October 29, 2010
Source: People’s Daily Online
Reported by: Zhao Yongxin
Mr. Liang at home, February 2007. (photo by Zhao Yongxin)
Mr. Liang Congjie has gone.
At around 4 p.m. October 28th, 2010, Mr. Liang Congjie, the grandson of Sir Liang Qichao and the son of Sir Liang Sicheng, the member of seventh to tenth National People’s political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), and one of the founders of China’s environmental NGO "Friends of Nature”, passed away in Beijing Shijitan Hosptial in a struggle against disease. He was 78.
“Mr. Liang has passed away?!” Upon the terrible news, many could not believe their ears.
Mr. Liang has gone indeed. However, the green seeds he sowed while living have already taken root, sprouted, blossomed and borne fruit.
“We would rather have another ‘friend of nature’ even if that means the loss of a historian.”
Mr. Liang was born on October 4, 1932. His grandfather, Liang Qichao (1873-1929), was a famous Chinese thinker and reformist during the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911). His father, Liang Sicheng, was the pioneer of China’s architectural history studies, and his mother, the architect and writer Lin Huiyin, stood out for both of her scholarship and beauty. His parents name him “Congjie,” hoping he could become someone like Li Jie, an accomplished architect during the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127). Afterwards, his exam scores were not so high as to enter the Architecture Department of Tsinghua University, so he went on to study history. (At that time, Liang Sicheng, his father, was dean of that department.) After graduating from university, Mr. Liang devoted himself to historical teaching and research except for working in the fields for almost ten years during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). In 1988, he resigned from his official position and worked as a supervisor in the private Academy of Chinese Culture. Since 1989, he has been a member of Committee of Population, Resources and Environment of CPPCC.
On March 31, 1994, Mr. Liang who was already in his sixties strongly sensed the seriousness of China’s environmental problems. Hence he quitted historical studies and established the Green School under the Academy of Chinese Culture with several friends having common goal. This NGO on environmental protection, also called “Friends of Nature,” aims to protect nature and treat nature well. Based on good cooperation with the government, the group holds itself responsible for enhancing public awareness of environmental protection and meanwhile emphasizes its independence as well as its reserved rights to supervise and criticize government actions.
On such a U-turn made by Mr. Liang, the great Chinese scholar Ji Xianlin commented as follows, “Congjie used to be a historian. Had he walked on along this path, he would have made some achievements without taking any risk. Yet he didn’t think it worthy enough to stay within the ivory tower where he might enjoy high position and live in ease and comfort; he resolved to forsake that smooth path and turned from a historian into ‘a friend of nature.’ Such is the manifestation of his deep concerns for the people, the county and the world, a move that echoes the public voice and follows the social trend. I can do nothing but express my admiration and reverence for him. We would rather have another ‘friend of nature’ even if that means the loss of a historian.”
Mr. Ji put it best –
Sixteen years ago, when the Chinese had poor awareness of environmental protection, Friends of Nature insisted on carrying out various environmental education programmes in all strata of society with a down-to-earth attitude. Nowadays, environmental education has entered so many places including schools, communities, and enterprises that the green seeds have been spread all around China.
Sixteen years ago, “private environmental organization” was a strange word and few people involved. Today, Friends of Nature has grown into a national and global renowned organization comprising over ten thousand members. It has also inspired the emergence of groups in Beijing such as Green Earth Volunteers, Global Village and countless others across the country, which have become an indispensible force in the trend of environmental protection. As a result, it has become the choice of the public to start with individual efforts to protect the environment.
Over sixteen years, through the strenuous efforts of Friends of Nature, the golden monkeys in Northwest Yunnan Province and many pristine forests have been saved from the axe and Kekexili has been made a national nature reserve. Also, scientific verification has become a precondition for dam construction, Capital Streel Group has moved out of Beijing and the proposal to rebuild Yuanmingyuan has been suspended.
Over the past sixteen years, at the instance of Friends of Nature, it has become a common practice to put sensitive construction projects under public scrutiny before they are started, people’s rights to know, participate and supervise as regards environmental issues have been protected by law, and the public appeal for environmental protection has broken new ground…
Mr. Liang’s personal actions to protect the environment have been recognized home and abroad: Earth Prize Award, Panda Award, Environmental Ambassador of State Environmental Protection Administration, environment counselor of the Organizing Committee of Beijing Olympic Games, one of the 50 influential public scholars chosen by Southern People Weekly, the 2005 Green China “Person of the Year,” Mother River Award, “Person of the Decade” awarded by China Newsweek in 2010, Asian Environmental Award, and Ramon Magsaysay Award for public service, etc.
