“Because I’m Naxi, I have a strong sense of roots and belonging,”

Cun Yanfang, a member of the indigenous Naxi people from one of southwest China’s more remote villages, has garnered international attention for her ability to change local attitudes. Being a member of The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and a graduate from Kent University in England, she is now traveling to Yunan Province and starting a campaign to save the region’s prized golden monkeys. (Christian Science Monitor, Nov/23/2007)

For centuries, the resident in Shitou town, one part of Yunan Province, lived more or less in balance with their surroundings. But a growing population, converted to a get-rich-quick mentality by China’s economic boom, has put unbearable pressure on the mountain’s forests, valuable mushrooms, wild animals, and medicinal plants. “We used to get everything from nature but we used it ourselves,” says Cun. “Now it’s the demand of the market and the requirement to get rich.”

So villagers have ignored the law and cut down trees on the forested slopes above their homes where the golden monkey once lived, hunted animals for their pelts, and dug up prized matsutake mushrooms to get the last little bits, rather than leave stalks to grow again.

Cun’s campaign, funded by two US groups, The Nature Conservancy and Rare, has not only installed biogas feeders and solar panels to reduce local villagers’ need for firewood. It also has aimed to change attitudes. And this won’t turn out to be easy.

She has plastered exhortatory billboards on village walls, handed out fliers explaining the law on hunting and logging, dressed assistants up in golden monkey suits for visits to schools, organized village quizzes on conservation issues, and offered prizes for the best performance on an environmenal theme at village festivals. And at meeting after meeting, she has encouraged villagers – more accustomed to listening obediently to local leaders – to voice their own suggestions for a better campaign.

The essential part of her story that really move me is the unrelenting will of this girl and the sincere love of her hometown. The Chinese nowadays are devoid of the love and dedication to their nation. By contrast, Cun Yanfang never failed to take the responsibility that every Chinese citizen should take: Be concerned and do something about what happened around you.

A survey last year found that the number of villagers aware of alternative energy sources had increased by nearly 50 percent, as had the numbers who knew that hunting the golden monkey is punishable by jail time.

Quite regretfully, I have to admit that I’m feeling a little bit shameful after reading this story, inasmuch as I never give a thought about going home and dedicating my life to my hometown after graduation. Actually, I don’t even intend to be back to China and for sure I reckon this can represent the prevailing thoughts in the minds of Chinese students who study abroad. Yes, we should learn a lot from this Naxi girl.

Next September, if all goes well with her English exam, she will be off to Cornell for a two-year master’s program in natural resource management and policy, funded by the Ford Foundation.

Cun Yanfang has garnered international attention for her ability to change local attitudes.

Cun Yanfang