Commentary Upfront Blog

Lessons from ‘the enemy’

When so much information is being flung at us daily, fitting the world into easily canned preconceptions may seem to be the only way to cope – to make sense of it all. But then you read Michael Holtz’s cover story on China’s dramatic plans for a new national park system, and the need for something more becomes apparent.

THE MEKONG RIVER RUNS PAST MOUNTAINS IN ANGSAI, CHINA, PART OF THE NATION’S ENORMOUS NEW NATIONAL PARK.
ANN HERMES/STAFF
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What is the power of Monitor journalism? For me, the Monitor issues a fundamental challenge: It demands that I constantly reshape my perceptions of the world. 

All of us, I think, can easily fall into simplistic and two-dimensional views of the world around us, whether it’s Russian society or the family next door. When so much information is being flung at us daily, fitting the world into easily canned preconceptions may seem to be the only way to cope – to make sense of it all.

But then you read Michael Holtz’s cover story on China’s dramatic plans for a new national park system, and the need for something more becomes apparent.

What is the predominant story that people in the West hear about China? Often it is one of thinly veiled menace, of human rights upheld only when it’s bureaucratically convenient, of economic chicanery, of immense global ambition undergirded by envy and reckless expansion. 

And what is the result? China is often seen as an enemy, a threat.

To be sure, China’s aims and methods deserve close scrutiny. The Monitor certainly believes that progress is actual only when it is built on morally sound foundations.

But does this healthy scrutiny too often tempt those of us on the outside to look askance at anything that comes from China?

The fact is, what China is doing on the Tibetan Plateau is amazing. 

For starters, it is planning to create a national park the size of Pennsylvania – the second largest in the world, after one in Greenland. More broadly, the effort is part of a bold new vision of conservation in China. The country even came up with a new metric, gross ecosystem product, to underscore how essential nature is to the prosperity of the country.

In that way, Michael’s story offers a different view of China. It suggests that China’s story of conservation is humanity’s story, too. How can we grow and thrive without doing damage to the world that sustains us? How do we measure the humbling power of nature against the needs of families and communities?

How we answer these questions speaks to how we view harmony and balance, and China’s experiment is too big and daring not to hold lessons. 

True, it could fall victim to its government’s authoritarian tendencies – pushing hundreds of thousands of Chinese out of their homes. But the vast new project also speaks to a country that has had a fundamental change of heart – from viewing natural resources as a pillaging conqueror would, not long ago, to declaring today, in the words of President Xi Jinping, that “the ecological environment has irreplaceable value.” 

Who knew? China is now an environmental pioneer.

The world is too vibrant, wondrous, and surprising for us to accept flat, two-dimensional portraits. And Michael’s story this week shows how, sometimes, we might even find ourselves rooting for people that we perhaps thought were the enemy.