However, Mr. Liang was never pleased with himself.
“It will be better if some day there were too many people like me to win those prizes,” said he.
“We think our contributions to China’s environmental protection in the past decade are quite limited and unworthy of any celebration,” he said, “In the future, say, on the 20th anniversary (of Friends of Nature), when we have made bigger contributions, let us celebrate then.”
Until now, pollution control initiate by the government is still faced with enormous obstacles; therefore, it is thinkable how difficult it was for private organizations to carry out similar programmes more than a decade ago.
Mr. Liang was once invited to give a lecture in a government organization, but he did not expect that only five people had come to listen. Even so, he did not give up, as he said, “If I can plant five green seeds in each of your hearts, I will be fairly contented.”
“We do not aim to make a huge difference, but such patience by which dripping water penetrates the stone is neccessary. We need to insist drop by drop.” Mr. Liang consistently making progress by his courage and stubben by force of dropping water to penetrating stone.
“The habitat of golden monkeys in Yunnan Province has been seriously threatened.” Mr. Liang heard this news in the autumn of 1995.
The golden monkeys living in Northwest Yunan are scarce, which are under State first class protection. Nevertheless, to overcome financial difficulties, the local government decided to cut down a primitive forest of more than 100 square kilometers where these animals inhabit.
Having heard of the news, Mr. Liang first immediately covered the issue through news media and then wrote to officials in the central government. His appeal received two officials approval. Hence Deqin County of Yunnan Province decided to temporarily put down the axe.
However, Mr. Liang got to know in 1998 that logging behaivor over that natural forests had never been truly stopped. Once again, he appealed to the media for support. Afterwards, the issue got exposed by the media including the CCTV programme “Topics in Focus,” forcing the local government to stop its destructive action.
In contrast, protecting Tibetan antelopes was ever more arduous and time-consuming. In the 1990s, illegal hunters, obsessed with high profits in cashmere trade, often chased and shot Tibetan antelopes while driving, (Shawls made of the cashmere are costly luxuries on global market.) In consequence, the number of Tibetan antelopes decreased from hundreds of thousands to around 70 thousand, close to extinction. To protect them, Suonandajie, a county-level official in Northwest China’s Qinghai Province, led a team named “Wild Yak” to struggle against illegal hunters and sacrificed his life at last. The environmental volunteer Yang Xin decided to build a nature after the name of Suonandajie so as to remember the hero and warn the illegal. To raise money, he also wrote the book Soul of the Yangtze River and later mortgaged it to a enterprise and for exchange to purchase facilities for the station.
When Mr. Liang found out what Yang was doing, he called Yang at once, “Come to Beijing. I will arrange a public lecture for you. We will speak and sell books college by college.”
On that scorching summer day, Mr. Liang, Yang Xin and others, drenched in sweat, wasted no time in giving speeches and selling books at universities in Beijing
In February 1999, Mr. Liang wrote to State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) and State Forestry Administration (SFA), suggesting to unify administration of Tibetan antelope protection and to establish Qinghai, Tibet and Xinjiang provinces concerted defense system. Shortly afterwards, the SAF launched a massive campaign against illegal hunting, which greatly deterred illegal hunters.
In May of the same year, the 67-year-old Mr. Liang along with reporters headed for “Suonandajie” conservation station with rarefied air of the mountain at an altitude of approximately 4000 meters. He lit a torch in person and burned the hide of Tibetan antelopes confiscated from illegal hunters. Unfortunately, he had a car accident on their way back, dislocating his right shoulder and bruising his chest. Yet he did not mention a word on his injury when interviewed.
As he wrote in a journal, “The environmental movement is not a gentle idyll but full of risky. Paying a price for the folk green undertaking, we have nothing to regret at all.”
