- In 1957, he was denounced as a Rightist and for the next twenty years was made to toil in a rock quarry, sweep the streets, and write confession after confession.
- In the Cultural Revolution, his wife was murdered by raging teenagers, and Tang himself was torn from his two young daughters to labor in the countryside where he paradoxically found himself “surrounded by flowing waters . . . singing birds, and rustling leaves.” His despair lifted and, he says, “Nature saved me.”
- Exonerated in 1980, Tang became editor of Great Nature magazine and began exploring China’s nature reserves, writing prolifically about the richness and variety of China’s wildlife and animal habitats.
- He wrote A Green World Tour after touring fifty national parks and wildlife refuges in Europe, North America, and Asia.
- In 1996, Tang started the Green Camp in Yunnan, where local officials planned to harvest logs on a one hundred-square-mile swath of old-growth forest, the unique habitat of the golden monkey.
- The RMAF board of trustees recognizes “his guiding China to meet its mounting environmental crisis by heeding the lessons of its global neighbors and the timeless wisdom of nature itself.”
Over the centuries, as primeval nature yielded to a vast human habitat in China, the Chinese came to see themselves not as creatures of nature but as its masters. Environmentalist Tang Xiyang believes that this mentality lies behind the predatory assault on China’s environment today. In China, he says, under the pressure of rapid industrialization and the material yearnings of 1.4 billion people, “nature has been badly damaged.” Healing it is his passion.
Born in 1930, Tang Xiyang emerged from a youth amid war and revolution as a hopeful believer in the new China. He attended Beijing Normal University in the heady inaugural years of the People’s Republic and, in 1952, joined the Beijing Daily as a reporter. In 1957, however, he was denounced as a Rightist. During the next twenty years, he was made to toil in a rock quarry, sweep the streets, and write confession after confession. In the Cultural Revolution, his wife was murdered by raging teenagers, and Tang himself was torn from his two young daughters to labor in the countryside. There, paradoxically, he found himself “surrounded by flowing waters, . . . singing birds, and rustling leaves.” His despair lifted and, he says, “Nature saved me.”
Exonerated in 1980, Tang became editor of Great Nature magazine and began exploring China’s nature reserves. In Yunnan, he met fellow nature-lover Marcia Bliss Marks, an American who became his wife and partner. As they explored China together, Tang wrote prolifically about the richness and variety of China’s wildlife and animal habitats. Later, the pair toured fifty national parks and wildlife refuges in Europe, North America, and Asia. Tang’s book about their trip, A Green World Tour, introduced its readers to nature preservation as a global movement and became the bible for China’s young environmentalists. Tang challenged them to become “great travelers, explorers, scientists, and vanguards for nature conservation.”
In 1996, the year Marcia died, Tang invited twenty-one university students to spend their summer holidays in Yunnan, where local officials planned to harvest logs on a onehundred-square-mile swath of old-growth forest, the unique habitat of the golden monkey. The research and publicity arising from Tang’s Green Camp helped pressure the government to change course. Buoyed by this success, Tang began organizing Green Camps every year, dispatching a fresh team of students to a different site each summer from Tibet’s primeval forests to the beaches of Hainan. Graduates of Tang’s Green Camps have now organized spin-off camps all over China and can be found today among the staff members of China’s environmental NGOs. Meanwhile, Tang himself lectures tirelessly throughout the mainland-delivering 130 lectures in seventeen cities in 2005 alone.
He tells audiences that nature follows its own law. If the natural law is violated, “nature will seek revenge.” This is why preserving the habitats of brown-eared pheasants and redcrowned cranes and golden monkeys is inescapably linked to preserving a healthy habitat for humans.
Society also follows certain laws, he says. China has paid a heavy price for its errant legacy of “feudalism, autocracy, and violence.” Tang has concluded that democracy is better. Indeed, without democracy, he says, “there can be no everlasting green hills and clear waters.”
Finally, Tang stresses that preserving nature is not China’s problem alone. It requires global cooperation. “China needs to know the world,” he says, “and the world needs to know China.”
Tang’s friends marvel at his workload. At seventy-seven, he remains passionately engaged. Still, although he never lets up, he has learned to get to the point quickly. His latest book, summarizing his views, is called Wrong, Wrong, Wrong.
In electing Tang Xiyang to receive the 2007 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Peace and International Understanding, the board of trustees recognizes his guiding China to meet its mounting environmental crisis by heeding the lessons of its global neighbors and the timeless wisdom of nature itself.
On the 1st of August, while the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation announced that I am the awardee for Peace and International Understanding, I was in the beautiful Changbai Mountain Reserve with some members of the Green Camp for College Students. Green Camp was launched in 1996 by Marcia B. Marks, my deceased wife, and me. This is our twelfth year. Forty students from thirty-six universities as well as four teachers from Taiwan were invited. This important and delightful news cheered everyone. In the forest, under the moonlight and amidst joyous singing, they stood in a circle and hugged me one by one, some wishing me good health, some saying: “Teacher Tang, I shall do my best!”
Therefore, I feel that this honor is not for me alone. It is also for China’s younger generation who are pursuing nature conservation. It is also for people who are working selflessly on environmental issues. Indeed, they have done much more and much better than I.
China is a unique country. It has a vast population and it still lacks awareness of environmental protection. Eighteen years ago when I was visiting Europe and America, I said: “Without democracy, there can be no everlasting green hills and clear waters.” I believe everyone can understand what I mean. Environmental protection is a monumental task. We cannot rely solely on the power of the government, on the economy or legislation. It is imperative that everyone is concerned and involved in ensuring that our environment stays green forever, and our planet remains sustainable. Thus, I am doing my utmost to write books and articles, to ensure the Green Camp’s mission is successful every year, and to travel all over China to give lectures and raise awareness about green culture.
I am Chinese and Marcia was American; it was love of nature that brought us together. We traveled China together and visited fifty national parks and wildlife reserves in Europe, North America, and Asia. Also, together we wrote the book A Green World Tour. This book looks at the world from China’s perspective; at the same time, it looks at China from the whole world’s perspective. It seeks to share international experiences in environmental protection, and promote understanding and friendship among the world’s peoples. It had a profound impact on the development of environmental protection in China. Some people say Marcia and I were a beautiful union of east-west culture. Marcia used to say these simple yet profound words: “All those who love nature are good people.” Just think about it: if everyone loves nature, pursues the beauty and spirit of nature, then, we will be able to find our rightful place in this great, mysterious, beautiful and living world of nature. Man and nature will be in harmony. How can there still be indifference, selfishness, jealousy, deception, hate, terror and war amongst men?
Today, as I am standing here to receive this award, I first would like to thank the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation for its support and encouragement. Special thanks to Mother Nature and my wife Marcia; they helped me rise from difficulties and confusion to become a dedicated nature conservationist. Last but not least, I would like to thank my family for supporting my cause, my friends, my colleagues and the readers of my books, whom I have never met but have been a source of profound encouragement to me. China’s road to conservation of nature and environment is long and tortuous but I will continue my work resolutely.