China’s First Eco-village Conference

Sunshine Ecovillage in Anji, Huzhou, inland from Shanghai, hosted China’s first major ecovillage conference in October, 2015. I was invited to be a keynote speaker by one of the organising team, Jiang, who participated in the Shenzhen PDC in 2014 and joined us for the final days of the 2015 PDC. He insisted that I return to China for the Ecovillage conference to present a permaculture perspective and that my presence was important. I eventually agreed to return to China for the conference, with only 6 days at home to reorganise my life for an unplanned extra journey.

Delegates came from all parts of China
Delegates came from all parts of China

Almost 300 conference participants and speakers came from all parts of China with international guest speakers from Thailand, Taiwan, USA, Europe and myself from Australia. The concept of Ecovillages is really gaining momentum in China — with  considerable support from the government, which sees this as a viable pathway to sustainability. One of the participants is involved in the design of the Beijing Olympic village, which the government aims to establish  a benchmark for eco-village and green design, not only for China, but for the world.

Numerous participants were already well on the path towards establishing eco-villages and working with the retrofit of existing towns and village communities. For others, creating or living in an eco-village is a dream and aspiration. There was a genuine hunger for ideas and examples of working models and solutions to apply to their specific circumstances. There’s a life-time worth of work here supporting and facilitating this great new wave of awareness and genuine concerns for building a sustainable China.

The conference location provided an inspiring example of how rapidly things can change in China. The Anji valley was previously a highly polluted and degraded industrial area. Ten years ago the government closed down the factories and commenced a major rehabilitation program. The once denuded hillsides now support dense mixed tree forests and Moso bamboo forests, and the valley is lush and green. The water in the river runs clean and the riparian areas are beautifully treed and dotted with productive lotus ponds.

Anji valley, once a polluted industrial wasteland has been transformed in 10 years
Anji valley, once a polluted industrial wasteland has been transformed in 10 years

Sunshine Eco-village is on the edge of town and still in early stages of development. The group created a beautiful outdoor venue for the conference, with bamboo pallustrades and banners surrounding the main presentation area with a huge outdoor screen for films and powerpoint projections. I really enjoyed the venue open air venue for the first afternoon of presentation, despite serious sleep deprivation from almost two days of airports, planes and road travel to get there.

Jiang and the Sunshine Ecovillage concept plan
Jiang and the Sunshine Ecovillage concept plan

Unfortunately the weather changed at sunset with a big downpour and day two brought consistent rain, which forced the organisers to urgently arrange an alternative venue in the village. The contingency venue was the conference centre of a new health resort, for which Jiang had designed the edible landscapes, applying his knowledge from the PDC he had taken with me the previous year..

Speakers included a delegate from Findhorn and the Global Eco-village Network (GEN), a professor of Buddhism from Taiwan, two ecovillage representatives from Thailand, Chinese experts in solar energy and special guest, the 90 year old John Cobb from the USA.

Keynote speakers, Robyn Francis and John Cobb
Keynote speakers, John Cobb and Robyn Francis

John Cobb, theologian, philosopher and environmentalist, was an inspiring speaker.  A strong advocate of interdisciplinary collaboration and heavily influenced by the ecologist Odum (who also shaped much of Mollison and Holmgren’s thinking). He urged reclaiming the wisdom of centuries of natural farming, and for farming villages to become the seed of ecological civilisation. “We need to make villages the most attractive place to live”

The interest in permaculture was huge, and in particular the realisation that permaculture integrates social design as well as land-use planning and food production was a major revelation.

The Sunshine Ecovillage group, who convened and hosted the conference, used the occasion to launch the Sunshine Ecovillage Academy, which will include a Permaculture College to further both grassroots and professional education and training in regenerative design, agriculture and sustainable lifestyle.

Robyn Francis, Dec 2015


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