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Li Bingbing also acts on behalf of wildlife

Updated: 2014-10-07 07:07
By China Daily USA

Li Bingbing also acts on behalf of wildlife

Chinese actress Li Bingbing is United Nations Environment Programme Goodwill Ambassador. Hu Haidan / China Daily

As United Nations Environment Programme Goodwill Ambassador, Chinese actress Li Bingbing talks to China Daily in New York about her mission of calling for more youths to get involved in environmental protection efforts.

When Li Bingbing talks about being one of the most popular superstars in China, the Transformers 4 actress humbly likes to start with where she is from, the root, as many Chinese people say.

That root, says Li, has given her a strong awareness about nature and the environment.

"I was born in a small town in Heilongjiang where my life then was very simple and everyone around me was very thrifty," Li says.

Wuchang, Li's hometown, is a county-level town in Harbin in northeastern China.

Much media focus has been on how this small-town girl rose to be one of China's most well-known stars, who recently made her name in Hollywood by playing alongside Mark Wahlberg in Transformers: Age of Extinction.

But Li appreciates her small town, not so much in contrast with where she is today but because of the influence of the place and its people. It's a love of nature and the environment, she says.

"I would feel guilty to waste anything; it's just a habit which has helped form my awareness for environmental protection," says Li. "That awareness has been in my DNA since I was young."

Li, 41, has been a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Goodwill Ambassador and helped launched a number of environment-related campaigns – including one to reduce demand for ivory -- with the UN and by herself in China.

It's not a coincidence that Li is a goodwill ambassador. She has used her high profile to raise awareness about environmental issues through programs such as the L.O.V.E Green campaign, which promotes a low-carbon lifestyle among her fans in China.

"I have been lucky enough to have gained a lot of attention, support and appreciation from fans – mostly for my work as an actress – but I started to feel that it's time I need to do something in return for their support," Li notes.

"I always wonder myself: 'Why would they continue to support you if you don't do something meaningful in return?' " she says.

After Li's UNEP mission to Nairobi, Kenya, last year, she urged the international community to combat wildlife poaching and trafficking."It's so sad to see those lovely elephants being killed for ivory trade," says Li. "If you get closer to them, you can feel their friendliness and love and their caring for their families; it's very touching," Li said about her trip to Kenya, where she also fed orphan elephants.

"As an actress, it was very different to be on that mission and to be up and close to the wildlife," she says. "It urged me to do something immediately."

When Li returned to China from Kenya, she starred in five "Say No to Ivory" campaigns to raise awareness about poaching, which threatens elephants and rhinos across Africa.

"Environmental protection is a responsibility not only to the government or celebrities or public figures but actually to every citizen," says Li. "It may be more influential for me as an actress to play a bigger role to get more people, more youths involved in this big mission."

Across Africa, elephant- and rhino-poaching has raised alarm, with poachers killing some 35,000 elephants and 1,000 rhinos every year. Much of the ivory and horns are shipped and sold illegally in East Asia. Activists say that both animals face extinction within 20 years if the poaching continues at the current rate.

"Their lives are in danger, and more people should realize this," says Li.

The "Say No to Ivory" campaign promoted by Li on her Chinese social blogging site Sina Weibo, where she has a fan base of more than 29 million, got widespread support.

"It went viral, and I was so surprised to see the reposts," recalls Li. "On the other hand, I was very motivated and decided this will be an ongoing mission of my life," she added.

The Snow Flower and the Secret Fan actress has been the UNEP goodwill ambassador for more than four years. She will continue in the position, which was recently renewed.

"Such experiences with UNEP have taught me so much about climate change and environmental protection," she says.

Last month, Li was asked to speak at the UN Climate Change Summit convened by UN Secretary General Ban K-moon at UN headquarters in New York.

Li reaffirmed her commitment to environmental protection, calling for more youth to get involved in the movement.

Despite having a rising profile in Hollywood after Transformers 4 and having won numerous film awards since 1994, Li says she was "a little nervous" for her UN speech.

"It was such an honor to speak in front of those distinguished guests, including the heads of state," says Li.

"I realized I was shouldering a bigger responsibility when I stood on the podium to make the call for action – and -- to make it really happen," says Li.

Reporter:Zhang Yuwei

Video:Hu Haidan

Supervising Producer:Calvin Zhou, Zhang Yuwei

Senior Producer:Larry Lee, Wang Linyan