Nature Conservation

Traditionally, Chinese arts have had a massive influence from nature. Many artifacts from ancient china depict both real and mythical creatures and they tell of magical powers that the creatures possess. In fact a lot of aspects of Chinese living stems from nature. Chinese legend speaks of men wandering into the mountains seeking immortality and purifying their spirit.  But with china developing at such a rapid rate and industry taking over the land, natural habitats are quickly disappearing. Many animals in china are now becoming endangered, hunted for their great value. Pollution is effecting air quality and poisoning waterways. With China becoming so industrialized conservation seems to be getting brushed aside. Like most aspects of life there are people that are keen on conservation and others that care more about economic growth. This variation of opinion can be seen across many different generations.

Traditional Chinese medicine uses nature in its remedies. In Chinese medicine, bones command a very handsome price as a kidney enhancer and remedy for arthritis. Endangered animals such as the snow leopard are hunted for this reason. There is a large lucrative market in china for endangered animals. This causes a negative and often destructive attitude towards conservation. Hunting is quite common and threatens a number of species in china. But the threat doesn’t come just from the demand for medicine. Primarily animals are seen in China as things to eat. There is a wide range and variation of meats eaten in China. Some of witch would have people’s stomachs turning in the west.

There are groups in China that are trying to stop poaching and conserve natural habitats. These conservation groups are built up of people of all ages. However it is more common for people from “Boomers” (approximate ages 40-60) and “Post-Career” (60+) generations to make up the majority of the group. This could be because they know more and care more about the environment. It could also be that older generations were brought up in a time were the power to control all industry was in the hands of the government. Most people had very little money and industry was producing virtually no consumer goods. The environmental benefits of this kind of anti-consumerism are obvious. This meant that there was never a major concern about conservation in China. Younger generations are growing up in a time were economic growth is everything and this is were the biggest threat to China’s Eco-system comes from, industry. China has become the biggest emitter of carbon dioxide on the planet. With goods being shipped across the world and with Chinese consumers (who can afford it) wanting bigger cars, bigger houses, the latest electrical goods, with seemingly no conscious of the environmental impact it brings.

There seems to be a strong opinion that most businesses in china don’t care about the environment. This could be due to the constant pressure to increase production, making environmental concerns unaffordable. With China’s economy developing at such a rapid rate businesses claim not to have the necessary means to deal with pollution, nor do they have the regulatory agencies to watch over it. The government in Beijing no longer has the will nor the power to force businesses to deal with these problems. As a result, much of China is beyond environmental salvation. The Yangtze River is a great example of what effect the industrial boom in China is having to natural habitats. There is thought to be at least three species in the Yangtze that are critically endangered. In 2006 the Baiji, (Chinese river Dolphin) “Goddess of the Yangtze” was declared functionally extinct. However there have been unofficial sightings since. This devastation of aquatic species has come about with commercial use of the river coupled with tourism and pollution.

There are some cases however were businesses in China are being “green”. The company “Broad Air-conditioning” has made environmental protection one of there top priorities and China is in fact a world leader in solar power. Seven of the top ten leading solar company’s in the world are Chinese. China is also the largest producer of wind energy producing a new wind turbine every hour. But to get to this level China has had to burn a lot of coal and produce a lot of pollution. The Chinese government is aiming to be the first “Green super power”. Experts predict that China’s emissions will double before they start to decline. Many natural habitats are being taken over by new large-scale factories and workers accommodation. China is growing and its city’s are expanding making natural habitats vanish.

It is key then that China looks to its young entrepreneurs to change the way that China’s economy is growing to an eco-friendly approach. It seems however that the number one goal is to get rich first and then approach the problem of conservation. Some have called this the “me generation” aspiring to have the latest goods and top brands “Looking out for number one”. The president for China’s Energy conservation, Mr. Yang Xincheng is 67 and The other Key Executives for China Energy Conservation are also all from the time were Chinese industry was at a kind of underdeveloped “half-throttle” stage were very few consumer goods were produced for Chinese people. The government has set up some environmental protection commissions. There are also more and more articles in newspapers in China and across the world, discussing what must be done to save China’s ecology. There are also some animal sanctuaries set up to help endangered species. But it still seems that China’s natural habitats are declining at an alarming rate.

