In order to interview the elusive Yang Xin, my team of journalists had to trek across the land around the Source of Three Rivers, a plateau with an altitude of more than 4,500m. The origin of the Yangtze, Yellow and Lantsang Rivers sits among rugged terrain and environs. In this area, oxygen levels are 2/3 that of lower elevations, so humans attempting to explore it often experience altitude sickness at such heights. After catching a cold or flu, pulmonary edema or even encephalitic can set in causing death. Those who make such a journey unscathed are truly lucky.
Yang Xin and other volunteer teams dedicated to ecological and environmental protection were out on a mission atop a frozen mountain in piercingly cold wind that could knock the breath from one’s lungs. These intrepid conservationists have worked in some of the toughest natural environments.
As a young man, Yang Xin participated in the 1986 Yangtze River Rafting Exhibition, likely motivated by the idealism and enthusiasm possessed by those of youth. In the 805, rafting events on the Yangtze were covered extensively by nearly all the newspapers in China with updates every day. The tragic death of rafting pioneer, Yao Maoshu, made all the Surviving and struggling participants heroes. Thus Yang Xin’s life was destined to be quite a legend.
Many may not consider Yang a hero simply due to his sporting exploits, but would have to look further to his personal image and behavior. How could an avid rafting competitor focus on observing and exploring the Yangtze River and conduct work in the held of environment protection?
Shedding some light onto Yang Xin’s adventures helped highlight his important contributions to conservation. Protecting Tibetan antelopes in Hoh Xil, an isolated part of northwestern portion of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, was one of his truly heroic undertakings. The biggest concern for Tibetan antelope is poaching. The movie “Hoh Xil” presents the fierce duel of life and death between the protectors and the poachers and shows the Tibetan antelopes’ hostile living environment. In 1994 Suonandajie, a park ranger in the area was shot and killed by illegal poachers while defending local antelopes. This crime shocked China and the entire world, inspiring countless conservation successors. Inspired by the spirit of Suonandajie,Yang Xin turned to the held of ecological environmental protection, starting his thirty-years of work in that held.
From 1995 to 20051 Yang Xin worked to establish the Suonandajie Natural Protection Station. In those ten years, Yang and countless volunteers from all over China built up the protection station, halted or slowed poaching, promoted the establishment of anti-poaching laws and regulations in China, and accelerated the government’s investments in the protection of ecological environments and wildlife in the Hoh Xil area.
In the process of building the protection station, Yang Xin discovered great power and energy in volunteers, laying the foundations for a volunteer-centered NGO. At the time, a batch of dedicated and aspiring young men rushed to Hoh Xil kore all the comers of China, focusing their efforts for months and years toward building the Erst protection station in the area.
Zhang Li and Xu Jian, as well as other well-known leaders in the held of environment protection, were all on the name list of the original participant.With the efforts of people like Yang Xin and the government’s involvement, the threats to Tibetan antelopes gradually declined. Yang Xin thought that his usefulness in this held had been accomplished and he considered simply donating his protection station free of charge. After careful consideration he chose to do that despite opposition. For Yang Xin there was another place that needed him more and it is not his style to apathetic in face of great environmental problems.
A new opponent, garbage, emerged in font of him. With the building of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway countless workers and support personnel hooded the area. Trucks and military vehicles transporting goods and materials and increasing visitors, rushed to the Tibet Plateau. The charming natural scenery mysterious religious influence, and rich national resources drew many.
As a result, the area modernized quickly accompanied by various convenient products. Instant noodles and bottled drinks became popular in the plateau area, but the garbage generated was not recycled. Yang Xin knew the damage this unchecked garbage could cause to the environment. The source of the Yangtze River needs to be protected, or pollution will negatively affect the entire river its tributaries and surrounding ecosystems.
Yang organized volunteers to carry out ecological subways along the Qinghai-Tibet Railway and wrote a report on integrated garbage treatment in the Tanggula Mountains region in 2004. According to the report, the combined daily output of all household garbage along the Tuotuo River was approximately two tons, including 40% organic components, 50% inorganic constituents, and a 10% recyclable portion.
Yang Xin appealed to the government to finance a suitable garbage landfill in the town of Tanggula Mountain with a disposal plan for large amounts of refuse.
Considering that most trucks and trains to Lhasa are heavily loaded,though usually empty on the return journey to Golmud, Yang Xin suggested gathering the garbage collected from local residents and armed police in Lhasa. At that point, transport to the recycling station in Golmud for centralized treatment was relatively straightforward when utilizing the height transport’s unidirectional. How between Golmud and Lhasa.
