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YE HAITAO: Value of national parks transcends ecology

| 2018-05-28
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

Over the course of more than 100 years of evolution, the national park system has been recognized internationally as an effective model of wilderness preservation. According to the UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Center, the national park plays a crucial role in reserving the natural field of earth, conserving biodiversity and fostering the sustainable use of natural resources.

The national park system of China was raised to the level of national strategy by the Third Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee in 2013. Though it got a late start, the development of the system has gained momentum under the guidance of national top-level design. To date, 10 pilot sites have been established, including the Three-River-Source National Park in Qinghai Province, the Northeast Tiger and Leopard National Park in northeast China, and the Giant Panda National Park centered on Sichuan Province.

Unlike natural reserves in the general sense, the national park is not a common tourist scenic area. National parks were originally intended to preserve unspoiled wilderness and leave it in its entirety for the future generations. To protect the wilderness in the form of national park reflects the unique value that the wilderness bears.

Wilderness is regarded as the source of life. In it, old species degenerate and new species are produced. The living system of species and the natural ecosystem are constantly updated. Holmes Rolston, a philosopher “gone wild,” detected certain genetic relationship between the palm of mankind and the sole of salamander’s foot. Therefore, as he perceives, the most important thing is to retain and protect wilderness because “wilderness is a living museum of our roots.” In the wilderness and nature, the miracle of life keeps being on show, and each living and non-living thing has its own vitality and deserves the respect and veneration from mankind.

Wilderness has the beauty of the wild. Compared with the modern jungle, wilderness possesses a more pure and authentic character. The American writer Henry David Thoreau was once deeply attracted to the genuine and pure beauty of the wild. He left civilization for the shores of Walden pond, where he lived in a small wooden house that he built, savoring the beauty of the wild. “I love the wild not less than the good.” said Thoreau.

Wilderness has an edifying function. The French post-impressionist artist Paul Gauguin, after growing bored with urban life, went far away to the Tahiti islands in the South Pacific where he created his greatest painting—Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? Perhaps only placed within the primeval wilderness and serenity could Gauguin be able to comprehend the history and density of humanity with such profundity. In fact, wilderness always carries the spiritual sustenance for human spirit and participates in shaping human history. As early as the end of the 19th century, the American historian Frederick Jackson Turner considered that wilderness is associated with the forging of the national identity. His Frontier Thesis is a systematic exposition of the argument.

It can be seen that in preserving the value of wilderness, the national park is not only a geographical concept, or a spiritual sustenance, but also evinces the power of thought. There, people can purify their bodies and minds in the embrace of nature, and ponder over and explore the ultimate meaning and value of existence. There, the national character of diligence, courage, independence, freedom and innovation may be reshaped.

Either considering the natural environment in the sense of existence, or the macro-sensed community of shared future for mankind, or for sake of the earth’s biosphere, the wilderness is what we must treasure and protect.


This article was edited and translated from People’s Daily. Ye Haitao is the deputy dean of the School of Marxism at Southwest University and deputy director of the Institute of Development of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics at the university.

(edited by BAI LE)