In the early hours this morning our group of 37 Maryland environmental law students and alums returned to Baltimore from our spring break tour of China. The trip was a huge success despite a very tight schedule that took us to Beijing, X’ian, and Shanghai in the space of a week. A large album of photos of the trip is available online at: http://gallery.me.com/rperci/100660. On Monday morning March 15 we visited the Great Wall, which was covered in snow as a result of the surprise blizzard the day before. This made climbing the wall rather difficult, particularly coming down some of the steepest sections. But the blue sky and snow-covered wall provided terrific scenery.
On Monday afternoon we visited the Center for Legal Assistance to Pollution Victims (CLAPV) on the downtown campus of the China University of Political Science and Law (CUPL). CUPL law professor Wang Canfa founded CLAPV in 1999 by setting up a hotline to field complaints about environmental conditions in any part of China. Professor Wang showed us the hotline and his offices and then we adjourned to a classroom where he gave a terrific lecture on the development of public interest environmental law in China. Our group learned a lot from Professor Wang and I am most appreciative of his taking the time to meet with us. Professor Wang described his vision for the next phase in the evolution of public interest environmental law in China which includes the development of private law firms that will represent victims of pollutions.
Following dinner with the group in a Beijing hutong, I met with former CLAPV lawyer Zhang Jingjing who is now with the China office of the Public Interest Law Initiative (PILI). She noted that the public interest law movement in China is still in its early phases of development with the key players easy to identify. The current Chinese edition of Esquire magazine is devoted to the theme of “Green China” and it features photo spreads of China’s top environmemtalists, including Wang Canfa and Jing Jing. I obtained a copy of the magazine at the Beijing airport on Tuesday prior to boarding our flight to X’ian. One page of photos is devoted to lawyers, but most of the people pictured are the leaders of grassroots environmental groups.
Prior to departing for X’ian on Tuesday morning, our group made an early morning stop at the Beijing offices of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). NRDC-Beijing director Alex Wang graciously agreed to open the office at 7:30AM so that our group could visit. He said that ours was the largest group ever to visit the offices. Alex gave a terrific presentation about the work NRDC is doing in China and its multi-prong strategy for improving energy efficiency, greening supply chains, and combating air and water pollution.
In X’ian on Tuesday and Wednesday we visited tourist sites, including the Shaanxi Provincial Museum, the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, and the famous site where thousands of terra cotta warriors buried by Emporer Qin Shi Huang were discovered by a farmer digging a well in 1974. I had been to the latter twice before, the first time in 1981, shortly after the site was opened to the public. On Thursday we had a very early morning flight to Beijing, so early that our luggage was checked in prior to the group, resulting in one student being stranded in X’ian after he discovered that his passport was in his checked luggage. Chinese security would not let him board our plane without a passport so he had to made a 16-hour journey by overnight train in order to rejoin the group in Shanghai.
In Shanghai we visited the Nanjing Road shopping area, the Jade Buddha Temple, and Yu Yuyuan Gardens prior to attending a Friday evening reception in our honor at the Maryland China Center. At the reception we heard terrific presentations from Zhenxi Zhong, who described her work with Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots office in Shanghai, and former Fulbright professor Dan Guttman, who discussed differences in the meaning of law and legal policy in China and the U.S. We also were joined in Shanghai by Mary O’Loughlin who is doing environmental policy research at Wuhan University sponsored by the Fulbright program and Michael Jean, a third year Maryland law student who recently moved back to Shanghai after her partner was transferred there.
On Saturday morning we visited the World Financial Center where we had a panoramic view of Shanghai from the 100th floor observation deck. We then stopped at the Mag-Lev Terminal in order to be whisked to the airport in seven minutes on a train that reached speeds of more than 430km/hour using magnetic levitation technology. On Saturday afternoon we flew back to the U.S., clearing customs in San Francisco.