Role of Rural Regulations in Environmental Protection and Green Development ——Findings from in Wendou Village in Guizhou Province
March 07,2017 By:CSHRS
Role of Rural Regulations in Environmental Protection and Green Development
—— Findings from in Wendou Village in Guizhou Province
GAO Qicai LUO Chang*
Abstract: The widespread involvement in social action involving environmental protection, green development and sustainable development by means of people-oriented rural regulations in Wendou Village of Qiandongnan Miao and Dong Minority Autonomous Prefecture in Guizhou Province is quite unique and is in keeping with the basic spirit of the Declaration on the Right to Development. Wendou has long been known to cherish the tradition of making rural regulations to govern the village and protect the environment. In the entrance of Wendou, there is a stone stele called “Stele of Six Points for Prohibition” and another stele recording management of forestry resources set up twelve years later than the first one. These prohibitory regulations on the steles gradually became customary law in the form of rural regulations, which has had a significant role in environmental protection in Wendou Village. Adhering to those self-governing traditions, Wendou villagers enacted Villagers’s Self-governance Agreement in September 10th of 2015, which stipulated the villagers’ and the village committee’s obligations in environmental protection both directly and indirectly.The green development mechanism and system set up in Wendou village would severely punish environmental destruction. Wendou’s experiences show that rural regulations have a positive effect on environmental protection.
Keywords：Rural Regulations; Environmental Protection; Green Development;Wendou Village
The basic spirit of the Declaration on the Right to Development passed by the 41st session of the U.N. General Assembly on December 4th of 1986 stipulated for the rights of development and for people-oriented process of development, “States should encourage popular participation in all spheres as an important factor in development and in the full realization of all human rights” pursuant to the Article 8(2) of Declaration on the Right to Development. Transforming Our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development which was passed by U.N. Sustainable Development Summit on September, 25-27th of 2015 in New York, pointed out that “we are determined to ensure that all human beings can fulfill their potenital in dignity and equality and in a healthy environment”；”we are determined to protect the planet from degradation, including through sustainable consumption and prodution, sustainably managing its natural resources and taking urgent action on climate change, so that it can support the needs of the present and future generations.” The widespread involvement in social actions involving environmental protection, green development and sustatinable development by means of rural regulations under the principle of people-oriented process in Wendou of Qiandongnan Miao and Dong Minority Autonomous Prefecture Pinghe County HeKou Township in GuiZhou Province is quite unique and comforms to the basic spirit of the Declaration on the Right to Development.
Wendou’s history traces back to the end of Yuan Dynasty and the beginning of the Ming Dynasty. It was initially a series of impoverished settlements before Emperor Shunzhi of the Qing Dynasty joined forces with Emperor Kangxi through an agreement to pay taxes. The two subareas, Shangzhai originally part of Liping Prefecture and Xiazhai belonging to the Zhenyuan Prefecture during the Qing Dynasty, merged together in 1914 and became part of the Jingping Prefecture. Wendou which had been part of both Shangzhai, Xiazhai and Hebian Village, was established after the foundation of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Wendou merged into Hekou Township in 1992 and the two Zhai merged together once more in 2008. Under the Key Village Construction Policy in 2014, another small village called Jiachi joined Wendou, which then consisted of 15 villager teams, 527 households with the population of 2,369 people, 99% of which are ethnically Miao.
The thriving of the wood industry in Wendou in Ming and Qing Dynasty pushed the gradual formulation of the custom of contractual industrial management - many agreements carved in stone appeared. The long history of honest folkway and social stability, the beautiful environment with green hills and clean streams, the lush of bamboo forests, all benefited from the tradition of customary agreements.Thirty kinds of tree species, seven hundred green and mighty ancient trees including chinese yew, ginkgo biloba, nanmu and other key state protective plants etc. have been preserved because villagers in Wendou stringently abided by their forest protection agreements for the past 300 years. In 2010, Wendou was selected as “China’s Landscape Village” because of its mountains and verdant layout and the existence of a long history and culture of harmonious coexistence between nature and people.
Based on lessons learned from previous rural regulations and the pointing out of crucial contemporary issues，Wendou revised and recompiled rural regulations and developed a new Agreement of Village Self-Governance (hereinafter, referred to as simply the Agreement).1 The Agreement inherited native customary laws2 and traditions including comprehensive content related to environmental protection and green development.
