reception marks progress from the organization’s early days when Green Camel Bell engaged in a campaign to prevent the city from shutting down one of Lanzhou’s popular electric bus lines. Aside from refusing the organization’s request for information regarding the government’s reasoning behind the decision, official strongly “advised” Green Camel Bell to stop engaging in its “disruptive advocacy.”
In early 2009 some of my other Pacific Environment colleagues and I visited another NGO’s project site in a southern city, where local efforts recently shut down three polluting factories after a two-year campaign. However, our presence generated official paranoia that evidently lasted for months. The local NGO’s campaign leader was summoned to meetings with high-ranking officials and cautioned not to get involved with foreign organizations. The officials further claimed to be aware of some articles that were published in foreign papers about our visit, but refused to cite their sources. The leader became anxious that we had written something that had put him in political danger. Clearly, the goal of the officials was to create mistrust between locals and outsiders and to discourage cooperation.
Small NGO leaders regularly lament to us that groups like theirs do not have the protection many Beijing NGOs enjoy. They can not advocate against polluting enterprises or local government violation of environmental regulations with the same fanfare and aggressiveness as bigger Beijing groups like the Institute for Public and Environmental Affairs and the Center for Legal Assistance to Pollution Victims. This view is widely shared among young environmental activists operating outside of major cities like Beijing, Shanghai or Guangzhou.
However, two recent incidents of government harassment of well-known NGOs in Beijing demonstrate that no one is immune from sanction when the political wind changes direction. In June 2009, authorities practically shut down two NGOs—Yirenping (a group fighting discrimination against HIV-AIDS infected individuals) and Open Constitution Initiative (a group focused on rule-of-law issues)—based on allegations of tax and registration irregularity. In the same month the government disbarred 50 lawyers known for being active in politically sensitive advocacy work. Intense and arbitrary scrutiny such as this critically affects the growth and effectiveness of grassroots civil societies in China.
ACTIVISM WITH CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS
Local NGOs are already careful at cultivating their role as a constructive force within the environment they operate. The successful ones build strong connections, or guanxi, with the government, media and academic institutions. It is what one Chinese observer described as “activism with Chinese characteristics.” Once guanxi is established, the NGOs can be effective in their own ways.
Green Eyes is perhaps one of the more successful groups engaging in such activism. In the mere decade since its founding, Green Eyes has built a remarkable reputation among key stakeholders in its home province of Zhejiang. Fang and some of his staff are environmental lecturers officially designated by the Wenzhou EPB’s Propaganda Department to regularly speak to schools and universities about environmental protection.
In our brief three-day visit in March 2009, I witnessed how Fang Minghe was able to tap on his good reputation in helping local officials and educators in environmental education to help his group obtain critical resources for his organization. The Cangnan Education Bureau Chief donated a vacant school to Green Eyes, enabling them to expand their Wildlife Rescue Station and help supplement the work of the bureau. The Wenzhou City University also provided them with a free office on campus to enable them to expand their environmental education work with youth. The new office unveiling ceremony was marked with fanfare and captured with a photo story published in the Wenzhou Metro Post.
After building a strong reputation in Zhejiang, Fang expanded into Guangdong and formed the South China Nature Society (SCNS). Utilizing their experience working with local governments in Zhejiang, Fang and his team regularly visits the Guangdong EPB to report on their work and he proactively seeks consultation on their projects. These efforts helped build a strong cooperative foundation with the EPB, which designated a liaison to receive SCNS and provide information and guidance for this NGO’s work.
Within two months of opening its door, the Guangdong office garnered attention in March 2009 and literally caused a sensational stir among the “eat-anything” Cantonese for saving a gray nurse shark from being served as shark fin soup. SCNS volunteers appealed for public support with a parade through the streets of Guangzhou and received monetary donations from citizens and positive reception from the media. The restaurant owner went from being stridently dismissive of their efforts to ceremoniously announcing their decision to give up and donate the shark to the Guangdong Aquarium. However, this success did not go unnoticed and Fang’s staff has since been directed to tone down their work by government representatives.
