The man considered the founder of the environmental movement in Chica, Liang Congjie, was born August 4, 1932 (died 2010). Liang was an historian who took the lead, with three others, to form the first recognized environmental non-governmental organization in China in 1994, called “Friends of Nature.”
Liang came from a family long associated with governmental and civic reform. His grandfather promoted the change from an imperial to a constitutional government at the turn of the 20th Century. For his efforts, he was exiled to Japan for 14 years. Liang’s father was an architect who lobbied vigorously for the preservation of Beijing’s ancient walls when the Communist government took over; unfortunately, he lost that battle. Liang’s detractors in China often noted that he was a descendent of “public intellectuals” and royalists, characteristics antipathetic to the Chinese Communist regime.
Nonetheless, Liang persevered and, as a forty-year-old student, studied history at Peking University. He became an historian at the private publication house and school, the Academy for Chinese Culture. There, he and three colleagues recognized the growing interest in environmental conditions in China and noted that the country had no organizations like Greenpeace to address that interest.
They formed Friends of Nature in 1994. Unlike Greenpeace, whose aggressive and confrontational tactics would not have been allowed in China, Liang’s organization sought to work with the government, encouraging the use of existing environmental laws more effectively. The group had two early successes. First, they fought over-harvest of the Tibetan Antelope, an animal that had been classified as endangered by the IUCN in 2000. With the publicity brought to the issue by Friends of Nature, hunting has been curtailed and the population has tripled. IUCN now classifies it as “near threatened” since 2016.
The second success was an undercover exposé of plans by local government officials to cut down a virgin forest. The film they made was shown on Chinese national television. The public outcry from the film caused the government to pass strict laws against logging in virgin forests in 1999.
Since then, Friends of Nature has expanded into many other program areas. Their website describes their mission as promoting “awareness about China’s most pressing environmental problems. It enlists over 10,000 volunteers and 14 local chapters to conduct its activities. It began China’s first bird-watching organization. It works extensively on environmental education, through publishing, camps and teacher-training. Current priorities include reducing solid waste, addressing global warming and protecting endangered species and habitats.
Brown, Kerry. 2010. Liang Congjie obituary. The Guardian, November 15, 2010. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/nov/15/liang-congjie-obituary. Accessed on August 4, 2017.
Friends of Nature. About FON. Available at: http://old.fon.org.cn/index.php/en/post/id/1114. Accessed August 4, 2017.
IUCN. Pantholops hodgsonii. IUCN Red List. Available at: http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/15967/0. Accessed August 4, 2017.
Wines, Michael. 2010. Liang Congjie, Chinese Environmental Pioneer, Dies at 78. The New York Times, October 29, 2010. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/30/world/asia/30liang.html. Accessed August 4, 2017.