China is stuck with a dilemma between production and environmental protection. Like with almost all aspects of life there is a large variation of opinions. The main opinion though suggests that there are more important things to worry about than “being green”. Things like continuing the economic growth and becoming world-leading innovators. Whether China can reach these goals wile still having concerns about the environment remains to be seen.

Because it’s cheap!

I am currently studying jewellery design, but I will not be writing about beaded necklaces that are made for Mardi Gras. Actually, we do not celebrate it in Europe in the same way that it is celebrated in the United States. I am mostly going to express mine and others opinions about daily life and how we deal with jewellery and clothes shops in Dundee, the UK, France, and Europe.

In order to find the opinions of other people, I sent out a questionnaire to teenagers, workmen, students, unemployed, and retired individuals. I tried to ask people from different social classes to find if money made a difference. The questions I asked were simple and were based on questions that I was curious to find the answers to. After the answers I received, I also came up with a few more questions to ask.

The first question I asked was, “When I say ‘Made in China’, what does that mean to you?” The replies I received were very similar, ranging from “huge factories, poor people working, children workers, rapidity, profitability, cheap goods, bad quality”.  Almost everyone thought the same thing, more on a negative side. The question is, “do people continue to buy Chinese items even if they criticize it?” I found that people do still continue to buy items despite what they know.

Even as a jeweller, I admit that I buy cheap jewels that are made in China (Claire’s, Topshop, New Look, Primark). These jewels are the kind that are easily breakable, lost, cheap, and are not important.  I always check the labels of things I buy out of curiosity, including clothes and jewellery. Honestly, I know where and how the stuff I buy are made when it says “Made in China”, but out of habit I still continue to buy it. It seems wrong, especially when I am aware of the bad conditions, pollution, and other factors. Why don’t I change? It is probably because it’s a habit. I’m still a student so I always try to find the cheapest deal when I buy clothes and jewellery. Many people I interviewed do the same. Even though we are aware of what is happening, we live too far from the reality of the other side of the world and are more concerned about the money in our purse.

I’ve asked my friends and myself the reasons as to why we continue to buy cheap things all the time, especially when we don’t need it. Why do we not keep our money in order to buy something of better quality, made in Europe in good working conditions, but more expensive? The response that came up was quantity. Our society is a consumer society. The fashion society will tell you what to wear and say that what you are currently purchasing will be outdated in a few months! We do not want the expensive brand made by a fashion designer. Instead we prefer similar clothing just for the attitude and look. Most people don’t have the money to buy designer brands, unless they are from the upper class! You can just ignore that and try to buy “ethical” clothes and jewellery that was made in better working conditions or go to second hand shops. I try to do that sometimes, but I find that things made in Europe are too expensive to buy all the time or items in second hand shops are not “fashionable”.  I received similar responses from my panel. Some people are not interested in buying second hand clothes, but more to try less but Asian goods.

I’ve asked some people the reasons why they want to stop buying jewellery and good “made in China” and they reply, “ because Made in China items are destroying western jobs, factories, and the economy.” When I ask them about the working conditions, people are aware of how the products are made and feel guilty, but most of them admit that this is not the first thought that came to mind.

A few friends have argued that products “Made in China” are everywhere, so it’s kind of hard to boycott it. We can’t really do that because China has such a large export industry worldwide and it’s probably not a wise thing to do either. Europe is in a huge crisis and people are very aware of their money and how much things cost. We may tend to blame China, but actually they are just making what we want and ask for: cheap, consumable, but a detriment in quality and working conditions.

We tend to blame China for many reasons, but goods produced from other Asian countries like India and Bangladesh, South America and Turkey are all made in poor working conditions. The quality for products from these countries is similar to Chinese goods and pollution from clothing factories is quite harmful. A large number of jeans are made in Turkey and sadly workers in textile factories have serious health injuries. The public tends to turn a blind eye towards these issues. Why do we only really focus on what happens in China? I asked this question to my panel and gave them information about jean factories in Turkey as a comparison. Some people came up with interesting responses. They said that China is one of the most powerful countries in the world, western people and westerns factories are possibly afraid of that. They try to make China the black sheep because they were able to increase their economy so quickly. Chinese made goods quickly and at an affordable price in large quantity, due to the large numbers of workers they have! Westerns try to use the guilt factor with consumers in order to keep their economy alive.

