14 Sustainable Travel Destinations in China
According to Shen Yun,”Since ancient times, China has been known as the “Celestial Empire.” This refers not only to China’s strength and position as East Asia’s Middle Kingdom, it also captures a more profound meaning, describing a land where the divine and mortal once coexisted. It refers to the belief that the divine, through various dynasties, transmitted a rich and abundant culture to the Chinese people. Chinese culture is thus known as “divinely inspired,” and is the only culture in the world to have a continuous recorded history of 5,000 years. It has left behind countless literary classics, historical documents, cultural relics, and national records reflecting its immense scope.”
Chengjiang Fossil Site
The Chengjiang Fossil Site, located in the Province of Yunnan, China, conserves fossil remains which are of exceptional significance. The rocks and fossils of the Chengjiang Fossil Site present an outstanding and extraordinarily preserved record that testifies to the rapid diversification of life on Earth during the early Cambrian period, 530 million years before present. In this geologically short interval, almost all major groups of animals had their origins. The diverse geological evidence from the Chengjiang Fossil Site presents fossil remains of the highest quality of preservation and conveys a complete record of an early Cambrian marine community. It is one of the earliest records of a complex marine ecosystem and a unique window of understanding into the structure of early Cambrian communities.
China Danxia is a serial property comprising six component parts (Chishui, Taining, Langshan, Danxiashan, Longhushan, and Jianglangshan) found in the sub-tropical zone of south-eastern China within approximately 1700 km crescent shaped arc from Guizhou Province in the west to Zhejiang Province in the east.
China Danxia is the name given in China to landscapes developed on continental red terrigenous sedimentary beds influenced by endogenous forces (including uplift) and exogenous forces (including weathering and erosion). It is characterised by spectacular red cliffs and a range of erosional landforms, including dramatic natural pillars, towers, ravines, valleys and waterfalls. The process of its development is characterised by a particular rock sequence, tectonic background, climatic conditions, erosional processes and landforms and these processes have been presented as an interim model.
Due to the combined endogenic (tectonic uplift) and exogenic (climatic, erosion, weathering) forces, and other factors, the Danxia landforms have been developed in red sedimentary sequences continuously from the Neogene until the present. The six component parts represent the most important examples of “least eroded” to “most eroded” Danxia landforms, providing a range of different aspects of the phenomenon, and illustrate both the range of landforms in relation to the forces and processes that formed them, together with a range of associated landscapes.
The Fanjingshan World Heritage property is located in South-West China, covering a total area of 40,275 ha, fully enclosed by a buffer zone of 37,239 ha. Fanjingshan is located in a monsoonal climatic context and is an important source of water for the surrounding landscapes and beyond, with some 20 rivers and streams feeding the Wujiang and Yuanjiang River systems, both of which ultimately drain into the Yangtze River.
The property consists of two parts, namely the Jian Nan subtropical evergreen forests ecoregion (64%) and the Guizhou Plateau broadleaf and mixed forests ecoregion (36%). The highest peak, Mt Fenghuangshan, has an elevation of 2,570 m above sea level (masl) and the property covers and an altitudinal range of more than 2,000 m. The resulting vertical stratification of vegetation falls within three major altitudinal vegetation zones: evergreen broadleaf forest (<1,300 masl), mixed evergreen and deciduous broadleaf forest (1,300-2,200 masl) and mixed deciduous broadleaf and conifer and scrub forest (>2,200 masl).
Fanjingshan is an island of metamorphic rock in a sea of karst and is home to many ancient and relict plant and animal species which originated in the Tertiary period, between 65 million and 2 million years ago. The property’s geologic and climatic characteristics have shaped its flora which behaves as if it were on an island. This has led to a high degree of endemism, with a total of 46 locally endemic plant species, 4 endemic vertebrate species and 245 endemic invertebrate species. The most prominent endemic species are Fanjingshan Fir (Abies fanjingshanensis – EN) and Guizhou Snub-nosed Monkey (Rhinopithecus brelichi – EN), both of which are entirely restricted to the property. Three species of Fagus (F. longipetiolata, F. lucida, and F. engleriana) are the dominant species of what is understood to be the largest primary beech forest in the subtropical region.
