BEIJING, Oct. 21 (Xinhua) -- The open-cut mining area of the Daye Iron Mine in central China's Huangshi city -- Asia's biggest opencast mine -- looks like a widely-open mouth of the Earth.
Dating back to 1780 years ago, the mine became a key resource supplier for China's industrialization, creating economic benefits as well as ecological ills.
It was commonly said that the sky, in Tieshan District and beyond, remained grey, partly due to the Daye Iron Mine.
Resource-rich Huangshi recorded rapid economic growth in the second half of last century, thanks to heavy investment in resource industries, including iron and steel.
But the shortage of exploitable mine as well as vegetation deterioration and environmental pollution, which became increasingly severe in 1990s, cast a shadow over the city's future.
Huangshi has been thinking about maintaining a balance between economic development and ecological protection. Decades of rapid economic development has turned Huangshi into a resource-exhausted city.
The Daye Iron Mine's open-cut area was turned into the country's first national ore park six years ago and has become a popular scenic spot with sculptures made from wasted equipment and accessories.
Huangshi's experience with the Daye Iron Mine may well serve as an epitome of China's struggle in establishing an economy-ecology balance.
The ruling Communist Party of China (CPC) have been clear about the significance of promoting a "conservation culture."
"(China will) promote a conservation culture by basically forming an energy- and resource-efficient and environment-friendly structure of industries, pattern of growth and mode of consumption," Hu Jintao, China's president and general secretary of the CPC Central Committee said at the start of the 17th CPC National Congress held in October 2007.
Officially writing "conservation culture" into the report of its national congress, a five-yearly political tone-setting event, the CPC is likely to reiterate this topic as a major task in its upcoming 18th National Congress scheduled for next month, according to observers.
In a July 23 speech given to provincial-level officials, Hu termed promoting a conservation culture as a strategic mission that will involve fundamental changes in the mode of production and the way of life. He vowed to put the concept into all aspects and sections of China's economic, political, and social development.
Yan Shuhan, a theoretical studies professor with the Party School of the CPC Central Committee, said it is especially noteworthy that in Hu's July speech, conservation culture was underlined as part of China's general plan for socialist construction.
That indicated the Party's deep understanding of the general plan of China's socialist construction, which consists of major missions not only in economic, political, cultural and social terms, but also in conservation culture, according to Yan.
Since the inception of the reform and opening-up drive over three decades ago, China has witnessed rapid economic growth, becoming the world's second largest economy in 2010.
But China's growth is over-dependent on resource consumption, marked by resource use inefficiencies and environmental ills. This creates worries about China's ability to sustain its development.
China tops the world in the amount of resources it consumes. Coal accounts for 70 percent of the gross energy output and consumption in China, according to statistics.
In north China's Shanxi Province, a major coal production base, the extraction of coal has already led to the damage of more than 6,000 square kms of forest and the erosion of another 6,000 square kms of land.
Half of the petroleum that China consumes now is imported. China's annual petroleum consumption in 2020, according to some experts, is expected to cross the 650 million ton mark. This is an amount beyond the limit tolerable by China's economy and environment.
The country sped up industrialization during the past 30 years, leading to fast CO2 emissions growth. Labeled as one of the world's largest sources of emissions, China is feeling international pressure.
In 2006, China for the first time listed emission reduction goals in its five-year national development plan (2006-2010), demanding the aggregate energy consumption per unit GDP drop around 20 percent from that of 2005.
The goal was accomplished. But to meet the emission limit, It was reported electricity supply to production firms in some regions was temporarily cut.
Meanwhile, there has been increased public anger over the environment in recent years, forcing some pollution-prone chemical and industry projects to be closed or relocated.
Environmental protection remained a crucial challenge for China in 2011-2015, as the country felt increasing pressure in pollution control and emission reduction internally and externally, according to Minister of Environmental Protection, Zhou Shengxian.
Officials and experts said the ruling CPC has made greater and substantial efforts in environmental protection since 2007.
Resource-related enterprises in Huangshi contributed greatly to the country's economic growth. However, the development pattern that focused only on resource extraction produced serious ecological problems, according to Wang Jianming, secretary of the Huangshi city committee of the Communist Party of China.
"Promoting a conservation culture is an urgent matter. Huangshi still needs development, but a sustainable one," he said. The city has shut a number of small-size cement firms, paper mills, power plants and other pollution-prone firms over the past five years.
China is undergoing the transfer of industrial capacities from the country's developed coastal areas to the less-developed inlands. A city on the Yangtze River, Huangshi is an ideal place for many industrial projects.
Wang said the city became "picky" in selecting prospective industrial investments, putting "ecological benefits" before "economic benefits," and welcoming only environment-friendly projects.
But still there are officials in regions other than Huangshi who focused on rapid economic growth only and failed to pay enough attention to environmental protection.
The local government in the eastern city of Qidong in July canceled an industrial waste pipeline project hours after thousands of angry residents protested.
"Promoting a conservation culture is a major test for the ruling CPC at present and in the future," said Ma Zhejun, executive vice president of the Party School of the CPC's Hubei Provincial Committee, urging for long-term efforts.
Experts expect that the CPC National Congress next month will further efforts to promote a conservation culture, and achieve harmony between economic development and environmental protection.