During the stay of the Marquess of Tavistock in Beijing for the release of the Milu at Nan Haizi, several events took place in accordance with Chinese protocol.
The Chinese government hosted an official banquet at the Great Hall of the People the day after he arrived. The host was Vice Premier Li Peng and the Chinese guest list included the Mayor of Beijing (who has the rank of Minister), several ministers and vice ministers as well as other high-ranking officials and experts involved in the reintroduction. Normally, the number of guests is equal (from the host and the guest of honour) and there were approximately 70 people in attendance.
Following the tradition in China, the head table was reserved for VIPs and was larger than the other tables. In this particular case, the circular table (which had a superb floral centrepiece) held 18 guests. I have no recollection of the menu but I remember that there were many toasts in anticipation of the upcoming release of the Milu and that the mood was very joyful.
The following day, the Milu were released at Nan Haizi marking the completion of the reintroduction of the species to China (Please refer to my previous post – Milu reintroduction 3).
Afterwards, a tree planting ceremony was performed by key VIPs including the Marquess of Tavistock, Beijing Vice Mayor Zhang Jian Min and officials from the National Environmental Protection Agency. This ritual was dedicated to the long-term success of the reintroduction and also part of the rehabilitation of the landscape of the Milu Reserve. It was also a way to highlight the importance of what trees would bring to the Reserve throughout their lifetime providing shelter for birds and small animals and participating in the overall Milu Park ecosystem.
Before returning to the UK, the Marquess of Tavistock was ‘expected’ to host a return banquet. He selected the Great Hall of the People as it was the most prestigious venue. In addition to thanking his Chinese hosts for their hospitality and for making the reintroduction a reality, it was THE opportunity for him to thank all the people who made the reintroduction a success story. In total, about 60 guests attended the event.
Among them, I remember with great fondness several great supporters of the project who have now passed away including:
– General Lu Zhen Cao
He made a name for himself during the war against the Japanese army from 1937 to 1945 and became the first Chinese Minister of Railways of the PRC. He helped found and chair the China Milu Foundation in 1985 to support the return of the Milu to China.
He was quite an impressive man, bold, with a fierce look. Once, I said jokingly to Professor Wang Zongyi that, if I did not know him and met him in a dark alley at night, I would be scared and would run away. Eventually, my comments reached him and he laughed. The following time we met, he teased me with a big smile on his face saying that he was so surprised to hear I would run away from him and that, should it ever happen, he would catch me!
I remember the last time I met him, 12 years after the reintroduction. I invited him together with people from Nan Hai Zi who were involved with the initial reintroduction project. He was over 90 at that time but still had a good appetite and he was in high spirits the entire evening. He met Dominic on this occasion and was teasing us about our business partnership hoping that it would not create similar havoc as the ransacking of the old Summer Palace in 1860 by Anglo-French forces (a small explanation: for him, I came from the UK to handle the project and Dominic, being a French national, we were a new Anglo-French force).
At the time of his death in 2009, he was 106 years of age and the last survivor of the original generals of the People’s Liberation Army. It was a great loss for everyone who had the privilege to work with him on this project.
– Cui Yue Li
He served as the Beijing Municipal Health Sports Minister and Vice Mayor of Beijing before being appointed to the position of China Health Minister in 1982. I first met him in 1983 at Woburn Abbey and through him I got the letters of invitation that allowed me to come to China in 1984 at the invitation of the Ministry of Health and another one from the Ministry of Forestry. He also organized my research trip to Shanghai in 1984 and was one of the key members of the Milu Foundation.
I remember that on the day I came to China, he organized a welcome banquet to celebrate my arrival and made me promise that I would NEVER ride a bike as it was too dangerous. He was very serious about it and I promised. I believe that in his mind it applied to China as a whole but my promise only concerned Beijing where I have kept my word to this day. However, as some of you who have read other posts on this blog know, I used to ride a bike in Shanghai (see “my first trip to Pudong”) but I never told him.
– Bao Er Han, former Vice Chairman of the CPPCC National Committee
He supported the re-introduction from the initial stage and brought invaluable political guanxi to push it over governmental hurdles on many occasions.
Over the years I had the opportunity to meet him and his lovely wife and daughter several times at their home. We spoke Russian together and quite often we talked about Xinjiang (where he came from) and the many places I was dreaming to visit one day.
– Qian Chang Zhao
An Oxford Graduate who had served as secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from 1928 to 1929, and senior Vice-Minister of Education from 1930 to 32, he was appointed Vice Chairman of the CPPCC National Committee from 1980 to 1988. He strongly supported the reintroduction and later the translocation of Milu during his tenure as CPPCC Vice Chairman.
In addition to the Milu, we had another strong bond: Oxford. He always wore his college tie during official events and we often talked about the Cherwell, the beautiful Bodleian library and the lifelong camaraderie shared by all students.
Another person instrumental in the successful reintroduction of the Milu (and the work done since then) who also attended this dinner is Professor Wang Sung from the Institute of Zoology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. I had never contacted him prior to coming to China but I knew that he was representing China at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and I thought that he would be a great asset for the reintroduction project.
Our first contact, a few days after I arrived in Beijing, was very good and he showed great interest in the Milu reintroduction. Over the following months and years, Professor Wang Sung kindly introduced me to many people in various fields and positions who were able to assist us in various ways with the reintroduction.
Over the years, Professor Wang and I became good friends. He invited me to his home where I met his brilliant daughter who eventually went to study in the USA, his son and his wife, who was a fantastic cook. I still remember some of the dishes she used to make such as succulent marrow pancakes. She is a very lovely person, very generous, and as hospitable as her husband. Each time we met it was an absolute feast.
To this day, I still contact and meet Professor Wang at regular intervals to get advice on various issues relating to the Milu and other conservation topics in China and abroad. He was involved with the successful translocation of Milu to Shishou in the 1990s and with the recent master plan (2012-2026) that was compiled by a team of experts to make the Hubei Shishou Milu National Nature Reserve a center of excellence for conservation. Well into his 70s, he is still very active and continues travelling all over China to provide sound advice and support to many environmental and conservation projects.
The people invited by the Marquess of Tavistock on this particular day and many others made the re-introduction of Milu possible despite the fact that, unlike the Panda project, which benefitted from international funding through WWF and overseas conservation organizations, the Milu reintroduction had very limited funding. At that time, China was slowly recovering from the Cultural Revolution that had ended in 1976. Its financial standing was not what it has become 30 years later. The Bedford Family provided critical financial support to cover the cost of transportation of the first herd of Milu from Woburn to Beijing and the staff to ensure that the quarantine would be handled without difficulties.
Although we worked on a shoestring budget (so to speak), we achieved great success. In December 1985, China Daily reported the two most important achievements of the year. The first was the Sino-British Joint Declaration (for the return of Hong Kong sovereignty to China) that entered into force with the exchange of instruments of ratification on 27 May 1985 and was registered by the People’s Republic of China and United Kingdom governments at the United Nations. And the second was the Milu re-introduction. That was indeed a major accolade.