A total of 3,724 plant species have been recorded in the property, an impressive 13% of China’s total flora. The property is characterized by an exceptionally high richness in bryophytes as well as one of the distribution centres for gymnosperms in China. The diversity of invertebrates is also very high with 2,317 species. A total of 450 vertebrate species are found inside the property. Fanjingshan being the only habitat in the world for Fanjingshan Fir and Guizhou Snub-nosed Monkey, as well as 64 plant and 38 animal species that are listed as globally threatened, including the tree Bretschneidera sinensis (EN), Chinese Giant Salamander (Andrias davidianus – CR), Forest Musk Deer (Moschus berezovskii – EN), Reeves’s Pheasant (Syrmaticus reevesii – VU), and Asiatic Black Bear (Ursus thibetanus – VU).
Huanglong Scenic and Historic Interest Area
Situated in the north-west of Sichuan Province, the Huanglong valley with its series of travertine lakes, waterfalls, forests and mountain scenery is a superlative natural property. Topped by permanently snow-capped peaks rising from a base of 1,700 m up to 5,588 m, these include the easternmost glacier in China. Covering 60,000 ha, this area located within the Minshan Mountains also includes spectacular limestone formations and hot springs. Its diverse forest ecosystems provide the home for a number of endangered plants and animals, including the giant panda and Sichuan golden snub-nosed monkey.
Hubei Shennongjia is located in the Shennongjia Forestry District and Badong County in China’s Hubei Province. Shennongjia is on the ecotone from the plains and foothill regions of eastern China to the mountainous region of central China. It is also situated along a zone of climate transition, where the climate shifts from the subtropical zone to warm temperate zone, and where warm and cold air masses from north and south meet and are controlled by the Subtropical Gyre.
The property covers 79,624 ha and consists of two components, the larger Shennongding/Badong component in the west and the smaller Laojunshan component to the east. A buffer zone of 45,390 ha surrounds the property. Hubei Shennongjia includes 11 types of vegetation which are characterized by a diversity of altitudinal gradients. The Shennongjia region is considered to be one of three centres of endemic plant species in China, a reflection of its geographical transitional position which has shaped its biodiversity, ecosystems and biological evolution. Hubei Shennongjia exhibits globally impressive levels of species richness and endemism especially within its flora, 3,767 vascular plant species have been recorded including a remarkable 590 temperate plant genera. In addition, 205 plant species and 2 genera are endemic to the property, and 1,793 species endemic to China. Among the fauna, more than 600 vertebrate species have been recorded including 92 mammal, 399 bird, 55 fish, 53 reptile and 37 amphibian species. 4,365 insect species have been identified. The property includes numerous rare and endangered species such as the Golden or Sichuan Snub-nosed Monkey, Clouded Leopard, Common Leopard, Asian Golden Cat, Dhole, Asian Black Bear, Indian Civet, Musk Deer, Chinese Goral and Chinese Serow, Golden Eagle, Reeve’s Pheasant and the world’s largest amphibian the Chinese Giant Salamander.
Shennongjia has been a place of significant scientific interest and its mountains have featured prominently in the history of botanical inquiry. The site has a special status for botany and has been the object of celebrated international plant collecting expeditions conducted in the 19th and 20th centuries. From 1884 to 1889 more than 500 new species were recorded from the area. Shennongjia is also the global type location for many species.
Jiuzhaigou Valley Scenic and Historic Interest Area
The Jiuzhaigou Valley Scenic and Historic Interest Area is a reserve of exceptional natural beauty with spectacular jagged alpine mountains soaring above coniferous forest around a fairyland landscape of crystal clear, strange-coloured blue, green and purplish pools, lakes, waterfalls, limestone terraces, caves and other beautiful features. These include a number of karst formations; indeed the area is a “naturalmuseum” for alpine karst hydrology and research. Covering 72,000 ha in the northern part of Sichuan Province, Jiuzhaigou preserves a series of important forest ecosystems including old-growth forests which provide important habitat for numerous threatened species of plants and animals, including the giant panda and takin. Attaining heights of 4,752 m in the southern Minshan Mountains, Jiuzhaigou also contains an important number of well-preserved quaternary glacial remnants with great scenic value.
