Posted by: Jason | December 10, 2009

Guiyang Day 2

Our second day in Guiyang was, hands down, the highlight of the trip so far.

We started at the Karst Institute, an interdisciplinary graduate program at Guizhou Normal University that focuses on rural development and environmental sustainability in Guizhou province.  The setup was simple – just a presentation of the work they do, plus some time for questions – but it resonated with me in a way similar meetings at Hong Kong Polytechnic, Chinese University-Hong Kong and Sun Yat-Sen University didn’t come close to doing.  For lack of a better phrase, the Karst Institute really gets it

Although maybe it seems that way to me because the Karst Institute takes an interdisciplinary, liberal arts-esque approach to the problems in their province.  Technology alone, we were told, can’t solve such complex problems.  Instead, they must be met with a combination of economics, political science, hydrology, geology, sociology, anthropology, and history.  They had various names to describe their approach – integrated systems management, the ecosystems approach, community-based conversation, participatory rural appraisal, and a handful of others.  The point is that they believe the the balance environmental sustainability and economic development can be best achieved through local, grassroots, bottom-up programs, rather than top-down directives.  It’s similar to the argument Bill Easterly makes in The White Man’s Burden.  We continued the discussion at the nearby Scholars’ Temple, which is a 600 year-old structure that one of the Karst professors only-a-little-jokingly called “China’s oldest university”.

One of the hopes of the trip is to establish a connection with a Chinese university – something that might generate collaborative research, student exchanges, and a long-term relationship.  Lawrence and the Karst Institute seem like a natural fit, and the connection was definitely there.  I’d love to send my students to Guiyang and rural Guizhou province for a term, and I really hope our two institutions can create a program of collaboration.  There’s a two-day lag between when things happen and I when I can write about them, and two days later, I’m still pretty giddy about the prospect of Lawrence and the Karst Institute working together. 

Our second meeting was at the State Key Laboratory of Environmental Geochemistry at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Professor Feng, the Vice Director of the program, is China’s leading expert on mercury pollution, and we were honored to meet with him and his graduate students.   In the spirit of interdisciplinarity, Professor Feng had invited Professor Finkler and I to give presentations on our research to their lab.  I focused on the politics of freshwater resources that cross international boundaries, particularly international rivers.  China has five, all of which originate from the Tibetan glaciers (as do the Yangtze and the Yellow rivers, although they stay contained within China’s borders).  Professor Finkler discussed the economic incentives for water conservation, including a relatively successful water metering program in Chongqing.  Water that isn’t priced appropriately, he argued, is treated as a worthless resources.  (We’ll be meeting with the head of the Chongqing Development and Reform Commission’s International Projects Management Office when we’re in Chongqing.  He’s the author of a case study on the Chongqing water program, which is available through the World Bank website.)  Sarah, the post-doc researcher I’ve been mentioning a lot, presented her work on mercury in rice, and then invited a few of her students to tell us about their research. 



  1. Jason, I so appreciate your wish to “look out the window while traveling”. What I have always claimed was the essence of “seeing” new places, buildings, structures and consequently the ideas that generated such. I am thoroughly enjoying your trip. Thank you so much. gpa

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