To gain a comprehensive understanding of the positve role played by rural regulations in environmental protection, green development, and sustainable development practices, we undertook field investigations in October 1st of 2015 and February 23rd of 2016. As part of our visits to Wendou, we learned about the villager’s feelings about their ecological environment, participated in their annual October Tree-Worship Festival, viewed the ancient environmental protection stele, consulted Wendou’s rural regulations, interviewed the villagers and their local leaders, and as result had first-hand experience of the function that Wendou’s rural agreements and regulations served in environmental protection.
I. “The Ancient Environmental Protection Steles”and Environmental Protection and Green Development
Wendou has a long history of self-governance by rural regulations. For example, villagers made a rural regulation to prevent objectionable practices such as the practice in 1773 during the Qing Dynasty of parents being able to force their offsprings to accept arranged marriages and ask for money from the marriage. Six prominent families in Wendou made a rural regulation to prevent pestilential livestock access to their village, also in 1773.
Addressing the issue of environmental protection and green development, villagers built a “Stele of Six Points for Prohibition” in winter of 1773. The inscription on the stele stated:
——Ban: Trees, near or far, are all what we need to live by. Cutting down trees is banned, violators will be fined 0.5kg silvers.
——Ban: Crumbled stone stairs before gate of every family need to be repaired by themselves. Violators will be fined 0.25kg silvers. The public can use this penalty to repair the stairs for the family. Leave this ban to pass on to later generations.
——Ban: Lumbering and gleaning is forbidden on the tea oil mountain at any season, violators will be fined 0.25kg silvers.
——Ban: Any family which allows their livestock to stray into Dragon Footsteps will be fined 0.125kg silvers.
——Ban: Pestilential cows and pigs are forbidden to access to their village to avoid wicked people to butcher them, violators will be turned over to the court to be dealt with.
——Ban: Leading ducks to the river follows seasonal regularity. Women are not allowed to broke vegetations, violators will be fined 0.125kg silvers.
There is another stone stele on forest management beside the “Stele of Six Points for Prohibition” established 12 years later. On this stele’s inscription, specific provisions relating to management of forests near Wendou is included, that is “this stele aims to protect the forest of our village, livestock are forbiddened to stray here. It helps to reserve the glorious landscape of China”.3
The two steles are true environmental protection steles. All these bans and regulations gradually became rural custom which serves as a binding force on social action of Wendou Villagers and has obvious function in local environmetal protection. It can be said that the Wendou Village is surrounded by ancient towering trees until present because of these regulations.
To carry out the rural regulations, villagers of Wendou defined a festival called Tree-Worship Festival with some customs.4 The villagers cherish trees, protect trees, worship trees as God, wish happiness to trees, pray to trees. On every Tree-Worship Day occasion, villagers will take Chinese incense, yellow papers and sacrificial offerings to worship trees and pray for their family’s safety. For example, villagers in Wendou perform a ceremony during the Tree-Worship Festival together in Fang (a kind of family unit). Every fang places an alter before the ancient taxus chinensis of Wendou. People of all ages and both sexes celebrate together. The number of participants makes a quiet spectacular scene and solemn atmosphere. There are many paper-cutting talismans pasted on trees, the writing on the talisman are greetings and prayers. This Festival has become a very important environmental protection activity. It serves as an effective mechanism and platform for educating villagers on the value of environmental protection, and as an activity to inherit and strengthen rural regulations.
Wendou Village still has many other regulations and customs related to trees. As early as the Qing Dynasty, there has been a file recording “marry a wife and mend a road, give birth to a baby and plant a tree”, introduced by the director of the village neighborhood committee.5 Parents will plant an evergreen tree when a new baby is born, cherishing the wish that the child grows up as healthy as an evergreen tree, growing along with the tree they planted. Some children see their evergreen tree as their Godfather or Godmother believing as their parents do that the tree will bless the children. Many faded-red papers pasted on the roots of trees and burned paper-cut talisman remain on trees. All the small trees with trunk thinner than a wrist are marked by grassy objects as symbols of protection.