Migratory Bird Sanctuaries along the Coast of Yellow Sea-Bohai Gulf of China (Phase I)
The Migratory Bird Sanctuaries along the Coast of the Yellow Sea-Bohai Gulf of China (Phase I) is situated in the largest intertidal mudflat system in the world and protects globally significant biological diversity. The serial property is an irreplaceable and indispensable hub for over 400 birds species, and critical for the over 50 million migratory birds moving along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway, which spans some 22 countries across two hemispheres from the Arctic to South-East Asia and Australasia. The global importance of the wider coastal area is further evidenced by several Ramsar sites, some of which fully or partially overlap with the property. The property is a promising beginning to identify, conserve and manage the most meaningful representations of a larger, globally significant, yet highly vulnerable, natural heritage system.
The two component parts of the property are both located on the coast of the Yellow Sea in Jiangsu Province. Jointly, the Migratory Bird Habitat in the South of Yancheng, Jiangsu and the Migratory Bird Habitat in the North of Yancheng have a total area of 188,643 ha, along with two separate buffer zones totalling some 80,056 ha. The property’s two component parts are about 30 km apart, separated by the Dafeng Port, and represent Phase I of a much larger serial site nomination.
Mount Sanqingshan National Park
Mount Sanqingshan National Park displays a unique array of forested, fantastically shaped granite pillars and peaks concentrated in a relatively small area. The looming, intricate rock formations intermixed with delicate forest cover and combined with ever-shifting weather patterns create a landscape of arresting beauty.
Qinghai Hoh Xil
Qinghai Hoh Xil is located in the northeast corner of the vast Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau, the largest, highest and youngest plateau in the world. The property covers 3,735,632 ha with a 2,290,904 ha buffer zone and encompasses an extensive area of alpine mountains and steppe systems at elevations of over 4,500 m above sea level. Sometimes referred to as the world’s “Third Pole”, Hoh Xil has a frigid plateau climate, with sub-zero average year-round temperatures and the lowest temperature occasionally reaching -45°C. With its ongoing processes of geological formation, the property includes a large planation surface and basin on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. It is the area with the highest concentration of lakes on the Plateau, exhibiting an exceptional diversity of lake basins and inland lacustrine landscapes at high altitude. With its sweeping vistas and stunning visual impact, this harsh and uninhabited wild landscape seems like a place frozen in time. Yet it is a place that illustrates continually changing geomorphological and ecological systems.
The unique geographical formation and climatic conditions of the property nurture a similarly unique biodiversity. More than one third of the plant species, and all the herbivorous mammals dependent on them are endemic to the plateau, and 60% of the mammal species as a whole are plateau endemics. The frigid alpine grasslands and meadows surrounding Hoh Xil’s lake basins are the main calving grounds for populations of Tibetan antelope from across the plateau and support critical migration patterns. The property includes a complete migration route from Sanjiangyuan to Hoh Xii. This route, despite being challenged by crossing the Qinghai-Tibet Highway and Railway, is the best protected among all migration routes of Tibetan antelope known today.
Inaccessibility and the harsh climate have combined to keep the property free from modern human influences and development while at the same time supporting a long-standing traditional grazing regime that coexists with the conservation of nature. Nevertheless, this ”Third Pole” of the world appears to be suffering from the impact of global climate change with disproportionally warming temperatures and changing precipitation patterns. The ecosystems and geographic landscapes are extremely sensitive to such a change and external threats need to be controlled to allow ecosystems to adapt to environmental change.
Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries – Wolong, Mt Siguniang and Jiajin Mountains
Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries – Wolong, Mt Siguniang and Jiajin Mountains is principally renowned for its importance for the conservation of the giant panda, recognized as a “National Treasure” in China and as a flagship for global conservation efforts. The property is the largest and most significant remaining contiguous area of panda habitat in China and thus the world. It is also the most important source of giant panda for establishing the captive breeding population of the species.
