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Special Live Chats on AOL


Paul C. Pritchard

Live Chat

China's Nationa Parks

June 6, 2001

Moderator: Davinder Khanna


HOST TRAVEL Park:  We are pleased to welcome you to our chat series "Parks & People Live." Tonight's chat is on "China's National Parks."
Our guest speaker is Paul C. Pritchard (PritchardP), president of the U.S. National Park Trust. He is advisor to the China Ministry of Construction which includes their National Park Agency.
Paul and his delegation just returned from China. He will share with us his vast experience and knowledge of the parks.

A special thanks to Susan Hawley and Judi Ritchie for assisting in tonight's chat.
Paul, thanks for being our guest tonight and sharing your experience and knowledge of the national parks and your recent trip to China in particular.
Here is a question to start our session....How long it takes to get to China and what's the time difference between US and China? :)

PritchardP:  It takes 12 long hours and they are exactly opposite us so your brain is somewhere over the Pacific, but it is worth it. 

Parkslands: There is a huge dam under construction. Are there unique areas that will disappear

PritchardP: During our 2nd trip in 1999 we went to the Three Gorges Dam. They reminded us that the US Corp of Engineers had recommended and designed the project. I saw a lot of places and I have to say this was a tough decision. As a park person, I wasn't impressed with what was going to be lost, but it wasn't an easy choice.

NPTWRO: What is the most significant difference between US and China NP?

PritchardP: People! They have incredible places to visit, but they have so many people in their parks they have places like Yellowstone and Yosemite and our most remote wilderness but there are lots of people. We did find some really remote areas on this last trip, we were up against Tibet.  In Lijang, it reminded me a lot like US National Parks.

Parkslands: Are Parks adequately funded there? Are the parks properly maintained

PritchardP:  Just like in the US, the park professionals are under a lot of pressure to bring in more tourists.  They look up to the US as a model and should be respected by us for incredible resources equal to ours. Forget the politics between our governments, their professionals remind me of our folks in the parks. That is why NPT supports them.

HOST TRAVEL Park: Are all parks government owned?

PritchardP: All the parks are government owned. The difference is local governments have a lot of influence of uses within the park. The park managers try to protect the parks from commercial development. They really love the US parks and consider them their models. This third trip was an opportunity to try to keep new parks from being overdeveloped, kind of like our Alaska parks. 

Parkslands: Is there any process for public input in planning etc.

PritchardP: Local political leaders are very influential. The local park managers have to content with the pressure to bring in more money from the local officials.  The good news is, just like in the US they are very responsive to folks like us who tell them they need to save the resource. 

TIFFYSMEMA: You say the local government has influence of the uses of the park, what kind of uses, are they not kept in there natural state.

PritchardP: Influence comes from Europe. Everywhere we went there are people trying to sell gondola and chair lift rides. The Europeans seem to have targeted China for all of their commercial investments. 

NPTWRO: Are there park rangers, interpreters and friends groups/volunteers?

PritchardP:  China has yet to develop these folks. That is why those of us from the US are real important. We need to have more people from the Western, world visiting China and encouraging conservation and conserving resources. 


PritchardP: There is no charge to go in China's parks.  In a way they are more democratic than we are. Back country hiking and camping are not common in China's parks. You can get lost in a lot of China's parks so there are lots of back country areas but people just do not go backpacking.

Parkslands: The terra cotta army. Is this in a national park entity?

PritchardP: The terra cotta army is in a museum like the Smithsonian. I cannot imagine any other way to preserve it. You have to see it to believe it. Check my photos to get an idea of what it is like. The photos will be available in the next few days on the NPT website.

JRitc41846: On a scale of 1 to 10....with 10 being the same at the US National Parks, How would you rate the NP's
of China in comparison to the NP's of the US? 

PritchardP:  I would say they are a 7 because they need to save more, especially natural areas. Most of their parks are focused on historical events. I wish they could also improve their interpretation which is almost non existent. But, they are ahead of so many other countries, and most importantly they want to improve their parks. 

Parkslands: Do the national Parks there preserve historic sites as well as natural areas? Is the range of history limited by politics?

PritchardP: Most of the areas are historical.  They need to put more emphasis on natural areas, and they need to focus on serious interpretation as opposed to naming beautiful views with mythical titles.

Parkslands:  Does the concept of ecosystems figure in the planning there?

PritchardP: Ecosystems were not a high priority in the original parks that were created since 1948-49-50. Today however, the Chinese are focusing on ecosystems and natural areas. It is all uphill but they are doing a great job. We hope to see improvement in our next trip in 2003. 