A Pre-conceived Idea of China and its Products

Many people have very set views of China and its products. China is renowned worldwide for its well made, and very well designed electronics.  However, it is also well known for mass-production, ‘well-made fakes’, and often poor factory conditions. A lot of people do not care where their product has come from, as long as it is good quality and value for money. And many people simply are not aware of how and where their product was made.

I interviewed around 7 friends, friends of friends, and self confessed shopping fanatics to find out their opinion on Chinese products, how they think they are made, and the quality of products which were ‘Made in China’. Each participant was given the same list of questions, but I asked a few different questions too, depending on their answer. Below is an example of one of the more interesting interviews:

Are you concerned with where your clothes come from? 

‘No, it makes no difference whether its from China, the UK or anywhere. I mostly care about the quality of the clothes.’

Would you be put off buying clothes from a certain company if you found out their factory staff were working in bad conditions?

‘I suppose so, but it wouldn’t stop me buying/using the products if they were good quality.’

When you see the words ‘Made in China’, what immediately comes to mind?

‘I just imagine huge, industrial and clean looking factories full of Chinese people making stuff. If something says ‘Made in Taiwan’ however, for some reason I picture kids working in poor conditions for a small wage. (that might be a bit judgemental!)’

Do you think the Chinese produce better quality products than Western countries?

‘If you’re referring to electronics then yes. They are the best at making electronics as far as I am concerned. But in regards to clothes, obviously there is a huge market for fakes in China and that makes me slightly suspicious that their clothing isn’t of as good quality as something you might find in a Western factory.’

If you were given a gift of a piece of clothing – not from a recognisable brand – with only a label that said ‘Made in China’ on it, would you be reluctant to wear it. Would you assume it was poor quality?

I might be a bit suspicious that it came from a market where you might find a lot of fakes, but if the item of clothing looked good and seemed like good quality, I would still wear it.

Coming up with interview questions with a friend in my group…

Each of the participants had very similar opinions on Chinese produce, which were all interesting to hear. However, naturally none of the participants actually KNOW what goes on in the making of products in China. These were all their pre-conceived ideas. I want to know what ACTUALLY happens in Chinese factories, during the making of clothing, electronics and other products, to see if these opinions and allegations are correct.

I recently read an article on Mark Shields, a communications consultant from Washington DC, who describes himself as an ‘Apple super-user’. After finding out about the poor working conditions in Apple Mac factories in China he decided to start a petition which gathered over 162,000 signatures in the space of a week. The petition was to try and attain a ‘worker protection strategy’ to try to reduce the number of injuries and suicides which typically peak when the workers are under extreme pressure to meet quotas. Shields said ‘Here’s the thing: You’re Apple. You’re supposed to think different. I want to continue to use and love the products you make, because they’re changing the world and have already changed my life. But I also want to know that when I buy products from you, its not at the expense of horrible human suffering.’

Female workers resting their heads in exhaustion during their short break at an Apple factory in China

In reading this it was evident that many people DO care about where their product has come from, and how/where it was made. It was also interesting to find out about working conditions in Chinese Apple factories. I can safely say now, as I look at my Apple Mac desktop, that I feel slightly guilty using it. I decided to ask some of my participants a few more questions. But this time, I gave them some facts:

Workers at some Chinese Apple factories are paid as little as £1.12 an hour. In one particular branch, 18 people committed suicide on the premises due to extreme pressure. Many factories are now covered with suicide nets to stop people jumping to their deaths in the facility.

How does this make you feel about using Apple products?

‘I love my Apple Macbook too much to stop using it, but this makes me feel sick and guilty to use it, bearing in mind that it could have been made in these awful conditions.’

Did you think Chinese factories had such bad conditions until now?

‘No. I always thought it was the poorer countries that suffered from poor working conditions. I never knew that such a rich and successful country would treat their workers this way.’

It was interesting to see that, in general, people here, in Dundee, either believe that their stuff is just mass-produced in big, shiny Chinese factories, or, they simply do not care. There is such an element of shock when they find out about the awful working conditions in many Chinese factories, however I found from my survey that this still wouldn’t stop people from buying something made in poor working conditions, providing it was good quality. Ultimately, we tend to want to keep our pre-conceived ideas and stay ignorant to what really goes on during the making of our products, so that we can go on using them without feeling guilty.

