Nature is our Teacher


Situated in western Yunnan Province, along the China-Myanmar border, Gaoligongshan is a giant south-to-north mountain range more than 600 kilometres long. The geographical location and climatic characteristics make Gaoligongshan one of China’s richest regions of biodiversity, and people have inhabited the area for more than 4,000 years. What stories and wisdoms lie within these beautiful ancient mountains?

Gaoligongshan National Nature Reserve Baoshan Administration Bureau (BAB) sees Gailigongshan as a natural school full of extensive knowledge and experience, and that the local people there do not lack wisdom in protecting nature, but guidance. BAB is aware that the approach of lecturing people on science does not bring about behavioural change and thus has started to explore nature education, which stresses experiential learning in the mountains, and the connection between people and nature. We have joined BAB to train local nature education facilitators and to work on a Gaoligongshan-based curriculum rooted in its nature and culture. Since 2016, more than 300 trainees have participated in nature education activities in and around Gaoligongshan.

In the curriculum, BAB blends local wisdom with science. Local people do not remove fallen trees in the Gaoligongshan reserve, and inspired by this practice, BAB designed the activity Reincarnation of Life: participants observe new life in decaying wood, seeing the continuation of nature’s cycles. Participants might also observe evidence of indigenous peoples paying respects to the spirits of the land, which are ancient practices. When villagers worship and ask for protection from their ancestors, for instance, they first acknowledge the Mountain God at the back of the tomb. BAB relays this tradition in their nature education “school” to demonstrate how people revere nature.

At the beginning of each nature education activity, BAB facilitators also show respect to nature. They position nature as eternal, and human beings as passers-by who are not to harm any single life. Some participants express that they cannot always relate to nature even though they may visit the mountains often; yet in the Reincarnation of Life session, they come to calm down and commune more closely with nature. They reflect on their busy lives, feeling their deep relationship with the natural world. They come to understand that the self is part of nature.

These experiences are sowing seeds in the hearts of participants, sprouting in different places. At a township central school at the bottom of Gaoligongshan, where teachers have joined BAB’s nature education activities, a teacher has gone on to become a trainer, working to develop a nature education curriculum with more than 40 teachers from more than 20 primary schools. In one activity, Fun in the Bamboo Grove, children learn experientially, with their senses: they make traditional toys with bamboo and witness the many ways that the local Dai people use the plant. This type of learning supplements formal instruction about bamboo. BAB activities have also led to Baoshan’s first nature education NGO which advocates that nature is essential to the health of a child’s body and soul; that the ability to sense and understand happiness with nature can help uplift spirit and energy throughout one’s entire life. The NGO is currently exploring parent-children activities with the traditional lunisolar calendar.

Diversity and interconnectedness are key elements in nature, and likewise, nature educators also need to connect with each other. We plan to facilitate exchanges among these NGOs in Baoshan, enhancing their understanding of nature education, and enabling opportunities for mutual sharing on curriculum design and approach. This platform will allow them to explore ways to integrate unique local elements – natural and cultural – into their nature education work, so that it becomes related to daily life.

Under the protection of Gaoligongshan, local people continue to discover boundless wisdom.

(from Annual Report 2017-2018