Blogs >> Transition – East And West, by Julie Richardson

Transition – East And West, by Julie Richardson

I am currently writing this blog, taking the slow train across China. Setting the scene, we are passing by wheat fields, coal fired electricity generation plants; and new growth high rise urban centres waiting for occupants to arrive.

We are here as part of an east west exchange to share philosophies, theories, practices and case studies into how the economics of transition is manifesting across different ecologies, cultures and politics. Our Schumacher team (Jon Rae, Julie Richardson and Ruth Potts) is joined by our colleagues, Tony Greenham from the new economics foundation and transition network, and Stephen Sterling from Plymouth University.

The exchange started with a high level discussion about developing a postgraduate collaboration with South West University. Both sides are very enthusiastic and all being well, we hope to launch the programme next year. The collaboration will enable postgraduate students to continue their studies for one year in China and gain a masters award from both the University of Plymouth and South West University. Not only will this provide a unique experience of contemporary China, but it will also explore what progress China is making towards growing an ecological civilisation.
“In 2007 the Chinese central government issued a national strategic document to transform the industrial capital-oriented economic mode, with its heavy pollution burden, into a new historical period of “Ecological Civilization.” Professor Wen Tiejun (2012), Ecological Civilisation, Indigenous Culture and Rural Reconstruction in China.

This may sound very Schumacher, and indeed it is. Our programme of lectures and workshops, started with a presentation and workshop on the ecological paradigm and what this means for economy and society. There was a common understanding from participants from both East and West that we must move beyond the notion of applying economic principles to protect the environment, but rather need to re-root our economic thinking in ecology. Participants explored how contemporary issues in China such as the unsustainable use of natural products in Chinese medicine; over-hunting; inequality; hazardous waste disposal; and food safety are systemically linked to critical ecological and social boundaries.

My highlight of the exchange visit so far has to be Mr. Ling Yingsheng. A 70 year old retired teacher, who single-handedly and with huge passion has collected a record of traditional farm technologies and ways of life in rural China. Meandering through the museum, stone mills are juxtaposed with carved beds, set alongside looms and smoking pipes. Each tool, machine and artefact is accompanied by a hand written poem by Mr. Ling Yingsheng, all set within the overall blessing and guidance of Confucius. The visit reminded me that beauty and dignity are not a luxury of the rich. The simple and beautiful tools and artefacts are all made with local materials, love, skill and inspired by the necessity of everyday life.

“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life”. Confucius

Like many others, old and young, rich and poor, Mr Ling Yingsheng fears for the future of China with its rapid modernisation and urbanisation programme. The destruction of community ways of life, ecological health and rural livelihoods is clearly depicted in the shocking encroachment of tower blocks, motorways, and mono-cropping into rural areas. He is a member of a local campaign to resist the district development programme bringing in commercial development; tourism and agriculture.

We finished the day with a visit to Green Ground Dapinghuo Community Restaurant. A huge banner ‘Welcome to the Professors from Schumacher College’ greeted us from the outside. The aroma of chillies, lotus flower and jasmine welcomed us from the inside. We listened to the story about how the popular restaurant is part of the community supported agriculture network. They buy all their produce from their local CSA and the menu is completely seasonal. Over dinner, Tony Greenham remarked that transition was already happening in China – the CSA, the local food restaurant and the agricultural museum of tools and skills for a low carbon life were live examples of how transition is already manifest in parts of China. The question is how is it different under a completely different political regime and what are the drivers behind the transition?. Are they peak oil and climate change or are they more rooted in China’s social history or its modern concern for food security and food safety? We shall find out later in the week at Tony Greenham’s workshop on the global transition network and how a similar movement is manifesting in China.

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