Applications for the WildChina Explorer Grant 2017 are now open. We caught up with last year’s winner, Dongrui Yu, to get the lowdown on how he spent his time as the WildChina Explorer 2016.
Each year WildChina empowers aspiring explorers with a grant to help them realize their dreams. Last year the recipient was professional photographer and stargazer Dongrui Yu who we helped to kick-start his quest to document the dark skies above southwest China’s Yunnan Province. His project, “Finding Yunnan’s Lost Stars,” fit perfectly with WildChina’s vision of exploring the WILD parts of China.
Like so many places across China, clear night skies are quickly becoming a thing of the past, lost in the light pollution following the country’s rapid urbanization. Passionate about protecting the natural beauty of his home province, Dongrui has set about creating the first ever star map of Yunnan Province, part of his dream to establish a dark sky reserve for future generations to enjoy.
His work vividly captures the rarely seen drama that plays out across the province’s night skies together with the encroachment of the modern world, seen in newly built highways snaking across Yunnan’s idyllic countryside.
Dongrui told us more about his pioneering project and why aspiring explorers should apply for this year’s WildChina Explorer Grant.
Could you please describe how you used your WildChina Explorer Grant award for those who aren’t familiar with your work?
First I set up a plan of drawing a star map for the whole of Yunnan province, which is my home province, as well as that of WildChina founder Mei Zhang. Nobody has done this before. It’s a new way to show the landscape to the public. Most travelers only see landscapes during daylight, and nighttime is for rest. It’s an amazing time to see the stars and scenery.
Most friends and others I’ve met think that starry skies can only be seen in New Zealand or Tibet, but it’s possible to see the starry skies just an hours’ drive from your local Chinese city.
What are your most memorable moments from your time as the WildChina Explorer 2016?
At a lake called Pǔ zhě hēi in the southeast of Yunnan, near to Guangxi Province. Low altitude usually means the air is not the most clear there, but I saw the magnificent Milky Way rising behind the lake in the mountains – the same kind of [karst limestone] mountains seen in Guilin. It wasn’t cold, because it was the middle of May, so I could just wear a T-shirt and drink some beers. Most of the time photographers are suffering in the cold temperatures in places full of unseen wild creatures. But lying down by the lake and seeing the stars come out; it was less windy and very peaceful.
Why would you recommend applying for the Wild China Explorer Grant?
The unique part of this grant is that you can focus your project on whatever you want, from culture to food, or landscapes. You can do what you like, and be yourself. You won’t be told what to do, like when you’re working for others, who may choose to cut out some of your material. I was given a lot more time and freedom than usual.
How do you think winning the Explorer Grant impacted you?
At first I wasn’t so confident, but when I finally won it I realized that I could get a lot more support from WildChina, it would much more easier than doing it all by myself.
Why is this project important to you?
Because I am going to establish a star park in China, and this is research for the big project. This is just the start. I’ve already considered several sites in Yunnan, which could feature a star park alongside a hotel. It can be difficult to do deep research like this, it takes courage and a lot of time.
What is the next step for your project?
The next step is two steps forward; the bigger project for the star map project, and establishing the star park. The first part is fancy, taking photos of the landscape, making star maps. Part two is quite complex; meeting people, getting permission from the government, getting the land, building – there’s a lot of work to do. It could take some time, but Rome wasn’t built in a day.
As Dongrui continues on his pioneering mission to create Asia’s second dark sky reserve we’re betting his success is written in the stars. Here’s a video he created during his time as the WildChina Explorer 2016:
Feeling inspired? Hungry for adventure?