To further protect Tibetan antelopes, Mr. Liang even took greater risks. On October 6 1998 when former British Prime Minister Tony Blair visited China, Mr. Liang wrote to him bluntly: “I beseech you to employ your personal influence on your own country as well your European counterparts and to join us to prevent these rare animals from dying out due to the ‘deadly’ fashion…”
The next day, Blair met him and replied to his letter on the same day: “I will surely communicate your demand to environmental authorities of the United Nations and the European Union. I hope it will be possible to stop the illegal trade (of expensive shawls made of Tibetan antelope cashmere).”
Tie Zheng, who accompanied Mr. Liang to conduct interviews in Kekexili, said, “I clearly sense that what runs in his blood vessels is his love for nature. This is a deep and eternal love.”
Issuing the honorary member of council certificate to Jing Yidan(Photo by Zhao Yongxin)
Wholeheartedly, practice what one advocates
“No preaching as a savior of the environment,” Mr. Liang made it the cardinal rule of Friends of Nature, and “Wholeheartedly, practice what one advocates” is his requirement for this organization.
Whoever acquainted with Friends of Nature must have known that all the business cards of it staff are made with used paper and that they print only what they have to print on the back of used paper. Lots of stationery in the office, such as the printer, the filing cabinet and the safes are all secondhand; the cloth covers for chairs were sewn by members at home and even the sofa of Mr. Liang was collected from somewhere.
Members of Friends of Nature seldom eat or drink with public fund. When the staff has a dinner at times, they all go Dutch, five to ten yuan per person. Very few people were so fortunate as to be invited to dinner by Friends of Nature, among whom were the world-famous environmental figure Doctor Jane Goodal and Zhabaduojie, captain of “Yak Team.”
Mr. Liang himself set an even greater example by strictly practicing these rules.
When he went out, he would bring with him a small cloth pocket which contained a pair of chopsticks and a rice spoon.
Before injuring himself in the accident, he would go out by bike whenever possible. Once, he rode to the CPPCC to sign in, but the janitor stopped him and asked, “For whom are you signing in?”
“For myself,” said Mr. Liang.
The doubtful janitor did not allow his entry until he took out his membership certificate.
Fang Jin, wife of Mr. Liang, has told this story: “Before he went to Philippines to receive the Magsaysay Award in August 2000, everyone suggested he prepare two business suits due to the very formal occasion. As I accompanied him to China World Shopping Mall, he said to me on the way, ‘But for these ceremonial dresses, I would never go to such a place.’ Having bought the suits, we let him try them on and find him awkward anyway because of his shoes. His leather shoes, bought in Japan in 1979, were too old-fashioned to match the new suits. We urged him to buy a new pair, but he smiled and said, ‘Never mind. I will try to enrich my facial expressions. I will make it if they only pay attention to my upper body.’”
Mr. Liang’s lifestyle was inconceivably simple. As Xie Mei, who had been a volunteer with Friends of Nature, once recalled, “There was a year when Mr. Liang invited us to spend the Spring Festival in his home. That was the first time I had dined in his house. I had thought I was going to gorge myself, but when I entered, Mr. Liang was cooking fried noodle and a few cold dishes by himself. We sat in a circle, chatting and laughing. In this way we welcomed the new year. The TV set remained off for the whole evening.”
“Since I was able to remember things, it has been the first New Year’s Eve when I didn’t watch the CCTV Spring Festival Gala. It’s extremely fresh and we felt good. For the first time I realized we could have a fantastic time without television,” Xie Mei said, “Now as a habit, I seldom watch TV. Without it, life can still be fine. On the contrary, there will be less turbulence and restlessness.”
“There is only one earth. There is no such thing as letting the earth adapt to us. We have to adjust our own actions.” With his personal deeds, Mr. Liang lived up to his green ideal: the way to judge a person’s environmental awareness is not to see how much he or she knows but to see what he or she has done to protect the environment.
Mr. Liang’s hobbies include reading, watching VCD’s and listening to CD’s. Because he thought CD’s were too expensive, he only bought one each month.
Mr. Liang said, “People should possess some spirit and pursue somthing. In this era, we can choose to lead a different life.”
Attending the strategic planning seminar of Friends of Nature (Photo by Zhao Yongxi)
We must do our best to repay the land which has nurtured us.
