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April 20th, 2010

CHINA GREEN video “Fading Shangri-La 失色中的香格里拉” discusses Yunnan’s melting Mt. Khawa Karpo, features WildChina photography

By: Mei | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

Michael Zhao, of New York-based Asia Society’s CHINA GREEN, has produced another incredible video on environmental change in China and its societal and cultural implications for the Chinese people. WildChina was happy to contribute photos for such a meaningful video.


Snow-capped peaks of Mt. Khawa Karpo, also known as Meili Snow Mountain

“Fading Shangri-La 失色中的香格里拉” highlights the rapid change of Mt. Khawa Karpo, or Meili Snow Mountain in Chinese, which is hailed as the most sacred mountain for Tibetans in Yunnan. The video is an important follow-up to Orville Schell’s (also of Asia Society) February 2010 article, “China’s Magic Melting Mountain,” about which we previously blogged.

Visually stunning and more relevant than ever, this video highlights the impending threat of a lost Tibetan religious figure, holy land, and spiritual community in Yunnan as Mt. Khawa Karpo’s glacial peaks continue to melt.

From the CHINA GREEN website:

Mt Khawa Karpo, known by Chinese as Meili Snow Mountain, is among the most sacred mountains in the Tibetan world. It is here in the steep valleys that novelist James Hilton set his Lost Horizon, describing the utopian wonderland of Shangri-La where time stands still. Tibetans have long worshiped this holy mountain, regarded as one of the highest spiritual gods in this mountainous region of China.

Yet as the earth warms, glacier retreat and ice loss here over the last decade have reached alarming levels and the melting is only accelerating. As a result, locals worry that the soul of this holy land – their Shangri-La – is slipping away. With it, a supernatural source of blessing for their people and communities is feared to be disappearing.

Watch a trailer of the video here (and for the full version, go to CHINA GREEN’s website): Fading Shangri-la trailer on YouTube

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February 4th, 2010

Asia Society video: “Why China Why Climate?”

By: Mei | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

On the subjects of climate change, the Tibetan Plateau, and Orville Schell, our friend at New York-based Asia Society, Michael Zhao, recently sent us a video in which he combines and documents all three.

In his 3:35-minute film, Zhao captures the drastic physical changes of Asia’s most famous glacial peaks, shows the importance of glaciers to the livelihood of local cultures, and records Orville Schell’s insights on the importance of Chinese-American collaboration on climate change.

Orville notes in the video, “they’re [the glaciers are] the alarm system, and the alarm system has gone off. The question is, will we hear it?”


Watch the video on Michael Zhao’s YouTube channel. You can also send him a tweet @MikeZhaoYunfeng.

Photo credit: tampabay.com

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November 24th, 2009

China Scholar Orville Schell: Why Choose WildChina?

By: Mei | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

For those of us who’ve spent years studying China, Orville Schell is a very familiar name. His books, like The China Reader: The Reform Era, are widely read by students and policymakers alike, and his talks on behalf of the Asia Society’s China Green project are attended by many with an interest in China’s environmental issues.

So we were all thrilled when Orville, who has been to China countless times, not only chose to travel with WildChina to study the effect of climate change on glaciers, but also provided us with rave reviews about his trip to Lijiang and Shangri-La.

Here, in his own words, Orville explains what he sees as the WildChina difference:

“Why choose WildChina? Well, I think WildChina is quite skilled at sculpting trips for people who have specific interests. So, if in fact you’re a bird watcher, a glacier watcher, a river watcher, a minorities watcher – whatever your poison is, they seem to have the ability to highlight that.

I haven’t done many trips like this – but to go to a place like Yunnan and in a week to see a lot, you really do need someone to organize it. You need drivers who know what they’re doing, and cars and land rovers that can go on very rough roads and over landslides.

You want to be with people who you trust, not some crazy cab driver you’ve never met. So it was reassuring to have good drivers, good guides, and to be able to stop in at local people’s houses that these guides knew…and we had a Tibetan guide and a Chinese guide – both very familiar with the area and extremely fun to be around and very much a part of our group – not bored people who couldn’t wait to get off the bus and get everybody back on the plane…and that, I think, made the trip incomparably more meaningful and interesting for us.

