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Blogging Beijing

The 2008 Summer Olympics will punctuate three decades of development and test China's global legitimacy. They've already transformed the way millions of people think and live. Seattleite and Fulbright researcher Daniel Beekman brings you Beijing.

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July 8, 2008 6:56 AM

The Green Long March

Posted by Daniel Beekman

Seven decades and four years ago, a ragged pack of Chinese idealists took flight. They trekked on foot through forests, deserts and valleys, preaching a practical, convincing backwoods gospel.

Charasmatic young leaders, including Mao Zedong, emerged. Farmers listened.

Or so the legend (Long March) goes: a weakened Red Army, an unhealthy land, a suffering people...reborn.

This month, a new generation of doers will trot across China - a 'green' army of environmentally-conscious students and volunteers. They'll preach a practical, convincing gospel: faith in the Olympic spirit and conservation.

It's the 2008 'Green Long March.'

"We want a sustainable future for China," said Frances Fremont-Smith. Fremont-Smith's NGO 'Future Generations/CHINA' partnered with Beijing Forestry University to organize the GLM project. "We're encouraging local people to set lofty goals, just like the athletes. We're passing on that Olympic 'can-do' spirit."

(Note: Future Generations/CHINA is a Hong Kong registered NGO affiliated with Future Generations, a non-profit and graduate school located in West Virgina. Since 1985, Future Generations/CHINA has conducted conservation and community-building activities in China's Tibet Autonomous Region. For more information on Future Generations/CHINA, visit www.futuregenerations.org.cn.)

This month, Green Long Marchers will engage China's future generations.

Volunteers from Beijing Forestry University planted trees last year.

Environmental problems plague Chinese development.

The Green Long March is China's largest youth environmental movement.

Last year's inagural GLM engaged thousands of students from 43 Chinese universities, ranging across 22 provinces and 10 'eco-zones.' Consisting of 10 distinct 'routes,' China's largest youth conservation movement will cover 2008 kilometers in 2008.

In preparation for the march, Future Generations China and BFU carried our environmental education on Earth Day and Wolrd Environment Day. Volunteers will revisit villages surveyed last year to assess the impact of 2007's GLM. They'll also recognize outstanding 'green enterprises' within each community.

As part of another GLM program, the Future Generations China - BFU team will select representatives from 50 Chinese communities to participate in conservation and leadership training.

"Reporters tend to focus on what's broken...we like to focus on what's wokring," Fremont-Smith said. "We're trying to help these communities become models. Rather than crusade against offending factory bosses, we're highlighting 'green enterprises - enterprises working to reduce their own pollution."

In 2007, 10 sets of BFU backpackers trained, bused and walked between rallies, enlisting local university students along the way. Things are heating up in Beijing ahead of the Olympic Games - Future Generations has decentralized its project.

Hundreds of provincial volunteers will march this year, traversing routes like 'The Grand Canal' from Beijing south to Hangzhou, 'Northwestern Forests' from Harbin south to Shenyang, and 'National Treasures' through Chengdu in Sichuan province to Guizhou's Guiyang.

Future Generations/CHINA dispatched two staffers to Sichuan following May 12's devastating earthquake. Green Long Marchers will stomp through Sichuan as planned, but Fremont-Smith says her organization will expand its activities in the province to encompass disaster recovery and youth development.

(Note: Check out GLM's online route-map for 2008 here.)

They'll visit parks, malls, schools and retirement homes to mediate discussions, distribute fliers and solicit opinions on how environmental protection should move forward in China.

"Chinese youth have been inspired to protect the environment for years and years," Fremont-Smith said. "Now, using the Olympics as a platform, they're attracting support around the world.

"With the 2008 Games, there's been such a wealth of energy among young people here. Our idea was to borrow from the original Long March to harness th

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