South China Morning Post
March 16, 2006
Collaboration is key for China’s growing number of NGOs. China’s most famous environmentalist, Probe International fellow, Dai Qing, is still banned from all domestic media for her fierce criticism of the Three Gorges dam.
Liang Congjie has a nightmare vision. “If each Chinese family has two cars like American families, then the cars needed by China, something like 600 million vehicles, will exceed all the cars in the world combined. That would be the greatest disaster for the whole of mankind.” To save the planet’s peoples from choking to death, Mr Liang leads by example. Today, World Environment Day, he will lecture China’s burgeoning middle classes about the over-consumption of the West. To reach his speaking engagements, the former history professor will negotiate Beijing’s crowded, taking streets by bicycle, as he has for many of his 69 years. But Mr Liang’s foremost feat is manoeuvring within the limited space China’s Communist Party allows non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as his group, Friends of Nature. “The Government doesn’t like NGOs,” he explains in fluent English from his Beijing office. “First of all, the Government always has the mentality of being a parent, used to looking after absolutely everything. Also, the authorities are afraid of any independent organisation.” The spiritual group Falun Gong can testify to the official paranoia that suppresses every “threat”, but within certain parameters NGOs are booming in China. From ground zero back in 1994, when Friends of Nature was approved, at least 39 environmental NGOs are now active in China, according to Nick Young, a British development worker based in Beijing. In his soon-to-be-published directory of Chinese NGOs, Mr Young estimates the total is far higher, as student groups multiply in several cities, and courageous individuals tackle local causes.