As China develops its economy, the society must recognize the inevitable growth of NGOs and the value of their presence. Globally and within China NGOs have proved to be effective agents for incremental changes that benefit both society and government. The list of accomplishments by Chinese NGOs is long and growing. For example, domestic organizations like IPE have created successful tracking systems to monitor polluting enterprises and local implementations of environmental laws; others have built organic water treatment system that successfully cleaned up polluted farmlands and fish ponds; and some are engaging in large-scale projects to adopt alternative energy that are fundamentally changing how rural economies operate.
All things considered, China’s local governments can and will benefit from supporting local NGO efforts. Furthermore, the national government can and should do more to enable and protect these grassroots environmental efforts, specifically by reforming the current registration regulations that inhibit the growth of the NGO sector and encouraging local governments to collaborate more with NGOs rather than to simply monitor them. These changes would help promote the independence and self-governance of NGOs and undoubtedly be more constructive than “shooting the bird that sticks out.”
This article originally appeared in the China Environment Series 11 and was published by the Woodrow Wilson Center’s China Environment Forum.
Half way through the climate negotiation here in Tianjin, China and the U.S. are once again caught in heavy bickering and finger-pointing. Both have made damning accusations of the other side for negotiating unfaithfully, publicly and informally.
Meanwhile, a group of Chinese intellectuals and NGOs put together an open letter to the US government regarding its failure to take actions on climate change, while highlighting China’s domestic efforts in contrast to the US, through a comparison chart. It was delivered to the head of the US delegation in Tianjin at an NGO briefing and a meeting was requested to discuss the substance of the letter. Here are some highlights from the letter:
“… we want to emphasize that China is not and must not continue to serve as an excuse for continued inaction by the United States, especially as China is moving forward with serious efforts. The United States, as the world’s richest country and its greatest historical polluter, must fulfill its obligations under the UNFCCC and Bali Action Plan. We call upon the United States to respect and contribute to the UN process, instead of undermining it and becoming a shield for other Annex I countries to hide behind.”
“It is time for the United States to stop using China as a scapegoat, and to move forward with whatever honest efforts it can come up with..”
Although I personally find the overall tone of the open letter a bit nationalistic and defensive, it contains important facts that shed light on how behind the US is on the issue of addressing climate change given its historical responsibility.
” The United States is and remains the world’s largest contributor to climate change. With less than 5% of global population it accounts for 29% of global cumulative emissions (between 1850 and 2006) that are causing climate change; China accounts for a mere 8.62% with 20% to 22% global population.
Today, average citizens in the United States continue to pollute about four times as much as people in China – at 19.2 versus 4.9 metric tons per capita in 2008.
China set up a comprehensive National Climate Action Program in 2007; the United States continues to have no comprehensive national climate legislation.”
It also offers an important alternative to a U.S.- favorite media narrative that was beginning to dominate the news on the climate negotiation in the last several days. However, I want to caution that while delegates of governments from around the world converge in Tianjin to negotiate important elements of the climate treaty, most if not every delegate will likely already be speaking on behalf of national interests. The climate movement should not resort to similar approach or potentially further fan nationalistic flame. We have to accept that this is, after all, a negotiation between nations. There should probably be no illusion that countries will be negotiating on behalf of national interests and nothing more, or less.
With delegates of both countries already lashing damning and insinuating remarks on each other at their respective final press conferences today, and other countries beginning to take the “wait and see” backseat approach to see how the “spat” plays out between the two major emitters, I believe our job as civil society is not to take side with governments, but with the planet.
The US’s inability to move forward on climate legislation has to do with its peculiar political system and the lack of political consensus on the ground in the US. It’s also a failure on our part as U.S. NGOs. We have failed to educate and mobilize enough ordinary Americans across political spectrums and convince them to believe in the urgency for actions and push our Congressional representatives to legislate accordingly.
