Retired Woman Committed to Protecting 'Mother River'

ByXie Lin October 3, 2022


Yun Jianli is a retired cadre of the Xiangyang Municipal Federation of Returned Overseas Chinese, in Central China's Hubei Province. She has been a biology teacher for 20 years. As a member of the Hubei Provincial Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, she participated in the investigation to determine the sources of pollution in Gunhe River, a branch of the Hanjiang River, in 2000. Hanjiang River is the "mother river" of Xiangyang. Shocked by the serious condition of pollution, she decided to do something to protect the river. In 2002, she established Xiangyang Environmental Protection Association, also known as Green Hanjiang. The association was the first non-governmental organization (NGO) engaged in environmental protection in Hubei. 

During the past 20 years, Yun and the association's volunteers have given more than 1,000 public lectures to raise people's awareness of the need to protect the environment along Hanjiang River. 

"You should bring water with your own bottle, rather than buy bottled water," Yun told students who attended one of her lectures. She explained how the production of plastic bottles uses many natural resources, and how their transportation increases carbon emissions. 


To enrich her lectures, Yun collected a wide range of materials about environmental protection. When she traveled to other regions to attend meetings, she visited other NGOs to learn about the organizations' experiences in environmental protection. Based on the materials she collected, and the condition of the environment in Xiangyang, she carefully prepares for each lecture. She also takes into consideration the audience members' backgrounds. For example, when she gives lectures in kindergartens and schools, she teaches children to sing songs she composed on the theme of environmental protection, and she uses many pictures and toys to attract the children's interest. 

April 1, 2019 was Yun's 75th birthday. On that day, Yun and some volunteers gave a lecture on low-carbon lifestyle at Qingniwan Middle School, in Xiangyang. Approximately 700 students or teachers attended. Yun caught students' attention by doing an experiment at the beginning of the lecture. She told the students, "Each of you can influence the environment with your behavior. We enjoy a good environment. At the same time, protecting the environment is everyone's responsibility." The lecture was the 1,000th organized by Green Hanjiang. 

"(Protecting the environment) is a tough mission, but also a happy one," says Yun. She has dedicated her life to that mission. One winter, she conducted an investigation into the condition of the environment in Longping, a town of Xiangyang. Although she caught a cold on the first night, she still gave a lecture to cadres from the town's government the next day.

In 2014, Yun lectured at Chenguang Primary School, with 1,000 students and their teachers in attendance. She noted the platform was not high enough; to ensure the students in the back rows could see her, she finished the lecture by standing on two chairs.

"Our strength is limited, but we must do something. I hope all people will take action to protect our environment," Yun says. 

Yun and the volunteers' efforts have paid off. Many residents in Xiangyang know Green Hanjiang, and they have realized their responsibility to protect the rivers. 


Wolong Middle School is located near the upper reaches of Hanjiang. The school's teachers and students have for years participated in various environmental-protection projects. They have used simple containers to collect water samples from Hanjiang, and they have sent those samples to Hubei University of Art and Science for water quality tests. Once, they discovered that some people were mining sand in the river, so they contacted Green Hanjiang. The association quickly sent volunteers to investigate, which prompted media outlets to report on the situation.

Some schools in Xiangyang have included environmental-protection education in their teaching plans, and others have created special courses. Xiangyang No. 41 Middle School established a students' group, which has conducted regular environmental-protection activities. Promotional advertisements about saving energy and water have been broadcast on Xiangyang's television and radio stations. 

Many units in Xiangyang have applied to be group members of Green Hanjiang, and many people feel proud of volunteering with the organization. 

"I am like a shriveled blade of grass by the Hanjiang River. It comforts me that there are many newly grown blades of grass," says Yun. She has been honored as a National March 8th Red-banner Holder, one of the National 100 Most Outstanding Volunteers, and one of the 10 Most Outstanding Women of Hubei.


Photos Supplied by Interviewee 

(Women of China English Monthly September 2022 issue)


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