In addition to the giant panda, the property features a great number of endemic and threatened species of plants and animals, including other iconic mammal species such as the red panda, snow leopard and clouded leopard among the 109 species of mammals recorded (more than 20% of all Chinese mammals). The property is an important centre of endemism for some bird taxa with 365 bird species recorded, 300 of which breed locally. However the property is particularly important for flora, being one of the botanically richest sites of any temperate region in the world with some 5,000 – 6,000 species recorded. Many species are relicts, such as the dove tree, and there is significant diversity in groups such as magnolias, bamboos, rhododendrons, and orchids. The property is a major source and gene pool for hundreds of traditional medicinal plants, many now under threat.
Located in China’s southeast province of Sichuan in the Qionglai and Jiajin Mountains between the Chengdu Plateau and the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau, the property includes seven nature reserves and eleven scenic parks in four prefectures or cities. It covers a total area of 924,500 ha surrounded by a buffer zone of 527,100 ha.
South China Karst
The huge karst area of South China is about 550,000 km2 in extent. The karst terrain displays a geomorphic transition as the terrain gradually descends about 2000 meters over 700 kilometers from the western Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau (averaging 2100 meters elevation) to the eastern Guangxi Basin (averaging 110 meters elevation). The region is recognized as the world’s type area for karst landform development in the humid tropics and subtropics.
The World Heritage Property of South China Karst is a serial property that includes seven karst clusters in four Provinces: Shilin Karst, Libo Karst, Wulong Karst, Guilin Karst, Shibing Karst, Jinfoshan Karst, and Huanjiang Karst. The total area is 97,125 hectares, with a buffer zone of 176,228 hectares. The property was inscribed in two phases.
Phase I inscribed in 2007, include three clusters totalling 47,588 hectares, with buffer zones totalling 98,428 hectares. The Shilin Karst component is in Yunnan province and contains stone forests with sculpted pinnacle columns and is considered the world reference site for pinnacle karst. Shilin Karst consists of two core areas surrounded by a common buffer zone. The area is 12,070 hectares with a buffer zone of 22,930 hectares. The buffer zone is designated as a UNESCO Geopark. The Libo Karst component is in Guizhou province and includes high conical karst peaks, intervening deep enclosed depressions (cockpits), sinking streams and long underground caves. The area is considered a world reference site for cone karst. The property consists of two core areas surrounded by a common buffer. The area is 29,518 hectares with a buffer zone of 43,498 hectares. One of the components is a national nature reserve. The Wulong Karst component is in Chongqing province and consists of high inland karst plateaux that have experienced considerable uplift. Its giant dolines and bridges are representative of South China’s tiankeng (giant collapse depression) landscapes, and provide the evidence for the history of one of the world’s great river systems, the Yangtze and its tributaries. The Wulong Karst component is a cluster of three core zones, each with a separate buffer zone. The areas total 6,000 hectares with buffer zones of 32,000 hectares.
Phase II inscribed in 2014 includes four clusters totaling 49,537 hectares, and buffer zones totaling 77,800 hectares. The Guilin Karst component in Guangxi province is located within Lijiang National Park and contains fenglin (tower) and fengcong (cone) karst formations. Guilin Karst is divided into two sections: the Putao Section with an area of 2,840 hectares and a buffer zone of 21,610 hectares and the Lijiang Section with an area of 22,544 hectares and a buffer zone of 23,070 hectares. The Shibing Karst component in Guizhou province includes dolomitic karst formations and is located within Wuyanghe National Park. Shibing Karst has an area of 10,280 hectares and a buffer zone of 18,015 hectares. The Jinfoshan Karst component is a unique karst table mountain surrounded by towering cliffs. Jinfoshan Karst is located in Chongqing province within the boundaries of the Jinfoshan National Nature Reserve and Jinfoshan National Park. The Jinfoshan component has an area of 6,744 hectares and a buffer zone of 10,675 hectares. The Huanjiang Karst component is a cone karst area located in Guangxi Province within the boundaries of the Mulun National Nature Reserve. The Huanjiang Component has an area of 7,129 hectares and a buffer zone of 4,430 hectares.
