XIONG LEI Although Im a bit fed up with the bargains, debates and protests at the United Nations climate conference in Cancun, Mexico, I do think Beijing, and especially leaders of the developing and under-developed nations, should turn their attention to the not so advanced countries in search of new models of development and change their concepts of modernisation and civilisation. For decades, development has centred on GDP growth, with industrialised countries being its role model. Its time we stopped doing that and checked the path and pace of our growth. And its time we changed our mindset and sought other examples to follow. Perhaps, we should learn from those developing countries that have succeeded in balancing their economic growth with ecological conservation and peoples well being. One such country is Bhutan. Bhutanese regard themselves, humorously, as ants between two big giants, i.e. China and India. But a visit to the Himalayan kingdom will open our eyes to the wisdom and intelligence of these ants. For years, quite a few places in China vied with one another for the title of Shangri-la, the hidden paradise created by James Hilton in his novel The Lost Horizon. But the desire for modern luxuries at the cost of the environment and folk traditions has marred the purity of quite a few of the self-proclaimed Shangri-las. Many Bhutanese dont even know the term Shangri-la, and their average living standard may be far from that in Hiltons paradise. Yet, the harmony between man and nature in Bhutan, and well being rather than show off being the Bhutanese concept of happiness, present an eloquent example what real life in Shangri-la should be like. While quarrying, mining and deforestation scar the mountains in its neighbouring countries, Bhutan is a picture of nature at its most pristine. The forest coverage of the 46,500 sq km country has increased to 72 percent, where species endangered elsewhere thrive. No wonder, Bhutan is among the worlds top 10 biodiversity hot spots. Aside from its well preserved environment, Bhutan has contributed to humankind the concept of gross national happiness (GNH), introduced by its fourth king, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, in 1972. It was a great departure from the conventional pattern of development that focuses on economic growth. GNH has been the guiding principle in Bhutans progress over the past few decades. Instead of measuring development with material production and consumption, GNH covers peoples psychological well being, communal vitality, culture, health, education, environmental diversity, living standard, governance and the way individuals use their time. Worldwide experiences show that material wealth alone does not guarantee social equity and happiness. The enthusiasm for modernisation dampens, and even turns sour when precious cultural heritage sites and homes are bulldozed in the name of development. According to the GNH concept, economic growth and modernisation should not come at the expense of the quality of life or the generations-old cultural traditions. Bhutans case has been beautifully presented by the wife of Jigme Singye Wangchuck, Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck, in her book, Treasures of the Thunder Dragon: A Portrait of Bhutan. She writes: Several policy areas were given priority - equitable socio-economic development in which prosperity is shared by every region of the country and every section of society; conservation and protection of the pristine environment; the preservation and promotion of Bhutans unique cultural heritage; and providing good, responsive governance in which the people participate. The Bhutanese treasure their environment and cultural heritage so much that, despite being underdeveloped on the GDP scale they discourage mass tourism and prevent their rich natural resources from being exploited. Though a copper-mining project was launched in the early 1970s, it was resolutely stopped a couple of years later to save the natural habitat. Other studies such as the Global Projection of Subjective Well-Being, conducted by Adrian G. White, professor at the University of Leicester in Britain, list Bhutan as the happiest country in Asia and the eighth happiest in the world. Bhutan is far from being an affluent country. But it has managed to provide free medical care and education to everyone. The Bhutanese do not want to be isolated. They too want prosperity, but not at the cost of our cherished traditions and culture, as Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck put it in her book. We want the benefits of modern technology, but at our own pace, according to our own needs, and when we feel the time is right. That is where Bhutan offers a lesson. We can learn from Bhutan how to remain cool-headed amid the madness of hectic development, and see what is really valuable, rather than getting lost in modernisation. China Daily