When we think of modern-day China, it’s often the gob-smacking rate of urbanisation, the business hubs of Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong and the potential of the world’s largest and most industrious population that captures our imaginations. Glistening Peking duck, beef in oyster sauce and an appetite for dog meat and chicken feet complete the stereotypical imaginings of the nation, alongside a penchant for using endangered animals such as shark, tiger and panda, in delicacies and traditional medicines.
But it’s easy to forget that one of the fastest developing countries in the world also harbours some of our greatest tracts of forest and is home to some of the most diverse and unique wildlife on the planet. Yet China has largely neglected its natural heritage, sacrificing much of its rich wildlife in the name of economic and social advancement. Yu Kongjian, Professor of Urban and Regional Planning at Peking University, comments that “China is almost completely a brownfield”, adding that “some 75 percent of China’s water is heavily polluted and 50 percent of wetland habitat has been lost”.
Whilst ancient beliefs emphasized the harmonious co-existence of man and nature, as the world’s number one coal-burning nation and with just 14% of its original forest cover remaining, today’s economic gain and material wealth in China have largely been achieved at the expense of the natural world.
However, it seems that we may be entering a new era of environmental awareness in China. NGOs and student groups have begun to campaign for the protection of endangered wildlife and in October this year, China announced an ambitious conservation plan to reverse the decline in habitat and species diversity.
Broadcast earlier this year, the BBC series Wild China gave a fantastic insight into the beauty and importance of China’s landscape, reconnecting its people with nature through documenting ancient and modern-day interactions.Co-produced by the BBC Natural History Unit and China Central Television, the series detailed China’s natural history in a six-part series, highlighting China’s ancestral ties with nature, from ancient fishing methods to the protection of sacred mountains.
A highlight was programme six, a feature on the iconic Giant Panda, listed as endangered in the World Conservation Union's (IUCN's) Red List of Threatened Animals. With around 1,000 left in the wild it was encouraging to see the positive, if somewhat bizarre efforts made in parts of China to protect and re-populate the species. The series was also broadcast in China, Australia and Canada, heralding a turning point in attitudes towards China’s natural heritage.
Watch highlights from Wild China here
This article was also published by Responsible Travel News
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