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Relentless advocate 'greens' rural China, village by village

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For centuries, they lived more or less in balance with their surroundings. But a growing population, converted to a get-rich-quick mentality by China's economic boom, has put unbearable pressure on the mountain's forests, valuable mushrooms, wild animals, and medicinal plants.

"We used to get everything from nature but we used it ourselves," says Cun. "Now it's the demand of the market and the requirement to get rich."

So villagers have ignored the law and cut down trees on the forested slopes above their homes where the golden monkey once lived, hunted animals for their pelts, and dug up prized matsutake mushrooms to get the last little bits, rather than leave stalks to grow again.

Cun's campaign, funded by two US groups, The Nature Conservancy and Rare, has not only installed biogas feeders and solar panels to reduce local villagers' need for firewood. It also has aimed to change attitudes. "We want to use people's pride in their hometowns to make them responsible for their own places," explains Cun. "It shouldn't be because of law enforcement."

So Cun has traveled village to village trying to drum up that kind of pride and teach people how conservation can make economic sense, using commercial marketing techniques adapted to social issues.

She has plastered exhortatory billboards on village walls, handed out fliers explaining the law on hunting and logging, dressed assistants up in golden monkey suits for visits to schools, organized village quizzes on conservation issues, and offered prizes for the best performance on an environmenal theme at village festivals.

And at meeting after meeting, she has encouraged villagers – more accustomed to listening obediently to local leaders – to voice their own suggestions for a better campaign. "At one meeting a new mayor came, and afterward he said he had never been to such a democratic meeting," Cun recalls. "Everyone was speaking."

The campaign has not enjoyed the spectacular results that Cun – by her own admission, too much of a perfectionist – had hoped for, but it has got through to people. A survey last year found that the number of villagers aware of alternative energy sources had increased by nearly 50 percent, as had the numbers who knew that hunting the golden monkey is punishable by jail time.

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