A Chinese Distinction

It all began with an illusion.  A cylindrical device with narrow slits cut along the sides provided the first glimpse of a moving motion picture, the humble beginnings of modern day animation.  The invention was given the title “Zoetrope”.  The life turner.  A contraption in which a series of little characters could be viewed, as it’s spinning motion tricked the eyes from behind the slits into believing the characters themselves were moving, leaping, running, living.  It was a moving story, alive and birthed through the hands of Chinese inventor Ting Huan in the long ago days around 180 A. D.

Despite this birth however, it was not until hundreds of years later in the early 1920s that a group of four men, known as The Wan Brothers produced the first filmed animations.  In 1922 an advertisement for the Shuzhendong Chinese Typwriter saw Wan Laiming reveal the first documented animation piece.  This film clip was closely chased by subsequent cartoon shorts produced by The Wan Brothers, who had successfully grabbed the position of China’s animation pioneers.

 

From the beginning The Wan Brothers sought to ensure that their animations were not just entertaining.  They wanted their films to instruct and provide lessons for the young minds of China and they also wanted to produce an animation quality that was specifically Chinese.  China’s animations were not yet to be a thing of the future but were merely a new medium to promote ancient tales and traditional Chinese style.  The old culture and art was simply being showcased in a new way and for many years China drew much of its inspiration from ancient folklores.

Whilst the western world’s kids gobbled up the images of “Popeye” the sailor man and “Betty Boop” the children of China were feasting their eyes on animations such as “Princess Iron Fan” and “Uproar in Heaven”, both of which were adapted from the Chinese folklore “Journey to the West”.    China’s aim to make sure it’s culture and traditions were translated into film is overwhelmingly obvious to anyone who would wish to compare say “Popeye” with “Uproar in Heaven” and it is here that some clear distinctions can be seen.

 

Whilst “Popeye the Sailor Man” is an arguably simple character both in terms of stylisation and personality,  “Sun Wukong “or the “Monkey King”, the main character seen in “Uproar in Heaven”, reeks of Chinese culture.  “Uproar in Heaven” contains not only a much more complex storyline but also the colourful and flamboyant character style and traditional Chinese musical accompaniments, inspired by the Beijing Opera traditions, set it apart from any other countries animations.

 

China’s animation industry steadily grew throughout the mid 1900’s with the first Chinese coloured animation “Why is the Crow Black Coated” appearing, courtesy of The Wan Brothers, in 1956.   At this point in the animation story China was still pretty much on a par with other countries film pieces, at least technologically speaking, however, China’s desire to keep animations so close to home in terms of style and message was still blatantly transparent.

“Why is the Crow Black Coated”, although the first Chinese animation to be noted internationally, was again driving home an instructional message to its audiences.   This was not just for entertainments sake.  Take heed, it said.  All life is not a “happily ever after” story, especially if you are a pompous and somewhat arrogant bird (the main character seen in “Why is the Crow Black Coated”) who is lazy and neglects to prepare for the winter.  “There are consequences” China’s animation said.  The bird, though beautiful, did not prepare for the winter like the other animals and thus, found himself cold and without a home.  A forest fire seems like an unlikely friend to our poor freezing bird, however, life teaches a quick lesson and the bird burns his tail feathers black.  No longer a beautiful bird but a black crow.  The western world sold “happily ever after” and China continued to instruct.

 

Distinctions in Chinese animation further grew as China’s style took on new techniques, mainly folk art cut-paper animation and origami animation, in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.  Again these animations were based in Chinese Folk tales and there style was China all the way.  Clear examples of these types of animations can be seen in films such as “Pigsy Eats Watermelon” and “A Clever Duckling”.

 

Although in times closer to ours China has tried to adapt it’s animation industry to compete with the likes of America and its neighbour Japan, they seem to be struggling to keep up the currant pace, and one might argue that there would still be some clear distinctions undermining China’s present animation status when films like “Kung Fu Panda” were created by the Americans and not the Chinese.

 

The Warriors of Qiugang

In 2004, in the village of Qiugang, in Anhui Province, China, private chemical companies took over an old state-owned enterprise that had long produced pesticides and dyes. As production ramped up, black waters disgorged from the plants and flooded the fields of Qiugang. Fish died, crops failed, and villagers grew alarmed by the large numbers of their own succumbing to cancer. When his own fields could no longer be farmed, a farmer named Zhang Gongli filed and lost a lawsuit against the factory that adjoined his land.