Twenty years ago, when Wang Jiyong worked in Beijing, he often thought of his home province of Guizhou. Impoverished and lacking infrastructure, children in Guizhou’s countryside had fewer opportunities when it came to getting an education than those in wealthier areas.
Wang shared his concerns and vision of a supporting group with other young people from the province. Soon after, he created the Guizhou Ren Charity Action Network to gather support and resources for rural students in need. United by their shared roots, hundreds of supporters, especially those studying and working outside Guizhou, gathered under the banner of Guizhou Ren to devote their time and resources to education efforts in the province. They regularly collected books and donations to help local rural schools.
Xue Qishan was one of Guizhou’s Ren’s supporters. Xue was studying at Nanjing Forestry University at the time, and her bond with Guizhou turned her into an active member of Guizhou Ren. Upon graduation, Xue went to the province’s Qinglong County, volunteering for over 14 months at a local Oxfam project office to support rural development, before joining Partnerships for Community Development (PCD) as a program officer.
Guizhou Ren did not stop at improving access to education. Both Wang Jiyong and Xue Qishan had noticed environmental deterioration during their numerous trips to the countryside. Local rivers, once crystal clear, had become dirty and polluted.
In 2006, Wang Jiyong left his job in Beijing and returned to Guizhou. He was determined to run Guizhou Ren as a professional organization. Having settled back into life in Guizhou, Wang and Xue designed the group’s water project focusing on the conservation of the Qingshui River.
Flowing mostly through southwestern Guizhou, the Qingshui River is fed by streams from lush mountain forests, and supports the inhabitants of an ethnically diverse region. However, stricter environmental regulation in eastern provinces saw the relocation of factories to inland provinces like Guizhou, putting environmental pressures on waterways such as the Qingshui River.
Wang realized that the causes and impact of water pollution can be found in the local area. Regardless of outside support his group might be able to provide, local problems would require local solutions. With this in mind, he decided to harness citizen science and build up the capacity of local communities.
In the meantime, Wang’s group adopted a more environmentally-focused name: Guiyang Qianren Ecological Conservation Center, also known as Qianren Ecology or Qianren.
With the support of Harmony Community Foundation, Wang Jiyong imitated the Ottelia Program in 2016. Named after the Ottelia acuminata flower, a plant that usually lives in rivers and lakes with good water quality, the program provides small grants to local groups and schools for environmental activities. By the end of November 2022, the Ottelia Program had funded more than 400 small environmental projects and organized more than 60 training sessions, with participating partners across Guizhou Province, and covering eight rivers in the Yangtze and Pearl River watersheds.
On March 22, 2019, World Water Day, together with 14 local charity groups and student environmental clubs in Guizhou, Qianren initiated “Guizhou River Day 1+2 Actions”, a public river protection activity, which calls for members of the public to devote one hour on the third Saturday of every month to patrolling 2 kilometers around the banks of rivers or lakes in their local area.
Qianren also researched and produced publications on field guides and natural history to increase environmental literacy. Last year, Qianren’s team worked with scientists and helped discover two new species of fish: Short barbelled hongshuia (Hongshuia brevibarba) and Wudang plateau loach (Triplophysa wudangensis), contributing to a list of over a hundred new species discovered worldwide that year.
Both Wang’s leadership and Qianren’s professionalism has been recognized by Guizhou authorities. Entrusted by Guizhou Charity Federation, Qianren conducted a conservation project in the headwater region of the Wujiang River, and later along the Chishui River.
In 2019, the Ministry of Water Resources and All-China Federation of Trade Unions recognized Wang Jiyong as the Most Beautiful River Protector of the Yangtze River Economic Belt. In the same year, he was awarded the National 100 Most Beautiful Environmental Volunteers award by the Ministry of Ecology and Environment and General Office of Central Commission for Guiding Cultural and Ethical Progress.
Both the national and provincial governments clearly value the contribution of grassroots efforts by environmental leaders like Wang Jiyong. His decades of work has helped to demonstrate the value of citizen participation in environmental issues and the ability of ordinary people to make an indispensable contribution to China’s environment and ecology.