BEIJING, China — Painter turned reformer Sun Jun, who directs the NGO Beijing Green Cross, is working with Chinese villagers to revitalize their villages, helping these communities take advantage of China’s growing ecotourism industry.
Eleven years ago, Sun traveled to a village whose poverty and dilapidation inspired him. A painter, he recognized the place’s potential for scenic beauty.
“I thought that compared with drawing it on the canvas, making it into a really beautiful piece of countryside would be more intriguing,” Sun said in an interview with the Global Times.
He first focused on ridding the village of its “rubbish.” Sun devised a simple system for organizing the ubiquitous trash: “wet” waste in one pile and “dry” in another. Simplicity notwithstanding, some villagers found Sun’s method onerous, but to compensate for this fact, Sun organized groups of volunteers to check in on villages and award prizes to the families who had diligently cleaned the area. Eventually, the village became litter-free.
Sun’s success working with this and other villages led him to his current position as Beijing Green Cross’s director.
Beijing Green Cross, an environmental protection NGO, is a response to China’s New Socialist Countryside Construction policy of 2006, a policy which sought to develop rural areas by reducing taxes on farmers and subsidizing farmers’ purchases of agricultural necessities. In addition, the Chinese government funded development projects, but development in this case often meant “Europeanization.” Villages were torn down and replaced with what Beijing Green Cross views as incongruous constructions.
Sun’s NGO seeks to develop sustainable villages, using a combination of organic farming and ecotourism.
For example, Beijing Green Cross worked for five years in a village called Haotang. Architects and designers conferred with villagers until a suitable renovation plan was agreed upon. Construction materials were purchased from local sources to ensure the new buildings would fit in with the environment. The village was renovated, with two new lotus ponds serving as focal points. Now, the village has a tourism industry serving thousands of people every year.
When villages develop their economies, the many villagers who left for the city to seek better opportunities return home to start businesses. This process combats the imbalance between the expansion of Chinese cities and the stagnation of Chinese villages.
The imbalance is huge: since 1980, as many as 200 million Chinese farmers migrated to urban centers. They are now returning to the countryside to take advantage of lucrative organic farming opportunities.
Once villages implement Sun’s waste-management system and grow their tourism industry, Beijing Green Cross plans for these villages to adopt methods of “ecological rural construction, including forest conservation, water and soil conservation, and organic tea garden construction.”
“If you open a door of beauty,” Sun said, “villagers will close the door of ugliness.”
The ecotourism industry has been growing in China. The emphasis, as Sun’s project in Haotang shows, has been on sustainability. For example, a bed and breakfast opened in the Yunnan province on the site of a former rubber plantation; it was constructed from wood that had been salvaged from the ramshackle houses of an old village.
A prominent figure in the development of sustainable ecotourism, Sun has vowed to devote his life to renovating villages and by doing so, to improve Chinese society.
– Ryan Yanke
Sources: Global Times, Beijing Green Cross, The Guardian 1, The Guardian 2
Photo: My Climate