Clean technology, sustainable tourism. They go hand-in-hand in China, right?
Not so, says Hunan province’s Zhang Yue, or “Chairman Zhang” – the founder and chairman of innovative, clean-tech Broad Air Conditioning and accompanying utopian Broad Town in Changsha, the province’s capital.
The Chairman, according to a recent New York Times article, “achieved the new Chinese dream of making millions, but then dropped the jet-setting life for a green philosophy that determines company policy” for his air conditioning empire.
While Chairman Zhang is unwaveringly pro-green technology and sustainable living, he does not have the same praise for tourism in China. The author of the article, Manuela Zoninsein, writes,
Despite Broad [Air Conditioning]’s affiliation with the Expo, [Chairman] Zhang remains vociferous and critical, pointing out the innate hypocrisy of focusing on sustainable urban development while also “inducing people to tour, to attract more people for tourism. … All of the above is quite dangerous,” Zhang warns, before pulling another drag on his cigarette.
Though the thought of hordes of visitors to the Expo may not conjure up images of sustainability etc., Zhang seems to overlook the value of the event as an educational tool. The Expo isn’t “inducing people to tour” so much as to experience the future of our world.
What are they experiencing? Models for better living and technology for a more environmentally-friendly future. The Expo’s primary mission has never been to simply entertain or amass crowds (though these are certainly side-effects). Rather, the event displays a re-conceptualization of life as we know it. It is important for China’s citizens – and people all over the world – to be exposed to this, especially in the context of living ‘green’ and sustainably in highly-populated areas.
There is certainly a cost to this education in the form of human traffic and waste generated during the Expo. But is any education free? The danger here, which Zhang suggests there is, is being unaware of how crucial this is to our survival (urban, suburban, or rural).
In a broader context, we at WildChina must constantly ask the following questions: Are we turning “off-the-beaten-path” destinations into purchasable commodities for people to exploit? Are we, in fact, playing into the hypocrisy that Chairman Zhang so vehemently opposes?
While Chairman Zhang may say yes, we beg to differ. Why? In contrast to the mass tourism agencies that are rampant all over China at present, WildChina cares deeply about cultural and environmental sustainability, and we strive to achieve these in each trip that we operate. The venues, activities, and guides that we choose for our journeys are intended to teach and engage our travelers, to push them beyond their previous notions of what ‘China’ and ‘Chinese’ mean. Accessing the farthest reaches of this country, whether that translates to cities or villages, means that our visitors aren’t numbers in overrun tourist traps, but examiners and thinkers in communities and spaces beyond the public eye.
So, Chairman, I challenge you: how can educating China’s people about the perils of lifestyles unchanged, and travelers of cultures oft-misunderstood be ‘dangerous’? In order to move forward with global ‘green’ goals, we must show people what life could be like with such practices and technology in place. We, as a tour operator, also commit to supporting traditional local communities while promoting cultural understanding by taking travelers all over China. In these ways, people avoid the dangers of being ignorant and unaware about our environment and our world, wherever they may be.
Let’s call this Lesson #1.
Photo credit: NY Times
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