Thanks to my SLU Travel Enrichment Grant, I was able to hike several mountain ranges throughout the People’s Republic of China. During my adventures I conversed with many local and some foreign hikers thereby researching the value that Chinese have on the environment and nature. There is a stereotype that China is a nation that it does not care about its environment as shown by high levels of pollution and neglect of safely containing many forms of environmental waste. I found that air pollution and other forms of waste were most highly concentrated in China’s larger urban centers. However, China has put recent emphasis on a cleaner society, highlighted by a new 2014 environmental law passed by the National People’s Congress that gives environmental enforcement agencies greater authority and rewards for positive results. Indeed, China has within the last two years become the world’s largest investor in solar and wind power.
China’s construction boom has produced “ghost cities” lining China’s Pacific coast with millions of condos that few individuals can afford. The additional construction near the coast (and the greater availability of jobs of jobs there) has increased the rate of urbanization and people continue to move to the cities. As the city population densities continue to rise, individuals increasingly have looked for reprieves from this growing stressor. People have therefore begun to travel outside of cities on weekends and holidays specifically to get away from the masses and enjoy nature. Many people choose to visit national parks and go hiking. The government has acknowledged this trend and continues to protect these national park lands.
I traveled to three rural national parks in China to achieve a greater overall understanding of how people appreciate hiking in China, and how the government is protecting these areas from pollution. I hiked the Zhejiang, Huashan, and Zhangjiajie (the national park that inspired the critically-acclaimed Avatar movie) mountainous regions. This opportunity enabled me to hike three of the most famous and holy mountains in China and helped me appreciate the Chinese citizen’s perspective of a “reprieve” from weekly city life.
This observational experience greatly enhanced my study abroad experience. My interactions with local hikers helped me practice my Mandarin, work closely with Chinese citizens, and climb some of the world’s most beautiful peaks. I will remember this experience fondly, and hope to return to Asia soon!