Lobsang Yangtso on Tibet’s environmental crisis

Source: China Digital Times (12/7/23)
Interview: Lobsang Yangtso on Tibet’s Environmental Crisis

Lobsang Yangtso

As the U.N. COP28 Climate Summit is underway in the United Arab Emirates, bringing together thousands of political leaders and environmental activists, one topic that is sure to get little attention there is the environmental crisis facing Tibet. Tibet is currently warming three times as fast as the rest of the world. It has the largest reserves of fresh water in the world outside the Arctic and Antarctica, supplying water to one fifth of the world’s population through the flow of its rivers to downstream countries. The Chinese government is extracting Tibet’s natural resources through damming and mining, destroying rivers and mountains that are considered sacred to much of the local population.

In the latest installment in our interview series focusing on Tibet, we spoke to Lobsang Yangtso, the Environmental Researcher at the International Tibet Network. She was born in Kham, Tibet, and later moved with her family to India. She received her PhD from Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, where she wrote her thesis on “China’s Environmental Security Policies in Tibet: Implications to India, 2001-2013.” She has also worked as a Research Associate at the Centre for China Analysis and Strategy, New Delhi. She regularly attends international environmental conferences and forums as an expert on Tibet’s environment. She recently spoke with CDT about how China’s infrastructure development is destroying Tibet’s environment, the challenges for Tibetans of being heard on the international stage, and how neighboring countries could do more to hold China accountable for the environmental destruction that is impacting the whole region. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

China Digital Times: You were born and spent the early part of your life in Tibet before leaving for India with your family. Could you tell us about the environment where you lived in Tibet, and how those early years might have influenced your current work?

Lobsang Yangtso: I was born in a semi-nomadic family, meaning that when I was in Tibet, my family used to do farming and keep animals as well. And so my village was very rural, where most of the people do farming as their livelihood. So that has really influenced how I see climate change and its impact on farming, and specifically on the farmers. I escaped from Tibet to India in 1991. Then in 2016, after 25 years, I was able to go back home and visit family. During that time, I realized that the farming and livelihoods, and how people depend on farming and animals, has really changed a lot. In front of my house in Tibet, there used to be a small river. And when I was very young, we could just drink straight from that river. Then when I went back home in 2016, that small river was not drinkable at all. I could see lots of waste and garbage on the river. So that has also changed a lot. In my hometown, how people live and how they worship the mountain deities, and believe in the sacred mountain—I still remember that way of life. That has also been their way of protecting the environment. The kind of work that I do right now, I can really see the impact. It’s really important, the impact of climate change on farmers and nomads, and how the local people understand the environment. So these issues are very close to my heart. Continue reading

How China is attempting to change nature conservation

Source: The China Project (10/20/23)
How China is attempting to change nature conservation
China is undergoing a great experiment — tightly controlled and driven by big data — that it hopes will offer an alternative way of protecting the planet. For all our sakes, let’s hope it works.
By Kyle Obermann

Beijing, as a critical bird habitat along one of the world’s most important migrating bird corridors, has included 26% of its land and water inside ERLs, including bodies of water like lakes of the Summer Palace. Photo by Kyle Obermann.

I was surprised to encounter the White House amid Sichuan’s Qionglai Mountains, decrepit, looking like a scene out of a post-apocalyptic movie. Surprised, partly because I had not been in China long, and didn’t yet know about the replica White Houses, Eiffel Towers, and Jackson Holes in random valley towns. But mostly surprised because I was traveling through a nature reserve.

Of course, China’s first nature reserve is only as old as Tom Hanks. Vestiges of the recent past are overgrown across many of China’s protected areas: felled trees, empty mines, destroyed shrines, inspirations from U.S. government infrastructure. Proof that despite imperfections, China’s protected area system at least effectively rewilded and preserved some of the 18% of terrestrial land it covers on paper.

