Wu Qingliang has saved two year's worth of family income, bought two extra pairs of shoes and is preparing to spend the next three months walking from Shanghai to Beijing with a load of tea on his back. We caught up with the tea farmer, who's doing it all to spread the word about the importance of the environment to his culture, before he sets off.
CNNGo: How do you farm in those threads?
"I have my route figured from here until Shandong, but then my map ends," says Wu Qingliang. "I’ll buy a new one when I reach Shandong."
I’m ethnically Tujia
and my wife is Miao
. I wanted to represent Xiangxi’s strong minority heritage, so I had these clothes especially made for the trip. Definitely not for farming, but for walking!
CNNGo: Have you ever been to Shanghai before?
No, and it’s so different from every other city in China. It’s really, truly international -- beyond my expectations. I want to travel around the world one day, but I don’t have the means right now. But since the world is coming to Shanghai for the 2010 Expo
, it’s close enough for me.
CNNGo: How did you get the idea for this insane endeavor?
I got the idea from a well-known Chinese song, “挑擔茶葉上北京” (“Carrying Tea on My Back to Beijing”) by Ji Guang (何纪光), a famous folk singer who is also a native son of Xiangxi
You could call this insane. But consider all the international attention the 2010 Expo has brought upon China -- I see a very good opportunity to reach worldwide audiences. I want to tell everyone about Xiangxi: about the remote mountains I grew up in, about our maojian tea (毛尖茶), which we grow and pick by hand. Wu Qingliang with his wife, son and new tea baskets for his trek.
I want people to see that there are many ancient traditions and towns of China that are worth preserving -- and visiting.
This fits in with the Expo’s message, which I think is very important. My family lives off the land. We all see that there is a need to do more to protect the earth’s natural resources and live more responsibly.
CNNGo: Besides walking, what else will you do along the way?
Take photos, I borrowed a camera from a friend. Most importantly, talk to as many people as possible about the importance of conservation to China and especially to rural communities like Xiangxi. I have a book that I want to fill with signatures and short messages of support. It’ll be a souvenir for me to look back on.
This is the biggest thing I’ve ever planned. I hope one day my sons will look at what I’m doing and be proud of their father. Wu Qingliang (left) and his family pick all the tea on their family's farm in Xiangxi by hand.
CNNGo: How are you financing this trip?
I’ve been raising funds among my family, friends and the local government for a year now. The whole trip is going to cost around RMB 20,000. It’s about two years of our family’s earnings. The trip is expensive because of hotels. If I were to take the train to Beijing, it would cost about RMB 200 or so, but that wouldn’t really make the same impact.
CNNGo: How long does it take to walk from Shanghai to Beijing anyway?
I think it will take me about three months. I have my route figured from here until Shandong, but then my map ends. I’ll buy a new one when I reach Shandong.
The trip may take a bit longer because of the bales of tea I’m carrying, but I’m prepared. I packed two extra pairs of shoes.
Want to contact Wu Qingliang about his tea or journey? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org