Influenced by these ecology concepts, villagers in Wendou put emphasis on forest protection. For example, one businessman from Guangdong Province was willing to buy 20 more taxus chinensis trees with one million RMB. Villagers refused: ”It’s impossibe for us to hurt our descendants for temporary benefits. We will not sell these trees even if you pay ten million RMB!” Furthermore, when the new road was built in Wendou in 2010, villagers made the path crooked to bypass the taxus chinensis trees.6
During special periods, the villagers cooperate together to protect the ecological environment and sustain green development. For example, collective action was taken by the villagers to protect their ancient trees and avoid their trees from being frozen by snow and ice during the time it snowed in the Spring Festival of 2008. They laid straw around the trees to keep warm and broke ice. ”We built contemporary wooden shelves beside every ancient tree, young men climbed up the shelves and broke the ice and snow with wooden sticks to reduce the weight on the trees. Villagers bound straw around the tree trunks of an ancient Gikngo tree more than 700 years old.” A villager called Meiyue Jiang said that, “If a domestic animal dies, we can raise another one. If a house is destroyed, we can buid again. However, destruction of ancient trees will be irrevocable.” Under the protection of villagers, more than 700 ancient trees were saved.7
Villagers share with their offsprings the knowledge of environmental protection regulations in daily life. Even though Jinlan Jiang is only a third grade student in primary school, she already knows to “protect trees in the village”. The Chairman of Wendou primary school Lihui Jiang stated that teachers usually explain the inscription on the stele and the Agreement of Village Self-Governance to students, “to cultivate good habits of envrionmental protection and tree protection.”8
Through the long-term influence of rural regulations, villagers in Wendou have cultivated a strong sense of environmental protection. All members participate in environmental protection and obey the Agreement actively, in order to maintain their villages’ beauty, historically and culturally significant mountains and clear waters, sustain development, and guarantee the peace and safety of their village.
II. Agreement of Village Self-Governance (the Agreement) and Environmental Protection and Green Development
Following the traditions of rural regulations, making agreements to protect the environment by discussion and practice became a mature mechanism for Wendou. For example, Wendou spontaneously established an Ecological Benefits Foundation, regulating that anyone who plants a gingko tree or a taxus chinensis or a camphor tree will be offered a reward of 50 RMB. This incentive led to the increase of more than 900 previous trees in Wendou.9
Actions violating the Agreement are punished by the villagers. The following two cases may reflect this.
Case 1: Tianxiu Jiang, who is approaching 60 years old, caused a forest fire accident when burning weeds in her field in the morning of a day in Apr., 2014. More than 3 Mu (one Mu equaling 0.165 acre) of forest had been burned. The next day, she was punished according to the Agreement: (1) fined 150 RMB; (2) provided subsides of 20 RMB to each villager who took part in fighting the fire, a total 460 RMB for 23 participants. She paid the money immediately.10
Case 2: Dongshu Jiang, who is 35 years old, set off the fire alarm when his family was cooking at 12am of May, 2012. Villagers came to fight the fire as soon as they saw the smoke. He was punished according to the Agreement: (1) fined 50 RMB; (2) Participated in night patrol which involved making an announcement to others that the “weather is dry and be careful of candles and fire” during 7pm to 9pm for a month. He accepted the punishment.11
Violators approve the punishment and learn lessons seriously. Other villagers also have been taught by the accidents and realize to prevent fire, obey the regualtions and protect the forest.
Following the self-governaning traditions, the Agreement which passed during the villager’s representative meeting, signed by head of household, implemented by the village committee and the Agreement executive team starting from September 11th of 2015 contains direct and indirect regulations and the definite obligations of villagers and committee on environmental protection.
The obligations of villagers to protect the environment in Article 5 of the Agreement says, “to protect our community by creating a beautiful environment. Do not cut down scenic trees at the two borders of our village. Do not enter into Dragon mountain to cut down dry and dead trees. Do not burn things in the mountain. Both adults and children are forbidden to carve on the trees. Violators will be fined 50 RMB to 10,000 RMB. Unlicensed lumber is forbidden, violators will be sent to relevant authorities and be fined 50 RMB to 500 RMB.”
Article 9 of the Agreement says, “No open flames. Persons burning in the hills or field without the permission of the village committee will be fined 50 RMB to 100 RMB. People who cause fire alarms or fire needs to pay 50 RMB subsidies to fire fighters besides being punished by the law.”
