China is under attack – from dust storms. In a talk Thursday, Patrick Lui discussed the far-reaching implications of sand spreading and desertification in China, speaking to about 20 undergraduates and faculty members as part of the Year of China series. The talk was held in the Perry and Marty Granoff Center for the Creative Arts, where Lui’s corresponding exhibition, “Green Dragon,” is currently on display.
“Nearly six years ago, we started this internationalization effort at Brown,” said Chung-I Tan, professor of physics and director of the Year of China. By exploring various socioeconomic, cultural, geographic and historical aspects of the country through lectures and exhibitions such as Lui’s, the program has sought to “introduce our community to Chinese culture,” Tan said.
Lui is an acclaimed filmmaker, artist and environmentalist. He is the founder of the Green Great Wall Foundation, an environmental advocacy initiative that aims to build a “green belt” throughout China in the hopes of halting desertification and containing damages already caused by dust storms.
“The encroaching desert – it’s eating up our land,” Lui said. Affecting 3,436 square kilometers of land per year, the speed of sand erosion has reached a monumental and unsustainable pace, he said.
Prefacing his discussion of the Green Great Wall Foundation, Lui presented a slideshow of images depicting the majesty and the destruction of green China – most of which are also featured in his photo exhibition.
“It was beautiful,” Lui said of what he called “green China.” He lamented that elements of the lush, green landscape seen in the photographs have been burned, washed away in the torrents or eaten away because of overgrazing.
The exhibition itself presents a sobering image of the contemporary world. Photographs celebrating nature depict birds by a stream, blocks of green forest and clouds illuminated by sunlight, but the dissonance between these photos and surrounding images – which depict Chinese industrialization and desertification – is jarring. Factories and clouds of steam take the foreground, covering the mountains behind them.
The photographs are portraits of change. But the juxtaposition of Green China and Yellow Sand, Lui’s name for desertified China, do not suggest an inevitable progression from one to the other. Lui said reversing the conversion is possible, and hope remains. “Some birds fly away while some birds still stay,” he said.
“We have to educate a new generation,” he said, noting that in order to prevent more damage, future generations must ensure that a balance is struck between development and environment.
Efforts to curb the spread of desertification have included sowing by plane, attempting to prevent overgrazing, re-routing rivers from South to North and developing wind solar and biodiesel energy, Lui said. He noted that success has been found in several provinces in China – conversions of as much as 70 percent sand to 70 percent green have occurred through extensive fencing and control of sheep, he said.
Despite these efforts, there is still much more to be done. “China is a big country,” Lui said, “and it’s still not enough.”