In 2011, Yang Xin launched the construction of The Yangtze River Source Water Eco-environment Protection Station and devoted himself to promoting a garbage recycling pattern of decentralized collection. Utilizing long-distance transport and centralized treatment, the plan also focused on tapping into the local communities for participation. In the town of Tanggula Mountain where the protection station is located was the beginning of Yang Xin’s Yangtze River main lifestyle. With an orange canoe on his shoulders his exciting hobby has shaped his life in interesting ways. Twenty-five years after taking up raring, he returned to his personal starting point to build a protection station in an area of difficult terrain and harsh winds.The high-altitude station sits farther up than the Suonandajie Natural Protection Station in Hoh Xil. Building atop the frozen ground required a great deal of manpower, materials and financing. Organizing the venture for three years was quite challenging for Yang Xin, now the project manager.Yang’s rational and logical approach led to success in a high-pressure situation. Much like a military commander, he addressed problems and worked out solutions rapidly Though he did not show his emotions to others, there were several individuals who made up his inner circle of trusted colleagues.
Dr. Han Mei, a highly respected 64 year-old volunteer at the station, was one of the few who treat Yang Xin well. Han Mei said that Yang’s iconic graying beard emerged over the several years of constitution. Pictures from the start of showed Yang’s dark, black beard. By the end of the project, his beard had whitened significantly perhaps a sign of the personal toll it took on the man who just turned 51 by the time the station was completed Yang Xin kept most of his emotions concealed as sentiment is not particularly helpful in the harsh environment of the Source of Three Rivers.However, his care and concern for all the volunteers and station members showed in every detail of his work.
Our team came to visit the station and on the third day we drove more than 60km to a local herdsman’s land in three vehicles. Yang Xin, driving a 20 year-old Toyota Land Cruiser, stopped and directed the women in the party to a sloped area with some privacy so they might answer the call of
nature out of sight. As convoy leader, he stopped at intersections to be sure the following vehicles could keep up and not get separated. He pointed out interesting features of the land and offered to take the group to visit the place where former General Secretary Jiang Zemin inscribed “The Source of Yangtze River”. Yang’s team spirit and concern for the group members,learned through years of outdoor experience, connected him to people and made the journey enjoyable.
No one could ever tell if Yang Xin was tired or not. When others got headaches and motion sickness from the bumpy ride, Yang never complained or showed signs of exhaustion. He maneuvered his vehicle up a 70-80 degree slope and drove down the other side efficiently all while being interviewed by several reporters along the way He rarely rested after opening his eyes at 6:00am until turning out the lights at 11:00pm at the protection station.
On the second day at the protection station, a rare moment of weakness showed through Yang Xin’s strong exterior. After developing a cold, Yang Xin experienced muscle soreness and asked a team member to massage his shoulders for some relief. I took over for the first volunteer,but despite a vigorous shoulder massage, I was unable to provide much relief for his discomfort.
Over the following two years, Yang Xin’s focus shifted to the Yanzhanggua project, a hydro power station scheduled for construction in the Yanzhanggua Grand Canyon. This area hosted the last pure land in the Yangtze River valley Yang immediately took action and organized a scientific investigation team. With limited time and resources, he was able to spearhead an effective impact study at Yanzhanggua with spirit and vigor.
Surprising results of the study emerged after approximately ten months of observation. Investigators recorded six species of National First Level Protected Animals all within a 4okln2 area in the canyon. Among those observed were 9-14 snow leopards, 50-80 white-Upped deer, about 10 alpine musk deer, 20 wild yaks, approximately 10 kiangs, and 500-800 blue sheep. There was also a great deal of other wild species like cat,lynxes, stone martens, brown bears, wolves] red and Tibetan foxes. Based on previous records] the average density of snow leopards was 0.5-0.6 per hundred square kilometers, but in Yanzhanggua canyon, this number turned out to be in excess of20. Eight to ten snow leopards were found living in an area less than 40km2.
Research concluded that Yanzhanggua canyon held a very large number of manual species and a high proportion of nationally protected animals and specialized species of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. All of these animals were very rare, especially when looking at one of the highest population densities of snow leopards worldwide. The region’s significance to wildlife conservation was self-evident. Yang Xin’s tireless efforts saved the last natural canyon in the Yangtze River territory in an indirect, but efficient way 2016 is the 306 anniversary of Yang and his first Yangtze River Rafting Exhibition. Numerous people have asked Yang Xin if there will be any ceremony or commemorative event, but he has not commented on that possibility Regardless, any sort of observance or formality pales in comparison to that which is most important to Yang, namely the influence rafting has had on his life and in shaping his future. This point has been proved thoroughly over the course of his 30-year career in environmental protection.
Yang Xin is like a drop of water in the Source of three Rivers. He is not only a drop reflecting the shining sun, but also a drop blending in the mother river of the Chinese nation!