The South China Karst World Heritage property protects a diversity of spectacular and iconic continental karst landscapes, including tower karst (fenglin), pinnacle karst (shilin) and cone karst (fengcong), as well as other karst phenomena such as Tiankeng karst (giant dolines), table mountains and gorges. The property also includes many large cave systems with rich speleothem deposits. The karst features and geomorphological diversity of the South China Karst are widely recognized as among the best in the world. The region can be considered the global type-site for three karst landform styles: fenglin (tower karst), fengcong (cone karst), and shilin (stone forest or pinnacle karst).The landscape also retains most of its natural vegetation, which results in seasonal variations and adds to the outstanding aesthetic value of the area.
The property contains the most spectacular, scientifically significant and representative series of karst landforms and landscapes of South China from interior high plateau to lowland plains and constitutes the world’s premier example of humid tropical to subtropical karst: one of our planet’s great landscapes. It complements sites that are also present in neighbouring countries, including Viet Nam, where several World Heritage properties also exhibit karst formations.
Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas
Located in the mountainous north-west of Yunnan Province in China, the Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas is a natural serial property consisting of 15 protected areas, grouped into eight clusters. The Property contains an outstanding diversity of landscapes, such as deep-incised river gorges, luxuriant forests, towering snow-clad mountains, glaciers, and alpine karst, reddish sandstone landforms (Danxia）, lakes and meadows over vast vistas. The 1.7 million hectare site features sections of the upper reaches of three of the great rivers of Asia: the Yangtze (Jinsha), Mekong and Salween which run approximately parallel, north to south, through steep gorges which, in places, are 3,000 m deep and are bordered by glaciated peaks more than 6,000 m high. The property spans a large portion of the Hengduan Mountains, which is the major arc curving into Indochina from the eastern end of the Himalayas. Being located in the convergent regions of the three world’s major biogeographic realms, the property is in an epicentre of Chinese biodiversity. It may also harbour the richest biodiversity among the temperate areas of the world.
Wulingyuan Scenic and Historic Interest Area
Wulingyuan is an island of nature within a heavily populated agricultural region. A spectacular area stretching some 26,400ha in China’s Hunan Province, the site is dominated by more than 3,000 narrow quartz sandstone pillars, many over 200m high. Nestled within its towering peaks lie ravines and gorges with streams, pools and waterfalls, two large natural bridges, and some 40 caves. Impressive calcite deposits are a notable feature within these caves. In addition to the striking beauty of the landscape, including spectacular jagged stone peaks, luxuriant vegetation cover and clear lakes and streams, the region is also home to a number of endangered plant and animal species.
Xinjiang Tianshan is a serial property consisting of four components totaling 606,833 hectares, with buffer zones totaling 491,103 hectares located in the People’s Republic of China in the Xinjiang Tianshan, the eastern portion of the Tianshan mountain range. The four components are located along the 1,760 kilometers of the Xinjiang Tianshan, a temperate arid zone surrounded by Central Asian deserts. The property was nominated under criterion (vii) for its outstanding beauty and superlative natural features and criterion (ix) for capturing a range of biological and ecological processes.
The property has outstanding scenic values and many superlative natural features – from red bed canyons to high peaks and glaciers to beautiful wetlands, meadows and steppe. The visual impact of these features is magnified by the stark contrasts between the mountain areas and vast Central Asian deserts, and between the dry south slopes and the much wetter north slope. Xinjiang Tianshan is also an outstanding example of ongoing biological and ecological evolutionary process in a temperate arid zone. Altitudinal vegetation distributions, significant differences between north and south slopes, and diversity of flora, all illustrate the biological and ecological evolution of the Pamir-Tian Shan Highlands. Xinjiang Tianshan has outstanding biodiversity and is important habitat for relic species, and numerous rare and endangered species, as well as endemic species. It provides an excellent example of the gradual replacement of the original warm and wet flora by modern xeric Mediterranean flora.