In order to win comprehensive climate legislation in the US, we need to wage a campaign that reaches across race, class and gender; and brings together the environmental movement, the labor movement and the social justice movement, much like the 2008 Presidential campaign that brought Obama into the White House. We have managed to put climate change on the agenda and in the public discourse, now we need a real movement to push for sustained and long-term actions to address it.
Join the 10/10/10 Global Work Party to address climate change and start talking to people who never wanted to listen to us and explain to them why climate change affects all of us. Think about Hurricane Katrina, the Gansu mudslide, the Pakistani flood. Poor people will be the hardest hit, be them in China or the U.S. .
FAIR USE NOTICE. This document may contain copyrighted material whose use has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. I am making this article available in our efforts to advance the understanding of environmental and social issues. I believe that this constitutes a ‘fair use’ of the copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Law. If you wish to use this copyrighted material for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use,’ you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.
My Last minute speech at UNFCCC:
Dear Chairman and distinguished delegates from around the world,
As a Chinese American, I’ve seen a lot of bickering between the two countries in the last week. Each claiming that they cannot act unless the other does. I want to tell the story of an analogy: a boat is sinking and it has one hour to get to shore. All citizens of all countries are on this boat. If one country says I would only raft, if the other countries would commit to rafting, then we will never get to shore.
In this situation, I want to urge all of you to put aside your national interests and negotiate as citizens of the planet. If any country claims that it cannot act unless others do, then it is not serious about addressing climate change. Instead, I urge that every country offer their fair share of responsibility for the planet and ask others to follow their lead.
I believe any action that is less strong than Kyoto is a failure for all of us. What we need to aim for is something that must be more STRONG, BALANCE AND AMBITIOUS than even the Kyoto Protocol. A “Balanced Package” means developed countries must accept more emission reduction targets, offer more financial aid and technology transfer for developing countries, so they can mitigate their emission and adapt to climate change.
Grandpa Hu (not his real name) said “my loyalty always lies with Chairman Mao”. His red pin emblazoned with the golden head of Mao proudly hung on his left chest. It sparkled in the sun, its statement pronounced by the backdrop of his dark blue vest. Grandpa Hu wore a pair of wide-rimmed Polaroid sunglasses unusually fancy for a retired peasant. He seemed healthy and strong. His description of how his family was unaffected by the flood sounded proud and almost cheery. Grandpa Hu said he used to work for the Forestry Department, until they decided they actually need someone literate to do the job. He was told to retire early. His accent was too thick and I had to wait for my host to transcribe his words to match my speculation of what he may have said.
We were visiting Jilin City, in Jilin Province where a devastating flood pierced through homes, killed hundred of lives and brought 7000 buckets of chemicals, some empty, some explosive, into a nearby river, which then floated downstream to the Songhua River. Cubical-styled storefronts lined the main boulevard, most busied with constructions, old and new. The real face of the town is hidden behind these storefronts.
We turned the corner onto a side street next to a foul river littered with trash, among them Styrofoam, bottles, old shoes. Women in colorful dress and white hats crouched by the river, dipping their blankets in the gray water running by and beating them with wooden sticks – their primitive method of washing. New homes were being built using discarded materials that made them look shabby. The town’s dilapidated condition is likely a result of its poverty rather than the recent flood.
The bodies of a couple were recently discovered during reconstruction. The neighbors nearby the river claimed that construction fund never went to ordinary people. Much was promised amid government fanfare but little materialized into results on the ground. A middle school we passed by was having a photo exhibit of the school during the flood and its subsequent reconstruction, highlighting the concerns of party officials and the heartwarming collaborations between teachers and students. The billboards were set against the school wall marking the level of water as high as 3 meters above ground. On this sunny afternoon, the school’s surface seemed crusty with mud stains. But everything had been put in its proper place and its recovery is nonetheless remarkably speedy compare to the stalemate of post-Katrina New Orleans.
