From its source on the Plateau of Tibet, the Yangtze River flows down to the East China Sea on a journey of 6,380 km (3,964 miles), creating a vast water network that provides crucial food crops. Add to this the extraordinary natural beauty of the region, and it’s no wonder that the great river has been a focal point of Chinese culture for scholars and poets, musicians and singers, for centuries.
Yet living in today’s technologically advanced societies makes us inclined to take the world’s rivers for granted, forgetting that accessible sources of fresh water are actually very limited. Education programs, therefore, which remind us that the future of our planet literally depends on water, are absolutely vital. That’s why, in 1895, founder Daniel Swarovski located his crystal business in the Austrian Alps—precisely to take advantage of the abundant water. It generated clean energy to power the machinery, and led to his unshakeable belief that “We use water, so we must also respect and conserve water.” It’s this compelling idea that led to the setting up of the Swarovski Waterschool.
China is one of five countries in which the not-for-profit organization actively helps children and communities learn now to manage water sustainably. It decided to mark its 15th anniversary by commissioning photographer and author Eric Valli to capture the lives of communities along the Yangtze in a series of astonishing films and photos.
It is these values that closely connect Swarovski with Vanke, the Chinese property developer whose stunning, environmentally friendly Vanke Pavilion was the host venue for the Living Yangtze exhibition at EXPO Milano 2015 last month. Designed by renowned architect Daniel Libeskind, its sinuous, dragon-like form clad in red ceramic panels made it one of EXPO’s most iconic installations. Vanke is famous for its green credentials and the ecologically responsible design of its buildings, which focus on conserving energy. Led by “green crusader” Chairman Wang Shi, the company sets the pace in the market by putting ethics above pure commercial interests. The Living Yangtze exhibition, he said, “is directly related to our core value of respect for the environment, as well as being quite appropriate to EXPO’s theme, ‘Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life’. Without water, there is no food, and no human beings, either.”
Six months and 30,000km later, Valli had created a body of work showing the heart-stopping beauty of the region and its inhabitants. Entitled Living Yangtze, it’s a visually poetic exhibition of thought-provoking photographs and films; it tells the story of the people who live and work in harmony with China’s great river, close to seven of the Swarovski Waterschools. Depicting soaring snowcapped mountains and sweeping ice floes; verdant riverscapes and moon reflections patterning a lake; farmworkers harvesting tea in pristine rows and heartwarming scenes of community life on the Yangtze, the imagery is deeply affecting and, quite simply, unforgettable. By leading the way with a partnership of such ecological importance, let’s hope Living Yangtze is just the beginning of many more Swarovski-Vanke collaborations to come.
Photography by Alessandro Moggi & Bruno Zhang.