The nation’s first research station was created to enable China to have more of a say in Antarctic political discussions and affairs
After 30 years of polar expedition and exploration in Antarctica, following the creation of their first research station, China is continuing to make scientific progress in the field. On February 20, 1975 – 75 years after Japan (who first explored the Antarctic in 1910) – China’s first Antarctic research station, called The Great Wall, opened on King George Island, located 120 kilometres north of the continent.
China have four stations: the Great Wall (1985), Zhongshan (1989), Kunlun (2009) and Taishan (2014). The Great Wall station was established because late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping felt that, without it, China did not have a say in polar matters. Shortly after the station was founded, China gained the right to vote in Antarctic affairs as the station was given the consultative status under the Antarctic Treaty.
Guo Kun, China’s first polar station chief, explained how his team were overwhelmed when the Chinese national flag was first erected on King George Island on Dec. 30, 1984.
“It certificated that China had entered the international polar community, and it opened a new chapter for the Chinese to make contributions to the peaceful utilization of Antarctica,” he said.
Currently, a team of 281 researchers – part of China’s 31st Antarctic expedition – are working on the continent, building a base for the Beidou navigation satellite system, selecting a site for a landing strip for fixed-wing aircraft on the ice sheet, installing a new astronomical telescope and surveying more areas to map. The expedition have recently finished a survey of a site for the country’s fifth Antarctic station, which will be built in the Victoria Land, east of the continent.
“We have done tremendous scientific research in the fields of glaciology, hydrology, meteorology, marine geology, marine biology, cosmology and other subjects,” adds Liu Xiaohan, a polar geologist who led a team to explore the inland Grove Mountains in 1998.
“Sometimes we have to risk our lives, but it’s worth doing that because we love science and are curious about the unknown world,” he added.
Tourism in Antarctica has recently increased; with around 2,000 Chinese visitors travelling to the continent annually. Western tourist agencies have been forced to open offices in China in order to meet the emerging demands. A trip to Antarctica costs, on average, between 100,000 and 300,000 yuan (about 15,000 to 45,000 US dollars), depending on the route.
As tourism increases, books, novels, memoirs and stories about the continent and its expeditions are also on the rise.
Fang Li, an oceanologist and a famous film producer, aims to produce a movie named “Antarctica 2049” that talks about a future Chinese expedition on the continent in the year when China celebrates the centennial of the founding of the People’s Republic.
“The film will highlight patriotism as well as internationalism, encouraging young people to care for the last unpolluted continent and protect our home planet,” Fang said.
— Antonio Sousa, Correspondent (Antarctica)
Image Courtesy: Seleonov (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Antarctic_Great_Wall_Station.JPG#filelinks), Licensed under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication | Wikimedia Commons