Beauty lies in nature, not conservation
By Op Rana (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-01-09 07:39

Nature refers to the natural world and the physical universe. It is the phenomena of the physical world, and thus life in all its forms. The oceans, seas, rivers, mountains, plateaus, plains, grasslands and everything they contain are part of nature. But it excludes objects made by man or created through human interaction.

Nature is the process associated with inanimate objects, too - the way they exist and change because of weather and other environmental factors - and to the matter and energy of which all these things are composed. It means the natural environment or wilderness, rocks, forests, beaches, and all things that have not been altered by human intervention.

If one believes in the above and visits a natural scenic spot such as the Crescent Moon Lake in Dunhuang, Gansu province, or the Stone Forest in Kunming, Yunnan province, then he or she will be in for a shock because the scale of human intervention there is overwhelming. Even serenely beautiful places like Guilin in the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region and Lijiang in Yunnan have not been spared.

Such is the enthusiasm of local authorities to make such places "human-friendly" that they have forgotten the basic laws of nature. They believe, it seems, more in the principle of conservation than preservation. A natural scenic spot has to be preserved as it is. It doesn't need additional beautification. Manmade beauty, which in most cases sticks out hideously, is something these spots can certainly do without.

One can understand the need of a huge array of shops around the Terracotta Warriors in Xi'an, Shaanxi province, or inside (ironically) the Forbidden City. But do we really need an artificial crescent lake at the foot of Mount Mingsha in Dunhuang? If so, why? The answer is simple: We failed to preserve the natural lake from the hundreds of thousands of marauding visitors.

That, however, doesn't answer why we need artificial lakes and ponds in the Stone Forest. Was there any need to lay artificial (evergreen) grass on the manmade lawns of the natural scenic area? Did the natural wonder call for human intervention in the form of perfectly shaped trees and flower bushes?

The Stone Forest stands testimony to the power of nature, and human interference with the landscape has only succeeded in making it look like a beautiful garden with menhirs placed randomly, rather than a natural stone forest. True, the art of garden landscaping is almost two millenniums old in China. The gardens of Suzhou, Yangzhou, Hangzhou and other cities are legendary. But still they are mere imitations of nature.

The need to create jobs in a populous country like China is understandable. But the unnecessary use of public money to create artificial beauty can certainly be avoided. The electric cars in Mount Mingsha and the Stone Forest would be running even without human interference with nature. People would still be selling their wares in these places even if artificial lakes weren't created. And visitors would be flocking, and enjoying the wonders of nature, even if the "gardens" were not manufactured. In fact, they would be marveling at nature per se.

That's why the Yadan National Geologic Park in Dunhuang stands out as a real natural wonder. The physiognomy of its landscape formed by Aeolian erosion offers sculptures that shame even the best manmade architectures.

Local governments should learn from the Yadan Landforms. Instead of wasting money on projects to beautify natural scenic spots, they should try to educate people about the importance of nature and its wonders. They should realize that inscribing bold characters on the majestic natural pillars in the Stone Forest defeats the very purpose of a natural environment.

It's time the country started preserving its natural wonders, instead of trying to beautify them to suit the human eye.

E-mail: oprana@hotmail.com

(China Daily 01/09/2009 page8)