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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 December 2006, 08:23 GMT
China's 'Green Eyes' focus on protection
As part of a series on young environmentalists in the BBC's Generation Next season, Quentin Sommerville in Wenzhou meets teenagers exposing animal rights abuses and environmental damage in China's industrial heartland.

Sun Miaosun
Sun Miaosun collects evidence of rare animals being sold for food
Sun Miaosun devotes precious hours to the protection of rare species in Zhejiang province in eastern China.

The crowded outdoor food markets of Pingyang county display long lines of cages and crates crammed full of animals, many of them endangered.

Miaosun and his friends rise early, sometimes before dawn. Wearing their distinctive Green Eyes China baseball caps they move through the market quickly, recording what they see with video cameras.

Endangered breeds of frogs, snakes, owls and eagles are for sale - some already prepared for the cooking pot.

Social stability

"When we arrive the stall-holders run away, or they say the animals don't belong to them," he said.

Sun Miaosun, 17, is one of the 2000 members of Green Eyes China, a young person's environmental group which is working to expose the animal rights abuses and environmental damage in China's industrial heartland.

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They face a huge challenge. China's environmental record is one of the poorest in the world, and animal rights are a relatively new concept.

Acid rain falls on around a third of the country, the water in most of its rivers is unfit to drink or fish in. Campaigners say that the country is on the brink of environmental collapse.

Even the government agrees. The State Environmental Protection Administration (Sepa) recently warned that the situation was endangering people's health and risking the social stability of the country.

"The brick factories here pollute the environment terribly because they burn lots of coal," said another campaigner Zen Ruigui. "The dyeing factories drain their effluent directly into the rivers. There's also been extensive deforestation," he added.

Suspicion

The Green Eyes activists keep a watch on polluters. The emphasis is on supervision and reporting - they work with older members to avoid direct confrontation with polluters, or with those trading in endangered species.

Their work is all the more impressive given the difficulty facing non-governmental organisations in China. Such groups are regarded with suspicion by the ruling communist party.

China's first environmental group was established in only 1995, Green Eyes in 2000.
We want to give society a signal that schoolchildren have the right to take part in environmental protection
Fang Minghe

It was founded by Fang Minghe, 22, when he was a schoolboy. Being young is an advantage, he says.

"People think we're too innocent to be a threat," he said. "We want to give society a signal that schoolchildren have the right to take part in environmental protection.

"It's not only their obligation, it's their right - it's in the UN convention on the rights of the child. Though for some Chinese people this is a step too far."

The group works with the local authorities, including the police, and claims credit for some 26 criminal prosecutions. It also helps on environmental clean-ups, and runs an animal sanctuary, saving around 100 animals a year.

China's government agencies are ill-equipped for the enormous task facing them. SEPA has only 200 staff and little clout within the government structure.

Earlier this year China's Forestry bureau provoked outrage when it attempted to sell hunting licences, some for endangered species, to foreign hunters.

Government spend

Yang Qing
Yang Qing believes the government is not spending enough
Fang says "We're doing a much better job than the local forestry bureau here. It's really inspired us, a non-governmental organisation can actually do quite a lot."

But he is realistic about the task ahead. "We often wonder if protection can catch up with the damage. Why do we blindly pursue economic growth?"

China's leadership is waking up to the problem. Earlier this year it revealed plans to spend 1.4 trillion yuan ($175bn) over the next five years on protecting the environment.

Yang Qing, 18, believes that is not enough. "We need to let people know just how badly polluted the country has become. We all need to start protecting the environment," she says.

The commitment of the Green Eyes activists is all the more remarkable because it exists in a country unused to direct and independent action by its citizens.

And its members understand that the environmental situation is one of the most critical issues facing not just their generation, but future generations to come.






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