These days, in an effort that goes unnoticed by most of the world, China’s leadership is pushing further to build what Jessica Gordon of the University of California, Berkeley’s Center for Law, Energy, and the Environment once called the “world’s most comprehensive ecosystem-based land planning strategy” and raise the percentage of protected land area to 35% through Ecological Conservation Red Lines (ERLs). This innovation has the potential to make China a leader in global conservation, be exported elsewhere along the Belt and Road Initiative, and strengthen the state’s control over its land and people.

Continue reading

Questioning Borders

NEW PUBLICATION: Questioning Borders: Ecoliteratures in China and Taiwan, by Robin Visser

I’m pleased to announce that my new book, Questioning Borders: Ecoliteratures in China and Taiwan (Columbia UP, 2023), is now available at https://cup.columbia.edu/book/questioning-borders/9780231199810.

Questioning Borders explores recent ecoliterature by Han and non-Han Indigenous writers of China and Taiwan, analyzing relations among humans, animals, ecosystems, and the cosmos in search of alternative possibilities for creativity and consciousness. It comprises 7 chapters:

Introduction: Ecoliteratures Inhabiting Borders
1. Beijing Westerns and Hanspace Elixirs in Southwest China
2. Grassland Logic and Desert Carbon Imaginaries in Inner Mongolia
3. Sacred Routes and Dark Humor in Grounded Xinjiang
4. Cosmic Ecologies and Transcendent Tricksters on the Tibetan Plateau
5. Island Excursions and Indigenous Waterways in Activist Taiwan
Epilogue: Indigenous Entanglements in Techno Hypersubjectivity

Robin Visser <rvisser@email.unc.edu>

At Home in Nature

The First Prism Monograph Supplement Book Launch

We are delighted to announce the publication of Prism’s first supplemental issue At Home in Nature: Technology, Labour, and Critical Ecology in Modern China authored by Prof. Ban Wang at Stanford University. The first Prism monograph supplement launch, hosted by Prism’s editor-in-chief Prof. Zong-qi Cai, will be held online at 6-9 PM (Pacific Time)/ 9-12 pm (EST) on August 3, 2023. The ZOOM meeting ID is 948 4417 6786, and the password is 62236914.

From the eco-critical perspective, this book critiques anthropocentricism, technoscientific hubris, and ecologically destructive modes of production. Examining modern discourse, literature, film, and science fiction, it views the domination of nature and labor under capitalism and technocrats as the culprit of ecological crises and human alienation. Alternatively, utopianisms of nonalienated labor keep alive the ideals of resonance between humans and Earth. The Table of Contents is listed below:


Chapter One. Confucianism and Nature: Ecological Motifs in Kang Youwei’s Great Community
Chapter Two. Lu Xun’s Mytho-ecological Refutation of Technocrats
Chapter Three. Romancing Landscape and Human Animal: Shen Congwen
Chapter Four. We Are the Dragon King: Labor and Happiness
Chapter Five. Farewell to the God of Plague: The Revolution in Medicine
Chapter Six. Dignity and Misery of Labor
Chapter Seven. Art and Labor in Han Song’s Regenerated Bricks
Chapter Eight. Toxic Colonialism, Alienation, and Posthuman Dystopia in Chen Qiufan
Chapter Nine. Artificial Intelligence, Affective Labor, and Death in Life
Chapter Ten. Critical Ecotopia in Hao Jingfang’s Vagabonds

Epilogue Continue reading

Affective Anthropocene symposium

International Symposium on “Affective Anthropocene: Contextualizing Feelings and Environments under Climate Change

Date: 1-2 June 2023
Venue: WLB 105, Wing Lung Bank Building for Business Studies, Hong Kong Baptist University and online (mix-mode)
Organizer: The Anthropocene and Chinese Contemporary Cultures Research Consortium, Department of Humanities, Hong Kong Baptist University
Department of Translation, Interpreting and Intercultural Studies, Hong Kong Baptist University
Master of Arts (MA) in Producing for Film, Television and New Media, Hong Kong Baptist University
Cultural Literacy Programme (LIVE), Office of Student Affairs, Hong Kong Baptist University