I’m not a big tour joiner, frankly, and that would probably be a good reason to have WildChina organize your trips so that it wouldn’t be like a tour. It would be more things you wanted to do, not you fitting into their tour—but them making the tour fit your needs.”

Many thanks to Orville for these kind words! Be sure to view the video on our home page for stunning footage captured during Orville’s trip to Yunnan.

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November 18th, 2009

Asia Society Video: On Thinner Ice

By: Mei | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

There’s a breathtaking video on the Asia Society’s website right now that documents the effects that the melting of Himalayan glaciers will have on the 2 billion people who live in Asia. The video talks about glaciers as “the canary in the coal mine” for climate change, and urges China and the US (the two biggest contributors to global warming) to take decisive action.

One of the directors of the Asia Society, Orville Schell (featured in the video) traveled with WildChina this past spring to research glaciers in Yunnan. It was an amazing trip, and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the participants to learn about climate change in Yunnan first-hand. There’s also a video of this trip featuring Orville Schell on our homepage now, which you can see here.

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October 6th, 2009

Environmental Changes in Yunnan

By: Mei | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

Climate change often seems like an abstract concept to many of us. But as renowned China scholar Orville Schell writes in “The Thaw at the Roof of the World,” his recent New York Times op-ed, the effects of global warming can be clearly seen in a part of China close to WildChina’s heart: Yunnan province in the southwest.

WildChina recently ran a trip for Orville and a few of his friends from the Asia Society to Yunnan and the Tibetan Plateau so that they could examine these environmental changes up close. As he writes, most people visit Yunnan’s majestic Jade Dragon Snow Mountain for the beautiful views — unaware that the mountain’s Baishui Glacier No. 1 has receded 830 feet over the last 20 years due to climate change. While in the short run, the melting of the glacier will result in plenty of water, in the long run, it will in fact result in water scarcity – a serious issue, given that the glaciers on Jade Dragon Snow Mountain feed water into the uppear reaches of the Yangtze River, a major water resource for much of China.

Given that water resources are already dwindling worldwide, it’s no wonder that conservationists are drawing more and more attention to the pressing need to solve the climate change problem.  It certainly becomes much less abstract when you think about the people and lives that will be hugely affected, for the worse, by the environmental changes.

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May 12th, 2009

Author Michael Meyer Talks About Beijing’s Disappearing Hutong Neighborhoods

By: Mei | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

Michael Meyer is the author of a soon-to-be-published book called The Last Days of Old Beijing, which describes the disappearing hutong neighborhoods of Beijing, as well as the people who’ve lived there for decades. The book is on my to-read list, but I just watched a talk  Meyer gave at the Asia Society in New York.

Meyer lived in the old hutong neighborhood of Dazhalan, an area the size of Vatican City yet with over 57,000 residents squeezed into the narrow lane houses that have defined Beijing life for 600 years. Living without heat, air-conditioning, plumbing, or hot water, Meyer describes both the sense of community he felt around him, as well as the real physical discomfort that the residents of these neighborhoods feel – just imagine living in a brick house, with no insulation, in the middle of a Beijing winter!

While I often hear about the destruction of the old hutong neighborhoods, Meyer’s talk illustrated a few points I hadn’t seen before.

- The hutongs are vital centers of community and commerce, yet lacking in creature comforts we take for granted: in-house toilets, heating, and hot water. This poses a huge dilemma for preservationists as modern standards make these living conditions unacceptable.

- While a vital part of Beijing’s history, the hutongs are often not built (or more likely, repaired) with the highest construction standards. Furthermore, they were originally designed for a single-family, but almost all have been split and cordoned off into cramped living quarters with as many as 8 families in a single courtyard.

- Many hutong residents will happily accept government buy-outs on their land in order to move to modern apartments in the suburbs of Beijing.

I completely understand the two opposing forces at play here. From weekends spent wandering the back lanes of Beijing, I ‘ve fallen in love with the charm and history of the hutongs. However, I’ve also known friends who’ve moved into hutong apartments in the summer, only to leave immediately after they spend their first night shivering in the fall frost. Neither demolition nor the “Disney-fication” of the remaining alleyways are the answer; but I think there’s got to be a way to bring these communities up to par with modern life.

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