Lee's Travels: The Great Wall & The Nature Conservancy

Hey AWS,

Above is a picture of me after leading my Mongol horde onto the great wall. My Mongols immediately went to the espresso shop at the bottom of the hill, which is why they are not seen in this picture.

Today was a very productive day as we learned how nonprofits operate in China. We visited the Society for Entrepreneurs and Ecology (SEE) and the Nature Conservancy (TNC Beijing office). The SEE has 130 members who are all successful business persons who give more than 100,000 yuen annually. They are sort of like a board for the organization comprised of entrepreneurs from all industries. At the moment, they mainly focus on the desert areas of inner Mongolia where we will visit in a couple of days, however they have visions of international conservation efforts.

It sounds as if the vast majority of their funding comes from the entrepreneurs and a little bit from corporate sponsors. I worry that the organization is limited in what they can do because of potential conflicts of interests between funders and conservation issues. We have our hands tied in the US as well (see "Fight for the Bay", the book about political dead zones in the US by Howard Ernst). Even more interestingly, I did find out that they don't have membership like we do in the US because it is against the law to solicit. People or businesses can only donate voluntarily. I see this as a potential setback for China because in the US, not only does membership financially support the organization, it is a way for people to become involved in the issues and take positive action with their own initiative. With 1.3 billion people, it is necessary that those people become active participants in conservation because no one else can possibly do it for them. They need to be aware and empowered. At the same time, with a centralized government, when a decision is made it is acted on very efficiently and successfully.

We also met with Dr. Qiaoyu Guo who works on the Yangtze River Project with the Nature Conservancy. She was very informative and provided new perspectives for us. She informed us of many new damns west on the river that will be made by the company that also made the Three Gorges damn. These new dams will have a great impact on Chinas ecology and the people. People dwelling near the river are expected to settle in areas where the water has receded endangering them with flooding. The Chinese government does not fund international organizations and TNC gets their funding elsewhere, which is also interesting.

One of the neatest things I've done here in Beijing was to visit the art district called "798." I'm pretty sure that we'll be hearing about this place in the next five years. It is a little ways out of the center of the city (although there really is no center because this city has a downtown the entire size of DC) and it is in some old abandoned warehouses and factories. The art district is pretty huge, approximately 30 city blocks, and there are countless art galleries. This place is where the envelope gets pushed really hard, but it seems free to do what it wants to. I've included photos (above) of some of the paintings that I was astonished to see in the capitol of China. When I return to Beijing after visiting Shanghai I plan to spend a day here soaking it all in. I'm very excited for the end of this trip when we will meet with the Chinese delegation because we will both be able to gain insight through fresh eyes.

Signing off,

Fun fact: Above is a picture of a man hole with the Chinese character for water on it, pronounced "shui." They have a variety of characters on different manholes, one even looks like a lightning bolt.


Lee's China trip

It's clear that your trip is a step toward greater understanding about the state of natural resources in China, and how China is dealing with all of its challenges. Your collaboration with the Chinese group will be interesting!



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