We then arrived at an industrial park 10 km on the outskirts of town in search of the factories that collapsed during the flood and sent thousands of chemical buckets into the nearby river. We had no address and didn’t ask for direction. Our host was worried about attracting attention. After a 20-minute walk under the scorching sun on a wide boulevard lined with large chemical plants, we arrived at the last one at the end of the road. I was told that the buckets came from two factories adjacent to each other. But one never got much mention in media report because it has strong “back table” or backing in the local government. The factory that was widely named in the news reports did not have glided signs proudly bearing its company name like every other plant in the park. Instead, an old wooden pane was hung on its metal gate and bore the company’s name in clumsy handwriting – New Asia Strong Biochemical LTD. The company’s 23.6 million assets were built with a customer base that reaches every continent.
The company seemed to be operating normally. The famous blue buckets were stacked up on its vast unpaved ground. Our host explained that the company boss believed his company was simply a victim of an unfortunate natural disaster. He had wanted to move his company away elsewhere where his products are sold to but was persuaded to stay, by the local government. I thought, the company really deserves nothing less than a banquet thanking him for his tax contribution to the county, much the same as what the Dalian government did for the China National Petroleum Corporation after the biggest oil spill darken the city’s shoreline and gripped the nation’s headline for weeks.
There wasn’t much to see after all. The river where the explosive chemicals once floated in was still stingy and grey. But that was nothing unusual compare to most rivers in China, despite its utility as drinking water for tens and thousands along the river. As we walked towards the exit of the industrial park, new plants were being constructed on both sides of the boulevard – another chemical plant, and a food storage and processing plant, all bearing the promise of growth and prosperity. Another red banner loosely hung on the gate of one of the factories – “Look for self-help in time of disaster, not the party”.
The Onion, American’s #1 source of FAKE NEWS made this offensive, UN-PC and saddening video on pollution.
My favorite commentary by viewers on the You Tube site is from legoman762005 :
” I bet the Chinese version of the Onion would show America celebrating getting fatter”
Author: Wu Haoliang
Ocean means international environmental organization, sun means social environmental protection organizations, fire means youth environmental protection organizations, and tree means student environmental protection organizations.
In 2002, when I went back to my hometown in Guangdong, I visited my grandparents’ house where I grew up until the age of 12. I took photos of the bricks and the walls, all soon to be torn down for new developments. No one ever knew for sure what would stand on the ground afterward. By the time i returned in 2006, the entire neighborhood laid in ruins. Next to it stood a glitzy entertainment center armed with 5 floors of boutiques, restaurants and bars.
As I stood among broken tiles and bricks looking for familiar objects that may connect me back to the structure that contained three generations of my family’s memories, I grew despondent and resentful. Over the years, I came to accept that I have no right to be resentful. My family left China for the American Dream; when I became old enough I decided I would not return to China to live, but only visit as a guest. What right do I have to expect old memories, places and people to remain the same as I remembered them?
Acceptance is only a short breath away from the mere denial of one’s true emotions. My conflicting feelings would return every time I would hear a story or watch a movie about forced migrations in China. Throughout Chinese history, people seem to be the least of anyone’s concerns, including the people themselves. Lives are routinely lost or changed, voluntarily or involuntarily for the greater good, the higher ideal, or the national interests. Giving is not a sacrifice, it is expected. When you do, it will be celebrated; but if you don’t, you will be scorned.
Today, 499 villagers in Hubei Province marched off to new lives arranged for them by the Chinese government, the first wave of a total of an estimated 330,000 people. If there should be resentment and nostalgia among those whose identities will forever be redefined, the recording of their expressions are confined to that of a teenage girl who was concerned about the lost of old schoolmates. It is almost as if the” trivial” matter of grieving for ones’ lost memories and histories belongs only to those too young to understand, too infantile to grasp the true nature of progress and its other manifestations – a new life equipped with new utensils, a modern house, one-week worth of groceries and a plot of land.