In popular perception and imagination, narratives about climate future and ecological crisis usually fall into one of these categories: utopia and apocalypse. Meaning-making narrative or storytelling with characters, drama, and connecting threads is significant because it reveals how scientific findings on the Earth’s future is communicated to the public and hence to drive collective action. Mitigation or adaptation to climate crisis requires habitual-cultural, eco-social changes, and communal values in order to overcome public inertia, procrastination and paralysis. But overemphasis on narrative or storytelling, i.e. “tell the climate story well,” may simplify moral values and reinforce binary thinking as found in many popular climate discourses. Climate narratives of either dystopian thrillers or techno-utopias not only may fail to accommodate the contingencies and unpredictability of real life, but they also could be subjected to the appropriations by nation-states for fulfilling political ambitions and nationalist agenda, by big corporations for marketing strategies, and by ideologists or visionaries for other manipulative purposes. Continue reading

Anger over cutting health insurance

Source: NYT (2/23/23)
China’s Cities Are Cutting Health Insurance, and People Are Angry
Local governments, short on money after three years of “zero Covid” and faced with many more retirees, are raising costs and overhauling benefits.

A cluster of people dressed in winter coats and wearing masks gather in a city plaza.

Protesters in Wuhan, China, many of them retired, objected last week to a revision in municipal health insurance. Credit…Keith Bradsher/The New York Times

Local governments across China, facing a financial tipping point after three years of expensive Covid measures, are forcing abrupt changes on the country’s health care system, squeezing benefits and angering citizens.

Thousands of seniors, who are most vulnerable to the cutbacks, converged on municipal parks and other public spaces in recent days to protest the changes. They gathered in the chilly northeastern city of Dalian, in semitropical Guangzhou nearly 1,500 miles away and in Wuhan in central China, where the Covid pandemic began at the end of 2019.

One of the most immediate problems is that municipal insurance funds that pay for many people’s hospital care are running out of money. The funds, supported by taxes on employers, face big deficits that city governments are required by law to top up.

To free up money to bail out hospitals, municipalities have started contributing much less to another important category of insurance, known as personal health accounts, which the middle class uses to pay for medicine and outpatient care. Continue reading

Interview with Murong Xuecun

Source: The China Project (2/17/23)
From prizewinning author to censored chronicler of COVID in Wuhan — Q&A with Murong Xuecun in exile
Murong Xuecun rose to fame as an internet writer, and then won a prestigious official literature award in 2010. But then the state turned on him. His most recent book, ‘Deadly Quiet City,’ tells the stories of eight people in Wuhan in the spring of 2020.
By Jeremy Goldkorn

Illustration by Nadya Yeh.

He was “one of China’s most famous cyber-writers,” the state-run newspaper China Daily said in 2004, describing Mùróng Xuěcūn 慕容 雪村, the pen name of Hǎo Qún 郝群. Those were heady days: The China Daily is a propaganda sheet, but back then, it dared to print a story about Murong Xuecun that opens like this:

He describes himself as pessimistic and lacking ambition, he says he’s ugly and vulgar and likes good food and drink above all else.

His novel, Chengdu, Leave Me Alone Tonight (成都,今夜请将我遗忘) was a… trend setter [that] sparked a series of books describing life in modern Chinese cities where the young abandon idealism in search of fortune.

Murong says he writes for fun. He says he’s never had any ambitions to make [it] big in Chinese literary circles, and has no interest in dealing with “profound” social issues.

There is no way a passage like that would appear in the China Daily today. Murong, too, has changed. He is still something of a punk, but he has found himself dragged willy-nilly, or perhaps rather willingly, into “profound social issues.”

