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China celebrates 30 years of Antarctic expeditions

By Han Song (Xinhua)    16:12, February 18, 2015

BEIJING, Feb. 18  -- As China prepares to mark 30 years of polar expeditions, and a new permanent research station in Antarctica on the cards, it is showing no plans of slowing down any time soon.

On Feb. 20, 1985, China's first Antarctic station, the Great Wall, was opened on King George Island, on the north of the continent.

Compared with the Westerners who first landed in Antarctica in 1820, the Chinese are relatively newcomers, arriving 75 years later than Japan, the first Asian country to record an expedition to the "end of the world" in 1910.

However, according to Joan N. Boothe, from Stanford University and author of "The Storied Ice", it is possible that a Chinese fleet arrived in the area around 1421 or 1422, first visiting the Falkland Islands (also known as the Malvinas Islands) before sailing south to the Antarctic Peninsula.

China's 31st Antarctic expedition, consisting of 281 team members, is perhaps one of the largest operations currently on the continent.

The team is expected to make unprecedented achievements, including building a base for the Beidou navigation satellite system, selecting a site for an airstrip for fixed-wing aircraft on the ice sheet, installing a new astronomical telescope and surveying more areas to map them.

As a gift for the 30th anniversary, a rare greenhouse was built by the team, where 20 varieties of vegetable were planted.

The team has also completed a survey of a site for the country's fifth Antarctic station.

"We were inspired by the instructions of President Xi Jinping," said team vice leader Wang Hailang.

Xi boarded the icebreaker Xuelong (Snow Dragon) at Hobart during his Australian visit in November last year. Xi, the first Chinese leader to board a polar research ship, speak with the crew and wished them luck with their mission.

Xi spoke via live video stream with scientists stationed at the South Pole, and lauded their scientific research achievements, saying that China's expeditions have contributed to the peaceful utilization of Antarctic resources.

The scientists recalled that three decades ago it was late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping who sent the first team to Antarctica.

Jin Tao, a science writer and member of the first expedition, said that China could not play a part in polar matter unless it established a station on the continent.

Shortly after China founded the Great Wall Station, it gained the consultative status under the Antarctic Treaty, meaning it gained the right to vote in Antarctic affairs.

Guo Kun, China's first polar station chief, said that his team were overwhelmed when the Chinese national flag was 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.

During the construction of the station, the team established a temporary Communist Party of China (CPC) Committee, possibly the second after the Soviet Union in the continent.

Their work was aided by a number of countries, including Australia, New Zealand, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Japan and the former Soviet Union, according to Guo.

Since then, China has established four stations in Antarctica -- the Great Wall in 1985, Zhongshan in 1989, Kunlun in 2009 and Taishan in 2014. The fifth will be constructed later this year in the Victoria Land east of the continent.

About 30 nations now have permanent research stations in Antarctica, including the United States, Russia, Australia, Britain, France and Argentina.

"We have done tremendous scientific research in the fields of glaciology, hydrology, meteorology, marine geology, marine biology, cosmology and other subjects," said 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.

Besides doing scientific research, the country had given 359 geological sites Chinese names by 2011. Among the total 37,000 named places in Antarctica, the United States has named 13,000 in English.

Chinese elements have livened up the white continent with exotic colors. During the construction of the Kunlun station in Dome-A, 1,200 kilometers away from the coast, a Buddha statue and a traditional Chinese bronze sacrificial vessel were brought to the highland to bestow good luck.

Many ordinary Chinese are fascinated with the continent. Data collected from local travel agencies in South America showed that more than 2,000 Chinese go to Antarctica annually.

As the number of visitors increases, Western tourist agencies have opened offices in China to meet the emerging demands. Xu Qi, head of Norway's Hurtigruten Beijing Bureau, said that the company had arranged several charted ships to cater to the nouveau riches, who flock polar cruising trips.

It costs between 100,000 and 300,000 yuan (about 15,000 to 45,000 US dollars) to go to Antarctica, depending on the route.

Major Chinese Internet portals have opened special pages for people to share articles and photos about their Antarctic experiences.

There are also numerous handbooks, scientists' memoirs, novels, and stories of Western expeditions, such as Ernest Shackleton's adventure in the 1910s.

Fang Li, an oceanologist and a noted film producer, plans to shoot a movie named "Antarctica 2049", which is 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.

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Editor:Du Mingming,Bianji)

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