Global Times: National parks in documentaries, a new expression of China's image and values

BEIJING, Aug. 17, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — As wildlife in various ecosystems is making a comeback amid China’s efforts to build the world’s largest national park system, the country’s first National Ecology Day made its debut on Tuesday.

National parks provide perfect perspectives to understand and experience the natural landscapes and cultural characteristics of a country or region. They have become a country’s name card attracting global tourists.

These parks are also a gold mine for documentary filmmakers, enriching the landscape of the world’s nature ­documentaries. National park documentaries captivate vast audiences in the international media market. The BBC’s Yellowstone has won many awards, while Netflix’s 2022 production Our Great National Parks generated significant buzz. Serengeti, which has been introduced to China, has also garnered impressive views on media platforms.

In October 2021, China established its first batch of five national parks: the Sanjiangyuan (the Three-River-Source) National Park, the Giant Panda National Park, the Northeast China Tiger and Leopard National Park, the Hainan Tropical Rainforest National Park, and the Wuyi Mountain National Park. The parks cover a total area of 230,000 square ­kilometers. This marked the formal establishment of the national park system in China, heralding a new chapter in developing the nature reserve system. At the end of 2022, China issued the "National Park Spatial Layout Plan," including a total of 49 candidate sites for the establishment of national parks. The parks are expected to cover 10 ­percent of the country’s land area, envisaging the creation of the world’s largest national park system in the future.

As notable progress has been made in building the first batch of national parks, a slew of documentaries have emerged, such as National Parks: A Land of Symbiosis, National Parks: The Wildlife Kingdom, Qilian Mountain National Park, Qinghai: Our National Park and Wuyi Mountain: Our National Park. These works, either portraying the overall layout of China’s national parks, focusing on a specific park, or highlighting their unique flora and fauna, showcase the quality of China’s natural environment, its rich biodiversity, and the country’s solid achievements in biodiversity conservation. They reflect China’s commitment and wisdom in contributing to the global community.

In terms of international promotion of China’s image, national parks undeniably stand as a symbolic, contemporary, and culturally universal representation with vast global outreach potential. 

On one hand, these parks epitomize the nation’s commitment to ecological civilization and the Beautiful China Initiative. As an overall symbol, they are the epitome of China’s steadfast efforts in recent years to advance ecological progress. On the other hand, national parks are a symbol in themselves, encompassing China’s most vital natural ecosystems, unique landscapes, pristine natural heritage, and biodiversity-rich regions. These areas are home to over 5,000 terrestrial vertebrates and over 29,000 higher plants, covering more than 80 percent of the state-level key protected wildlife species and their habitats. 

National parks are not just spaces of natural ecology but also bearers of cultural values. Documentaries on these parks, their resident species, and the encompassing ecosystems essentially translate the natural world into cultural expressions. Many of the wildlife ­featured in these films become endearing symbols, carrying emotional and value-laden narratives.

However, unlike international nature documentaries such as Serengeti or Dynasties that emphasize the raw, survival-of-the-fittest philosophy and the struggles within the food chain, Chinese national park documentaries tend to consistently highlight a spirit of shared destiny and harmonious coexistence. This encompasses harmony between humans and nature, among different species, and even the broader harmony of Earth’s life systems. 

These documentaries explore poetic visions of humans living in harmony with all beings, exuding an aura of poetic beauty. From the yaks and Tibetan antelopes of China’s Qinghai-Xizang Plateau thriving under human care, to the tea cultivators of Wuyi Mountain practicing minimal intervention and "letting nature be," to the balanced micro-ecosystems of the tea gardens, and the organic equilibrium among eagles, rodents, and foxes on the grasslands, these films encapsulate China’s perspectives on nature, ecology, life, ethics, aesthetics, and the universe. 

They embody Chinese ecological principles and the spirit of Chinese culture, summarized by the long-cherished philosophies of "unity of man and nature," "benevolence toward people and love for all beings," and the dialectical philosophy of "achieving through non-action." They also resonate with the enduring Chinese concept of "harmony."

The harmonious coexistence between humans and nature depicted in these documentaries offers a fresh interpretation of the idea of community. They demonstrate, through the harmonious landscapes of national parks, that not only are humans interconnected with each other and with nature, but the Earth itself is a community of life. This aligns perfectly with the essence and original intent behind China’s endeavors to build a national parks system and advance its ecological civilization.

Chinese civilization has always revered the unity of Heaven and man and the principle of living in accordance with nature, seeking harmony between humans and the environment. The creation of national park-themed documentaries reveals that such films can also shape China’s image and convey its cultural values. 

Moving forward, Chinese nature documentaries should remain rooted in Chinese cultural perspectives, seeking innovative connections between Chinese nature films, traditional Chinese aesthetics, and philosophical wisdom. National parks should be leveraged as symbols to distill and showcase the essence of Chinese civilization, promoting the image and value of these parks and narrating China’s unique modern stories of harmonious coexistence between humans and nature.

Source: Global Times: National parks in documentaries, a new expression of China's image and values