In 2010, he published The Missing Ingredient of China (中国, 少了一味药), an investigative piece about a criminal gang running a pyramid scam, which won that year’s People’s Literature Prize (人民文学奖). But he was not allowed to give his acceptance speech, which was a searing indictment of the censorship process at Chinese publishing houses and media. (The New York Times later published a translation of the speech.) Continue reading

Li Wenliang: The Man Who Was Wrong to Have Been Right (1)

Response to “Li Wenliang: The Man Who Was Wrong to Have Been Right,” introduced and translated by Geremie R. Barmé: my translation of the document below that circulated on WeChat in January 2023.–Martin Winter

Picture circulated on WeChat in January 2023

UNDERSTOOD [Warning to Dr. Li Wenliang]

We hope you calm down
to reflect thoroughly
and heed our solemn warning:
If you persist,
unwilling to repent,
in illegal activities,
you will be punished according to law!
Have you heard and understood?
Handwritten answer: Understood
Warned person signature: Li Wenliang
[two red thumb prints over signature]
Warning persons signatures: Hu …, Xu …

Date: 2020/1/3
Wuhan Public Security Bureau, Wuchang section (red stamp)

Translated by MW, 2023

Li Wenliang: The man who was wrong to have been right

Source: The China Project (2/1/23)
Li Wenliang: The man who was wrong to have been right
Dr. Lǐ Wénliàng 李文亮 is the doctor who tried to warn his colleagues about the spread of COVID-19 in Wuhan in early 2020, was silenced by the authorities, and forced to write a self-criticism. This is a translation of that document by renowned Sinologist Geremie Barmé to mark Li’s death three years ago this week.
By Geremie R. Barmé

An image that circulated on Chinese social media in early 2020, before being censored, of “epidemic-fighting hero Li Wenliang” (抗疫英雄李文亮 kàngyì yīngxióng Lǐ Wénliàng).

February 1, 2023, marks three years since Dr. Lǐ Wénliàng 李文亮 posted his last message: “I got a positive nucleic-acid test today. The dust has settled, and the diagnosis has finally been confirmed.” A week later, on February 7, 2020, COVID-19 killed him.

On December 30, 2019, the same day that China’s Contagious Disease Commission circulated a memo to hospitals in Wuhan to be on the lookout for a new form of pneumonia, Li saw a patient’s report indicating the presence of a form of the SARS coronavirus. At 17:43 that day, Li told a private WeChat group of his medical school classmates, “Seven confirmed cases of SARS were reported from Huanan Seafood Market.” He also posted the patient’s examination report and CT scan image to the group. At 18:42, he added, “It has been confirmed that they are coronavirus infections, but the exact virus strain is being subtyped,” and suggested to his classmates that they alert their families.

When news of Li’s remarks spread, his superiors put him under investigation and, on January 3, 2020, he was interrogated by the Wuhan police. As a result, Li was issued with a formal warning and was censured for “publishing untrue statements.” He was also made to sign a letter of repentance. As the epidemic spread, and despite an official attack on him, unofficially, Dr. Li’s “whistle-blowing” was widely praised. Although his warning had been ignored and suppressed, Li’s confession was soon vitiated by events. On January 31, Li released details of his interrogation on social media. Continue reading

China’s Covid tsunami recedes

Source: NYT (1/31/23)
China’s Covid Tsunami Recedes, Bringing Relief, Grief and Anxiety
Officials say an onslaught of infections has slowed, and many people seem eager to move on. But fresh flare-ups could bring more illness and deaths.
By Chris Buckley and 

A man and a woman walking on a sidewalk sipping on beverages are reflected in the window of a closed PCR testing booth.

A closed PCR testing booth sits idle in Shanghai. China’s Covid cases fell dramatically and case numbers peaked in December, according to Chinese public health officials. Credit…Alex Plavevski/EPA, via Shutterstock

When China abruptly abandoned “zero Covid,” accelerating an onslaught of infections and deaths, many feared a prolonged tide rippling from cities into villages. Now, two months later, the worst seems to have passed, and the government is eager to shift attention to economic recovery.

Doctors who were mobilized across China to treat a rush of Covid patients say in phone interviews that the number of patients they are now seeing has fallen. Towns and villages that had hunkered down under the surge of infections and funerals are stirring to life. Health officials have declared that Covid cases “already peaked in late December 2022.”