The Agreement values fire prevention in its contents. Article 10 says “bringing combustible and explosive materials into the village and house is strictly prohibited. Deposting combustible and explosive materials such as petrol, diesel oil, straws, venners, saw timber, firecrackers etc. in the house and village is strictly prohibited.” Article 11 says “building planning violation, parking vehicles and pile up at random is strictly prohibited. Villagers should follow village planning to build houses, livestock shed and toilets. Do not appropriate collective farmland. Do not occupy or block traffic and fire lanes. Do not connect the electric wire without permission. Violators will be fined 100 RMB to 1,000 RMB.”
The Agreement also has requirements regarding fire-fighting equipment and fire water supply to prevent fire and protect the forest. Article 13 of the Agreement says, “to protect fire-fighting equipments, appropriate covering material must be moved. Borrowing fire-fighting equipments without permission and blocking fire water supply is prohibited, violators will be fined 100 RMB to 200 RMB besides rehabilitation.” Article 14 says, “drinking water supply comes after fire water supply, making sure fire water reservoir must be full of water. Anyone who gets water from the reservoir without permission will be fined 100 RMB to 500 RMB.”
The Agreement has comprehensive and detailed requirements relating to environmental protection. Article 27 of the Agreement says, “all families should plant trees and flowers around their house, all vegetable gardens should set up fences.” Article 36 says, “all families should have the concept of becoming better off through diligent work, taking care of the plants in their fields and hill lands. Anyone who leaves lands uncultivated will be fined 500 RMB.”
The Agreement has effective mechanisms to ensure that all the environmental protection provisions are obeyed by villagers by regulating the Village Committee’s obligations in its text: (1) The executive institution: the Village Committee is responsible for modifying and completing the Agreement. The Agreement will be enforced after being signed by all families. The Village Committee is responsible to organize the Agreement executive team composed by patriarch and village representatives, total 26 members.12 The Agreement executive team chaired by village mediation commission director has the power to enforce the Agreement. (2) Rountine work system should be established. The Villlage Committee is responsible for increasing the investment of fire prevention equipments. Fire water supply resevior and fire hydrants are subjected to period inspections of twice per month ensuring the fire water supply can work in emergency. The Village Committee should coordinate the contradiciton between the supply of irrigation water and fire water. Domestic and public electric wires need periodically inspections, aging, softening crack damage should be fixed immediately. Connection electric wires without permission is prohibited. The Village Committee should designate village fire-fighter, do propaganda and education work about fire prevention, organize “volunteer fire-fighting team”, organize at least monthly fire drills. Strengthening the fire preventing and fire fighting neighborhood system joined by ten families, immediate managements and rectification should be carried out within a time period to prevent fire hazards. Nightwatch men should patrol around the village at 8pm every night and make announcements to people. (3) Implementing definite rewards and punishment system. Article 12 of the Agreement says, “obey the fire-safety requirements. Storing any explosives, inflammable or other items beside cooking range stove will be fined 50 RMB besides immediate remedy after receiving two time official warning. The one who causes a fire alarm will be fined 50 RMB and be sound night watch men patroling for one month, he will also need to write a self-criticism and compensate for the loss if the fire happens. Causing forest fire compensates 50 RMB per Mu for hills; 100 RMB per Mu for woodland; 200 RMB for ecnomic woodland (except liable to criminal law).” Article 35 of the Agreement says, “villagers should treasure collective lands, hills and rivers. Disclosure of damaging lands and polluting water by other people is encourged. Destroyer will be fined 500 RMB to 5,000 RMB.”
The Agreement violators will get a public criticism and do immediate remedy. The Village Committee will not provide public and administrative survice to the family who refuses to sign the Agreement or refuses to pay the fine. Other violators who refuse to accept the penalty will be handled by the Agreement Executive Team depending on circumstance.
Compared to former village regulations, the Agreement passed by September, 2015 adds the content of environmental protection and village planning. The Agreement was been discussed during the villager’s representative meeting and signed by all families.13 The Agreement will be curved on a stele and set up by the big river of Wendou.
III. Conclusion and Discussion
Wendou has the historic traditions, basis of concepts, institutional guarantee, social conditions and social will encouraging villagers to widely take part in environmental protection and green development.
