I am currently based at a university in south central China and fairly absorbed in events going on around me. Posting will be slow for a while. The last few days I spent in the area around Zhangjiajae National Forest Park which is around 500 kms west of the city I am residing in, Changsha. Some of the most spectacular scenery in China – towering peaks rising hundreds on metres from a valley floor with good stretches of temperate rainforest. The area was featured in the movie Avatar but also shows up in much Chinese landscape art with striking mountain peaks clothed in cloud. The art isn’t an exaggeration – it is a depiction of some magnificent real landscapes.
As in other areas of tourism in China this operation is carried out on a vast scale. There are stretches of the park where you can get away from the crowds but much activity is directed by bus to cable cars and key sites where you join numerous other tourists. It is nothing like a park experience in Australia where the park is often nearly deserted. But the mode of operation makes sense in China where sensitive assets need to be protected from very substantial tourism pressures.
There are biodiversity conservation zones in the park and large parts of the park seem untouched. The tourism areas themselves displayed a significant human impact though it was relatively localised. It was an amazing experience. The nearby cave complex offer a more unambiguously commercial tourism opportunity and impressed me much less.
The city of Changsha where I am living has around 7 million people and is part of an economically prosperous part of China. There is massive infrastructure investment going on everywhere in Changsha (as there was, for that matter, in the small city of Zhangjiajae). Indeed I haven’t been anywhere in China where infrastructure and housing investments are not occurring on an incredible scale! Changsha is connected by conventional and very fast train projects to other cities – it is for example connected to Beijing which is thousands of miles away by very fast train! It also has an underground subway system under construction. There are vast residential apartment blocks and commercial areas being constructed everywhere.
I have now made many visits to China but still the scale of the development undertaking in this country staggers me. The scale of the development task in China was one of the biggest in human history and it is succeeding. Whatever critics in the West may say about China they need to deal with this fact. As sustained economic development seems inevitable (unless there are globally damaging consequences from such things as climate change) there is all the more reason for clinging onto the magnificent natural resource assets China has in areas such as Zhangjiajae.