“The Environmental Awakening”

In the early 1970s, a China still in the throes of the Cultural Revolution and class struggle believed that environmental issues were a product of capitalism, and could not occur in a socialist nation. But China’s premier at the time, Zhou Enlai, recognised the importance of the environment. He dispatched a delegation to Stockholm, to the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, instructing its members to learn about the state of the global environment and the impact of environmental issues on development in other nations – and to use this knowledge to understand China’s own issues.

In 1973, Zhou ignored the chaos of the times and held China’s first conference on environmental protection, marking the birth of the field in modern China.

In this new book, The Environmental Awakening, two former 
environmental officials have gathered a selection of material from those two meetings. One of these editors is Qu Geping, known as the father of environmental protection in China. Qu was one of the members of the delegation to Stockholm, and went on to play a leading role in environmental protection, witnessing the changes to the government’s understanding and actions.

At the launch of this book, Qu said that the start of environmental protection in China had fallen through the cracks of history. At the time, Mao and the Gang of Four were busy with their class struggles, and had no time to consider the environment. That first environmental-protection conference relied entirely on the backing of Zhou Enlai.

That was four decades ago, and this book is a valuable reference for those who want to understand the people who were a part of that process. In a written message read at the book launch, Pan Yue, vice-minister for environmental protection, said that it would be regrettable if material from the early conferences was forgotten – but publication of this book prevents that from happening.

The Environmental Awakening
Qu Geping and Peng Jinxin (editors)
China Environmental Science Press, 2010

— By Huo Weiya