Long-standing traditions of environtmental protection have existed in Wendou. There are strict rural regulations, ordinances and good systems. Present Agreement of Village Self-Governanceis as a result of the development of historic customs, showing the importance of environmental protection concepts and good traditions in obeying agreements. All these reflect the strong cultural atmosphere and social atmosphere to treasure the environment. Many of Wendou’s rural regulations orginate from the ancient steles on the entrance of Wendou. “The rural regulations and the Agreement is another form that ancient steles still function today.” Said by the CPC (Chinese Communist Party) Secretary of Wendou, “Wendou villagers protect the environment according to the requirement of the ancient steles which has a strong binding effecton Wendou people as they always obey the Agreement. Even more important is that it cultivates strong environmental awareness of Wendou villagers during long periods of time.”14
Proceeding from living conditions, daily life and working, villagers in Wendou protect the environment and achieve sustainable development through the implementation of the Agreement.15 It shows the consicousness of nature worship and simple ecology consciousness of harmony between man and nature.
Reflecting on the environment everyday, Wendou villagers rely on the forest, trees and natural environment. The villagers view the trees, ecology, environment as objects having life, will and great capacity and worship them. Villagers worship the mountains and trees as they are close to them and believe that ritualistic worship will remove misfortunes, bless them, bring abundant harvests, etc.. Influenced by these beliefs, rural regulations of tree protection and environmental protection thus gradually formed, inherited from the past and obeyed until the present. The environmental protection parctice by the Agreement based on primitive religious idea is therefore spontaneous.
In order to protect the environment and achieve green development, the Agreement claims that it will fine the violators,16 which is an effective measure to guarantee the execution of the Agreement. The technical means of setting liquidated damages by agreement in the Agreement obviously has strong constraint and will require the villagers to obey the Agreement. However, the amount of liquidated damages by agreement in the Agreement are quite fluctuant, such as 50 RMB to 100, 50 RMB to 500 RMB, 100 RMB to 500 RMB, 100 RMB to 1,000 RMB, even as high as 50 RMB to 10,000 RMB. The amount of legal quidated damages of 5, 000 and 10,000 is too high for a civil agreement.17 As for the nature of the Agreement, it is the self-goverance and self-education agreement which should focus on criticism and education, so high amount of liquidated damages by agreement is not suitable for the civil agreement. Severe penalization has played an important role in rural regulation in the past, however it should be changed and improved keeping pace with the current times.
Meanwhile, according to the requirements of the Agreement, villagers who have not signed the Agreement will not get any service from the village committee until they sign the Agreement and pay the penalty. This will guarantee the enforcement of the Agreement and will achieve the goal of the Agreement - abiding by the regulations and environmental protection. But this mandatory requirment is opposite to equal negotiation and the principle of free will and is contradictory to the spirit of law. This local practice should be discussed and revised again. The ecology environment is the basic conditions for villagers’ daily life and agricultural production, thus environmental protection needs villagers’ inner recoginition. Enforcement measures and institutional decree will play a negative role in the Agreement process.
The Agreement adopts the strategic pattern of environmental protection, sets up green development mechanisms, investigates and implements the strict responsibility for ecological health and environment pollution prevention. The experience of Wendou village shows the function of the Agreement in environmental protection and ecological protection. Participation of villagers of Wendou in environmental protection generally through rural regulations, especially through the Agreement, gives a social benign result and produces great ecological effects, promotes sustainable green development, and provides a feasible approach for local environmental protection.
The report of the Fifth Session of the Eighteenth Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CPC) claimed, “China must adhere to the basic state policy of resource conservation and environmental protection and adhere to sustainable development”; “The Chinese government is committed to promoting harmonious co-existence between humans and nature, building more scientific and reasonable structures of urbanization, agricultural development structures, structures of ecological security, promoting the establishment of the green low-carbon and circulation industrial system”; “China must adhere to the basic state policy of resource conservation and environmental protection and adhere to sustainable development. The entire society will be back on a road of civilized development with developed production, affluent life and a sound ecological environment. China’s government will promote the establishment of a resource-conserving and environment-friendly society and build a new pattern of modernization, construction of harmonious development between humans and nature. The construction of a new and beautiful China will make new contributions to global ecological safety.” The practice of Wendou village is a fantastic annotation for this and provides an excellent example.