“Now the pandemic is already being forgotten from people’s minds,” Gao Xiaobin, a doctor on the outskirts of a small city in Anhui Province in eastern China, said by telephone. “Nobody is wearing masks anywhere. That’s all gone.”

The true toll of the outbreak is hard to delineate, with infections and deaths shrouded by censorship and poor data collection. Officially, China has reported nearly 79,000 confirmed Covid-related deaths that occurred in hospitals since Dec. 8. But researchers say that is a drastic undercount because it excludes deaths outside hospitals. Continue reading

Anger at failure to protect elderly

Happy new year. This sad news, fwd by Magnus Fiskesjö <nf42@cornell.edu>

Source: Japan Times (1/21/23)
Chinese who lost relatives to COVID angry at failure to protect elderly

Beijing resident Zhang, 66, who has lost four people close to him since early December as COVID-19 cases spiked in China, at the Forbidden City in Beijing on Jan. 13. | REUTERS

Beijing resident Zhang, 66, who has lost four people close to him since early December as COVID-19 cases spiked in China, at the Forbidden City in Beijing on Jan. 13. | REUTERS

BEIJING – Former high school teacher Ailia was devastated when her 85-year-old father died after displaying COVID-like symptoms as the virus swept through their hometown in the southeastern province of Jiangxi.

While her father was never tested, Ailia and her mother were both confirmed positive around the same time and she believes that COVID-19 was a cause in his death.

As hundreds of millions of Chinese travel to reunite with families for the Lunar New Year holiday, many will do so after mourning relatives who died in the COVID-19 wave that has raged across the world’s most populous country.

For many, bereavement is mixed with anger over what they say was a lack of preparation to protect the elderly before China suddenly abandoned its “zero-COVID” policy in December after nearly three years of testing, travel restrictions and lockdowns. Continue reading

Li Wenliang’s Wailing Wall

Source: China Digital Times (1/6/23)
Li Wenliang’s Wailing Wall, November-December 2022: “Zero-Covid is Over, But I’m Afraid to Go Out”

Nearly three years after whistleblower Dr. Li Wenliang’s death from COVID-19, the “Wailing Wall” that emerged in the comments section under his last Weibo post continues to serve as a repository for the hopes, dreams, worries, and opinions of countless Chinese citizens. CDT editors regularly collect and archive Wailing Wall content, including the selection of comments translated below.

In November, visitors to the Wailing Wall talked about long lockdowns in Xinjiang and elsewhere, a fatal fire in Urumqi (in which COVID barriers prevented firefighters from quickly extinguishing the blaze and rescuing residents), gatherings to mourn the victims of the fire, and nationwide protests that broke out soon afterward and morphed into a referendum on political repression.

After police cracked down and arrested many of the protesters, many Wailing Wall visitors implored Dr. Li to “protect the children,” referring to the young people demonstrating by chanting slogans and holding up blank white pieces of A4 paper. Others referenced the death of former Chinese leader Jiang Zemin and the attendant mourning period that followed the protests.

On December 7, the National Health Commission released ten new COVID guidelines, effectively putting an end to China’s long-running “zero-COVID” policy. The announcement inspired a flood of comments on Dr. Li’s Wailing Wall, and CDT ran a special feature: Wailing Wall Special Edition: The Turning Point.

Throughout December, large numbers of Wailing Wall commenters discussed the wave of Omicron infections sweeping the nation, fretted about the government’s lack of preparation, and shared personal stories about illness, overwhelmed hospitals, backed-up morgues and crematoriums, and shortages of medicines and home test kits. Many commenters seemed eager to leave the past three years behind, and embark on a better year in 2023. Continue reading

Tragic Battle

Source: NYT (12/27/22)
‘Tragic Battle’: On the Front Lines of China’s Covid Crisis
阅读简体中文版 | 閱讀繁體中文版
Medical staff are outnumbered and working sick as the nation’s health care system buckles under the strain of a spiraling crisis.
By Isabelle Qian and 


Overwhelmed and understaffed, hospitals in China are struggling with a crush of Covid patients whose numbers are growing since Beijing dropped pandemic restrictions. CreditCredit…Associated Press

Slumped in wheelchairs and lying on gurneys, the sickened patients crowd every nook and cranny of the emergency department at the hospital in northern China. They cram into the narrow spaces between elevator doors. They surround an idle walk-through metal detector. And they line the walls of a corridor ringing with the sounds of coughing.

