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Erhai Lake Must Be Protected

By Yuan Lihui, Wang Wenting, and Zhao Mengjie Source: English Edition of Qiushi Journal Updated: 2021-01-14

"With no ink, the Cangshan Mountains paint a picture of timeless grandeur; with no strings, the Erhai Lake plucks a melody of incredible harmony." This elegant couplet deftly evokes the romantic beauty of the Cangshan Mountains and Erhai Lake. However, there was a time when this beauty was unable to shine through because of the stain of water pollution. 

In January 2015, President Xi Jinping visited Gusheng Village in Dali to learn about conservation efforts on Erhai Lake. He instructed that "Erhai Lake must be protected," and after posing for a photo with local officials, he said, "I'm going to hold on to this picture, and I hope that when I come back in a few years I will see that the water has become cleaner and clearer." 

Standing by the lakeside in Gusheng Village today in the same place where the president looked out back in 2015, the lake water is as clear as a mirror, with blue sky and white clouds reflected on the surface. Bubbling brooks flow into the shallows while children play and people amble among the stunning scenery. The spot where Xi Jinping posed for the photo has become a new landmark where tourists snap their own souvenir shots. Residents of the village hope that the president will visit Erhai Lake again so that they can show him the clean, rippling waters and tell him about their happy lives. 

Acting with courage and determination to keep the lake clear and blue 

"We must make conservation a more prominent priority, protecting the environment like we would protect something as sensitive as our eyes, and treating it like we would treat something as precious as our lives." The people of Yunnan took these words spoken by Xi Jinping when he visited their province to heart, and translated them into resolute action by cracking down on pollution with an iron fist. All-out efforts were launched, including cutting off sources of pollution around the lake and relocating people to protect the ecosystem. More than 27 billion yuan was invested in the implementation of 76 projects for the protection and remediation of Erhai as well as ecological improvement in the lake basin under the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016- 2020), a project to build an eco-corridor was launched, a total of 1,806 households were relocated for environmental purposes, and 338 businesses providing food and lodging in the core area were incorporated into a standardization and downsizing campaign. 

Secretary of the Dali Prefectural CPC Committee Chen Jian says, "We acted decisively to shut down, remove, and transform businesses. Without conservation, development is out of the question; this is something we need to be resolute about."


Dali Prefecture in Yunnan Province has launched a campaign for the protection and remediation of the environment at the Erhai Lake and the Cangshan Mountains covering the whole region and involving the efforts of the entire population. This campaign has produced step-by-step results, cleaning up the local environment and recapturing the area's picturesque beauty. PHOTO PROVIDED BY THE PUBLICITY DEPARTMENT OF THE CPC DALI PREFECTURE COMMITTEE 

He Licheng, a 53-year-old fisherman in Gusheng Village, has been through a tough journey on account of the lake, and been forced to start again from scratch three times. In 1996, Erhai Lake experienced its first large-scale burst of cyanobacteria. The local authorities banned motorized fishing boats in response, and Mr. He, who had been fishing on the lake since he was 15 years old, was forced to sell the boat he had purchased for 20,000 yuan for just 2,000 yuan. The cyanobacteria came back again in 2003, and under the requirement to forfeit land used for farming, fishing, and hospitality, the more than a hectare of fish pools that Mr. He had contracted were all shut down. In addition, under the regulations at the time, some of the guest rooms at his family's inn fell within Erhai conservation redlines, and they were forced to demolish more than 190 square meters of space. Though Mr. He has felt the sting of loss many times on this tortuous journey, he has not given up. On the contrary, he is full of confidence about future growth, saying, "Now the eco-corridor has been built, there is a buffer belt around the edge of the lake, and water quality has improved. Dali's path of development keeps getting broader, and people's lives keep getting better." 

Through the joint efforts of the Party committee, the government, and local people, Erhai Lake achieved 7 months of Grade II water quality for two years running in 2018 and 2019, with main water quality indicators showing improvement overall. 

Preserving a deep memory of the countryside for those that come after us 

During his tour of Yunnan, Xi Jinping visited the home of Gusheng Village resident Li Dechang, where he sat with locals and chatted with them about their lives and work. He remarked, "Not only is this place clean and tidy, it also preserves a plain and simple style. I think this kind of courtyard is better than a Western style house, because it carries a sense of nostalgia for the countryside." The home that generated these feelings in the president is a typical courtyard of the Bai ethnic group, located in an ancient village with more than a millennium of history set among the incredible scenery of the Cangshan Mountains and Erhai Lake. The house is full of traditional flavor with whitewashed walls, black roof tiles, and upturned eaves, and in the courtyard there is a large and luxuriant tree and colorful flowers waiting to be picked. It is home to seven family members from four generations who live happily together under one roof. 

In 2016, Gusheng Village began renovations to upgrade the appearance of residential structures. Seven ancient courtyards were designated as protected sites, and historically significant sites were restored while preserving their original likeness. Even as infrastructure in the village has gotten newer, as evidenced by its improved garbage removal systems, convenient public transportation, and lively public square dancing, it has taken on a more traditional, more classic look. 

Building better and better lives by protecting the natural environment

Those who live among the Cangshan Mountains and Erhai Lake are the guardians of "lucid waters and lush mountains," but even more so are the beneficiaries of these "invaluable assets." Even though rice production fell after capping the amounts of water and fertilizer used, the price that the rice can be sold for doubled, making the value of output higher than it was initially. Freed up land was transformed into rural tourism estates, with prices for fruit picking 20 times higher than before. While protecting Erhai Lake, the eco-corridor became a new spot for relaxation and leisure, allowing the area to attract more visitors. Older people have work to keep them busy right at their doorsteps, and younger people have returned home to start businesses, with incomes increasing to many times what they were previously. The list goes on and on. 

Li Dechang says confidently, "As long as the waters of Erhai are alright, we have nothing to worry about economically." 

(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No. 18, 2020)