Qu Geping
China's foremost environmentalist takes a tough line

In 1972, Qu Geping wanted to translate and publish an environmental report from Stockholm. His timing couldn't have been worse. In an atmosphere of ultra-leftist frenzy, the Gang of Four considered pollution an outgrowth of decadent capitalism. Socialist China didn't have that problem. Qu knew the radicals would not approve of the book, entitled There Is Only One Earth, but he felt that it needed to be distributed. So he found a way to get it published: Write a preface criticizing its contents. It worked, and the book cleared the censors. A few years into the reform era, Qu reprinted the book but with a new preface refuting the old one. Then, last year, the book entered its third Chinese edition with yet another revised preface, this time highlighting the importance of environmental awareness for all Chinese. The preface's transformations show how long it has taken for the country to promote a higher consciousness, says Qu, one of China's most prominent environmentalists. The 69-year-old Shandong native is an adjunct professor at several universities in China and a visiting professor at Oxford. A drafter of environmental policy and author of several books, Qu is also chairman of the Environmental and Resources Protection Committee of the National People's Congress. The committee is pushing for tough emission standards to clean Beijing's skies. From July 1, 2000, all cars must have installed catalytic converters and be equipped with fuel injection. And by 2002, air pollution levels in the capital must be reduced considerably. China is spending 1% of its gross domestic product on environmental protection - twice as much as the average for developing countries but a far lower percentage than that spent by more advanced countries. One wonders what Qu's fourth preface of the environmental book will say. Probably it will say that the government should do - and spend - a lot more on protecting the environment.

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Photo: Xing Danwen for Asiaweek