International fillip for Chinese greens
China in the World | Environment
International accolades for two Chinese environmental advocates have underlined growing global interest—and, perhaps, unrealistically great expectations—vested in China’s fledgling environmental movement.
Writer and activist, Ma Jun, is ranked by Time magazine this month as among “100 People Who Shape Our World” while NGO leader, Yu Xiaogang, has been awarded a USD 125,000 Goldman Environmental Prize that has been styled a “green Nobel Prize.” Both men are critics of China’s water resource management.
Ma, 38, a former researcher for the South China Morning Post, wrote a book that was translated into English and published as China’s Water Crisis. US screen actor, Ed Norton, writing in Time, says that the book “may be for China what Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was for the U.S.—the country’s first great environmental call to arms.”
Time’s 2006 list of global shakers, movers and celebrities includes two other Chinese citizens: Premier Wen Jiabao and entrepreneur, Huang Guangyu, whose Gome Electronics retail chain has taken him from rags to riches.
Yu, 55, was one of six Goldman prizewinners in 2006, announced in April. He is the founder of the campaigning NGO, Green Watershed, which has highlighted the social costs of hydropower development borne by local communities in Yunnan Province. Yu first studied the social impacts of hydropower dams while writing a PhD thesis, and has been under close state surveillance since bringing representatives from affected communities to a UN conference held in Beijing in 2004.
This is not the first time that international organisations have honoured Chinese environmentalists. In 1992, Professor Qu Geping, who had headed China’s environmental protection agency for a decade, was awarded the United Nations Sasakawa Prize. In 2000, the limelight shifted to NGO leaders. Global Village of Beijing founder, Liao Xiaoyi, received a USD 100,000 Sophie Prize endowed by the Norwegian writer, Jostein Gardner, while Friends of Nature founder, Liang Congjie, received a Ramon Magsaysay Award, which is also sometimes described as “Asia’s Nobel Prize.”
The latest tributes come at a time of heightened international awareness of China’s environmental stress and growing, global‘footprint.’ Although Time magazine’s ranking of Ma Jun alongside Wen Jiabao and Geroge W. Bush in terms of global influence is certainly hyperbolic, it nonetheless illustrates the notable and interesting fact that China’s international image is now being shaped not only by the Chinese state and business community, but also by the non-governmental community.
Time magazine was created by Henry Robinson Luce, who was born and grew up in China where his parents served as missionaries. The Luce Foundation, which he endowed, continues to make grants to support higher education and theological studies in China.
The Goldman Environmental Prize was established in 1990 by San Francisco civic leader and philanthropist, Richard N. Goldman, and his late wife, Rhoda H. Goldman. It has since been awarded to 113 people from 67 countries.
Report by Nick Young, May 5 2006