* GAO Qicai (高其才), Ph.D. in Law, professor of Tsinghua University School of Law; LUO Chang (罗昶), Ph.D. in Law, professor of Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics School of Law. Special thanks to Allegra Midgette (doctoral student at the Graduate School of Education at U.C. Berkeley) for making corrections to the English draft.This article is phased research of 2015 Ministerial level Program “Empirical research about the rural regulations’ positive role in social governance” presided by Qicai Gao entrusted by China Law Society (Program Number CLS(2015)ZDWT22). It’s also phased research of “Rural Regulations’ function during the process of promoting rule of law” of Tsinghua University’s sociology science independet research (Project Number: 2015THZWWH01).According to writing norm, people’s name has been altered in this article.
1. This is the rural regulations of Wendou made in September of 2015. With the title of “Wendou Rural Regulations”, including Wendou Rural Regulations, the Agreement of Self-Governance etc.. I view them as a whole, called Agreement of Village Self-Governance.
2. The customary law in this article is not involved in state law.It is restricted to the regulations independent of state law and made by social authorities and social orgnazation, the sum of social regulations with certain compulsory. See particularly in Gao Qicai, Pandect of China’s Customary Law，revised edition，China Legal Publishing House, 2008, at 3.
3. Yi Wuhong, a villager of Wendou introduced that, a geography scholar visited Wendou and found that the geographic shape seems like a phoenix, it needed amount of trees to be it feather thus it can fly high. After that, the custom of loving trees, planting trees and protecting trees was handed down. Interviewed Record of Yi Wuhong, 2016, 2, 23.
4. Tree-worship Festival of Wendou held in March and October every year. Villagers plant trees in March and worship trees in October, a small sacrifice holden evey year, a large sacrifice holden every three years.
5. Qiu Cunshuang, Wu Yurui, “Wendou Miao zhai ji xing” (A travel report of Wendou Miao village), Guizhou Daily，May 16, 2014.
7. Wang Yuanbai, “ ‘Rite and law society’ for three hundred years of Jinping Wendou village, Guiyang Daily, January 6, 2010.
9. Supra note 6.
10. Interviewed with Gengsheng Jiang, October 1, 2015.
11. Interviewed with Gengsheng Jiang, October 1, 2015.
12. During field investigations, Gengsheng Jiang, the CPC’s branch secretary told us that, “the Agreement executive team made up of clan leaders because every clan leader represents their family respectively, which will make the execution fair. And every clan leader want to join in the team because all clans need other clan’s help and support when they manage their clan members.” Interviewed with Gengsheng Jiang, Octomber 1, 2015.
13. According to the introduction by Gengsheng Jiang, the CPC’s branch secretary, there still are 18 househ olds have not signed the Agreement because all the family members working out.
14. Supra note 8.
15. Chai Rongyi and Luo Yihang have pointed that the ethnic minority in southwest China still keep the whole frame of their natural worship rituals, which are generally worship of natural matters such as heaven, earth, mountains, rivers, animals and plants,etc.. Their worship for the supernatural force form the harmonious relationship between human and nature, and the environmental protection idea and nature law. See Yi Rong and Luo Yihang, “Environmental protection customary law reflected from nutural worship by a minority group in Southwestern China,” Guizhou Ethnic Study, No. 11 (2014).
16. Liquidated damages by agreement is a revised form of past fine. According to China’s state law, village self-governance orgnization do not have the right to fine, so the Agreement of Wendou use liquidated damages substitute the fine to avoid the violation of state law. The villagers think, however, the liquidated damages and fine is the same thing.
17. During the investigation, Jiang Gengsheng, the the CPC’s branch secretary told us that, “the Agreement has reported to our county’s Propaganda Bureau, Agricultural Bureau, Rural Construction Bureau and Justic Bureau in record. County’s Justice Bureau thought that our fine is heavy and I argued that if we do not regulate a heavy fine in the Agreement, the villagers will tend to be a voilator because they will get benefit without loss if they disobey the Agreement. Little fine is useless to bind the villagers. We will insist our opinion of the village self-governance. If we change the fine of 10,000 RMB, to 100RMB, I think that villagers may tend to violate the Agreement for 100 times. The Justice Bureau do not oppose the Agreement after heard what I have said.” Interviewed with Gengsheng Jiang, October 1, 2015.