It should be very appropriate to describe Mr. Liang’s character as “mild yet stern.” As for students coming to seek help or volunteers keen on environmental protection, he always received them with smile and amiability; however, when faced with those rude officials and extravagant bosses, Mr. Liang was never afraid to stand up to them and voice his opinions, sometimes even very harshly, regardless of their positions and wealth. In a meeting about Beijing’s river pollution control held in March 2001, I witnessed the entire process during which Mr. Liang argued tit for tat with a certain official of Beijing. As this arrogant official talked in a particularly aggressive manner, Mr. Liang was involved in a fierce debate with him, which caused the official to stop in his tracks and leave in a huff.
Even with foreign guests, Mr. Liang did not water down his statement, either. In 1999, he was invited to attend a forum in Shanghai. Addressing the audience who were economic magnates from Fortune Global 500 companies, Mr. Liang said sharply, “What you will do is but promote a lifestyle in China, which actually has something to do with consumerism…if you want to sell your products in China, you should first let the Chinese westernize their consumption concepts. At that time, the Chinese will be thinking about what cars or mobile phones to buy for the next year, children will be counting how many flavors of ice cream and hamburger they can eat, and women will be considering what top brand cosmetics they will use…However, if over a billion Chinese follow your lifestyle, will China be able to supply so many resources? According to the 1990 official statistics, China’s per capita amount of resource consumption is 1/14 of that of America. Now if China reached the living conditions of America in 1990, the whole world would not be able to meet its energy demand. That would be not only the tragedy of China but also tragedy of the world. Have you ever thought about your responsibilities?”
On many occasions, Mr. Liang was not a welcome person for his sharp and sarcastic remarks.
“Those who understand me think I am worried, those who do not will ask me what I am pursuing.” When interviewed by the Chinese anchorwoman Yang Lan, Mr. Liang confessed, “From Liang Qichao to Liang Sicheng, and to me, if there is anything in common between us along three generations, it will be the sense of social responsibility. We were born and raised here. Since this land has nurtured us, we must do our best to repay it for our society and nation.”
Only through relentless conceited efforts, can we make an energy-saving society possible.
“Because China has the largest population in the world, each individual holds a little share of resources. Currently, China is developing with unprecedented scale and speed. If we pay no attention to conservation, the development of China will not sustain. Conservation starts with everyone and every trifle thing, such as a piece of paper, a kilowatt-hour of electricity and a basin of water. Only through relentless conceited efforts, can we make an energy-saving society possible.” This is a passage from Mr. Liang’s speech as he addressed the awarding ceremony of Green China “Person of the Year” on November 30, 2005.
Although his health has deteriorated since 2007, Mr. Liang still concerned himself about the development of Friends of Nature and would attend as many activities as he could.
This summer, the newly-elected council of Friends of Nature held a strategic planning seminar. While Mr. Liang was no longer the president, he still came and had a heart-to-heart talk with his old and new colleagues.
At the beginning of 2008, when Friends of Nature hosted a spring tea party, Mr. Liang, who had less often left his home, wearing a felt hat and a cotton coat, braved the elements and trudged to the meeting. There he saw the members of Friends of Nature and awarded honorary membership certificates to the CCTV anchorwoman Jing Yidan and others.
In March 2009, Friends of Nature had a seminar in celebration of its fifteenth anniversary. Considering Mr. Liang’s wish, the seminar was specially held somewhere near his home. Seeing Mr. Liang coming in supported by the arm for his difficulty in walking, many old members could not contain their excitement and all went over to shake his hands. As he could not sit too long, he left after listening for a little while, walking gingerly with the help of his nurse. Following Mr. Liang, I watched him walk across the yard and ascend the stairs step by step in his cloth shoes.
This is the last time Mr. Liang participated in the activity of Friends of Nature.
What held Mr. Liang so worry about the future of Friends of Nature and environmental protection?
“People and other animals are all children of Nature. If sparrows are killed out, more pests will occur. The excessive use of pesticide will leave the residues of agricultural chemicals in everybody’s abdomen. I could care less since I am so old, but how about so many young people and so many children as our country’s flowers ?”
Now the Son of Nature has flew as a crane to the Western Paradise, bidding us a final farewell.
Please listen to this green hero’s life exhortations: The awareness of billions of people will form into a great force, whereas their ignorance or indifference can also bring the earth a heavy burden and even a catastrophe.
Translator: Tong Jun;Chen Chuan
Proofreader: Alice Lin