HOST TRAVEL Park: One obvious question would be .... did you experience any political problems in china?

PritchardP:  I have been there on three trips. The Chinese people have never raised any sensitive issues, the American's on the other hand have asked questions of the Chinese, and the Chinese have been very candid in their answers. I have not sensed any political controls on their questions or their answers.

Parkslands:  Are there any programs re endangered species in the parks?

PritchardP:  China is working with TNC and a number of US NGO's to save endangered species.  I would say that we are at the beginning of a long road uphill, however their horticultural parks and facilities are very concerned about saving or at least identifying their endangered plants. 

Parkslands: What is the quality of the historic preservation and restoration efforts?

PritchardP:  Historic preservation and restoration are their forte

CTMcASHE:  Paul- In Zian are there plans to open the tomb of Shihaundi?

PritchardP:  Even things that are politically sensitive are preserved. In fact, I was amazed at how committed they are to preserving minority cultures. next

JRitc41846: How long has the Chinese NP's been in existence?

PritchardP:  NPT helped the US NPS and China's Office of Scenic Areas sign a memorandum of understanding. Their parks, 186 of them have been around for over a decade.  And they are adding more. They are very interested in world recognition. 

HOST TRAVEL Park: Did you find nonprofit orgs helping China's national parks like in the USA?

PritchardP: Nonprofits were not players. NPT is about it. There are some organizations that are involved in other aspects of China's society, like the Humane Society of the US. They are very open to other suggestions. 

Parkslands: Has there been any mention of preservation of Tibet's culture?

PritchardP:  So far I have not been involved in the Tibet issue. Obviously it is very sensitive area.

NPTWRO: Is crime a problem in the parks and who is responsible for law enforcement?

PritchardP:  I have not seen anyone carrying a gun in China. Crime is not a problem. 

HOST TRAVEL Park:  Is NPT planning another trip to China?

PritchardP:  YES in 2003 we will be going again and would like to invite you all to join us.

HOST TRAVEL Park:  And, to national parks of other countries?

PritchardP:  Yes we are planning to go to Kenya in Feb of 2002. Costa Rica/Panama 2002. Northern Italy 2002. China 2003

Parkslands:  Would the expertise in restoration be helpful to us here?

PritchardP:  South Africa World Park Congress 2003. The Chinese park professionals know how to do things on a low budget.  We can learn from ever country.  

CTMcASHE:  Do the Chinese anticipate getting the 2008 Olympic games and are they capable of handling?

HOST TRAVEL Park: CTMcASHE, Thanks for joining us tonight.

PritchardP:  Several US NGO's like the Humane society are "supporting China's 2008 Olympic bid" NPT and I personally wish them well, but it is not a role that we have any expertise in. 

HOST TRAVEL Park: Do their parks permit camping, hiking, RVs etc? How about hunting?

PritchardP:  No hunting - no RV's- camping and hiking are big. 

JRitc41846: What are some of the plans the Chinese have to develop their parks that maybe beneficial to the US parks?

PritchardP: China wants more parks. They want to encourage more western visitors. They are up in the air regarding preservation or use we need to encourage them that they can have both. Without destroying the resources. 

CTMcASHE:  Paul -In Zian Are there any plans mentioned of opening the tomb of Shihaundi.

PritchardP:  The Chinese are very cautious about opening their archeological resources both at Xi'an and the Ming tombs.
Their attitude is correct; if you can't protect it, don't open it.

HOST TRAVEL Park:  Well folks, the scheduled time with our guest is coming to an end. We will take 1 or 2 more questions at this time.

HOST TRAVEL Park:  How many national parks China has?

PritchardP: Over 200 vs our 284

Parkslands:  Would a foreign visitor have difficulties with language/interpretation at the Parks?

PritchardP: China sees English as a necessary second language.  most professional speak English and there are a wealth of interpreters.

HOST TRAVEL Park:  Is the Director for national parks there a political appointee? :)

PritchardP: Their director is a professional and very committed to preservation. 

HOST TRAVEL Park:  Our special thanks to Paul Pritchard for being our guest and talking to us about his trip to China's National Parks.
PritchardP:  Thank you all for joining us and don't forget to visit our website at for our future trips to China.

HOST TRAVEL Park:  Thanks to every one who took the time to join us tonight.

JRitc41846:  Thank you for the very enjoyable insight into the NP's of China

PritchardP: You are very welcome. Good night!


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