China’s hospitals were already overcrowded, underfunded and inadequately staffed in the best of times. But now with Covid spreading freely for the first time in China, the medical system is being pushed to its limits.

The scenes of desperation and misery at the Tianjin Medical University General Hospital, captured on one of several videos examined by The New York Times, reflects the growing crisis. Even as Covid cases rise, health workers on the front lines are also battling rampant infections within their own ranks. So many have tested positive for the virus in some hospitals that the remaining few say they are forced to do the job of five or more co-workers.

To ensure enough staff members are on the floor, some facilities have given up requiring doctors and nurses to test themselves before work. One doctor in the central city of Wuhan said her hospital’s staff had been so depleted that a neurosurgeon in her department recently had to perform two operations in one day while fighting symptoms of Covid. Continue reading

Rare protest in Guangzhou

Source: NYT (11/16/22)
Covid Lockdown Chaos Sets Off a Rare Protest in a Chinese City
Weary migrants thronged a street in the manufacturing hub of Guangzhou to protest food shortages and lengthy stay-at-home orders under China’s strict “zero-Covid” policy
By Chang Che and John Liu

Social media footage showed a large crowd confronting Covid workers in hazmat suits and tearing down fences installed as virus control measures in Guangzhou, China. It was unclear whether there were any casualties.CreditCredit…Video Obtained by Reuters

A lengthy lockdown and shortages of food prompted residents to take to the streets in China’s southern manufacturing hub of Guangzhou, a rare protest that reflected the growing public frustration with disruptions caused by the country’s Covid restrictions.

China maintains the world’s most stringent approach to Covid, a policy that relies heavily on mass lockdowns, quarantines and mandatory near-daily testing across the country. Whole regions and cities, including Shanghai, have been placed under strict lockdowns, derailing millions of people’s lives, forcing businesses to close and stirring public outrage.

The psychological toll of China’s “zero-Covid” policy is mounting. Earlier this month, a poorly managed outbreak in the world’s largest iPhone assembly complex in Zhengzhou led to a worker exodus and a delay in iPhone shipments around the world. Continue reading

Heat waves scorch China

Source: NYT (7/26/22)
Hotter, Longer and More Widespread Heat Waves Scorch China
By Vivian Wang

Shanghai, home to 26 million people, reached nearly 106 degrees Fahrenheit this month, tying its hottest day on record.

Shanghai, home to 26 million people, reached nearly 106 degrees Fahrenheit this month, tying its hottest day on record. Credit…Aly Song/Reuters

BEIJING — In western China, runoff from melting glaciers could overwhelm dams, officials have warned. In the southern metropolis of Guangzhou, the government has asked residents to use large appliances less so the electrical grid is not overwhelmed as the city battles its longest heat wave since 1951. In the coastal city of Fuzhou, temperatures exceeded 41 degrees Celsius, or nearly 106 degrees Fahrenheit, for an unprecedented three days in a row, state media reported.

More than 900 million Chinese, about 65 percent of the population, are living under some kind of heat warning. Temperatures have reached, or exceeded, the highs that have recently tormented parts of Europe and the United States. Between June and mid-July, officials across the country have issued more than 15,000 high-temperature warnings, including more than 2,000 predicting temperatures would exceed 104 degrees, according to state media. Seventy-one weather stations recorded their highest temperatures ever.

China has long suffered from extreme weather in summer, with heat waves accompanied by intense flooding. But the severity of these events has increased in recent years under the effects of global warming. Officials said the heat this year was likely to be more intense and more prolonged. It is expected to persist until at least the end of the month. Continue reading