Three Gorges Probe

Nature’s friend

Liang Congjie, founder of China’s first environmental NGO and outspoken critic of the Three Gorges Dam, wins the Magsaysay Award, Asia’s Nobel Prize.

May 23, 2006

History professor Liang Congjie has always loved a challenge, such as helping to compile a 74-volume encyclopedia on China that involved hundreds of editors and years of work. Now, when most of his contemporaries are contemplating or enjoying retirement, Liang has set his sights far higher. He has decided to devote the rest of his life to cleaning up China. “We knew from television about Greenpeace. But there wasn’t anything like that in China,” says the president of Friends of Nature, the mainland’s first non-government organization on the environment. “My friends and I began wondering, why not here? We decided to try.” The FON pioneers make an unlikely band of eco-warriors. Peering through big, wire-rimmed glasses, Liang, 68, resembles a kindly grandfather. He favors a style of knitted shirts and casual slacks that would not look out of place on a golf course. The other founding members are his fellow teachers at the Academy for Chinese Culture, a private philosophy institution. To this collection of scholars, Liang has added students, housewives and taxi drivers. “The membership is everybody,” he says proudly. “It’s less like a Western environmental lobby and more like a club. We have a homey atmosphere. And I like it that way.” Yet few in China take this nature club lightly. At least not anymore. Since its inception in 1993, a string of high-profile activities has earned FON a reputation as China’s most influential environmental lobby. Among its victories: protecting the habitat of a rare species of monkey from destructive logging and drawing world attention to the slaughter of the endangered Tibetan antelope. The group is also an outspoken critic of the Three Gorges Dam and of industrial pollution around the country.

Categories: Three Gorges Probe

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