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2020-09-22 12:58:57  + video 

The production crew of a popular Chinese variety show apologized Monday night for a competition segment in which contestants were asked to find and collect rare snow lotus plants in the Tibetan Plateau.

The apology came a day after an episode of the hit show — “Go Fighting!” — was broadcast on television and online. Afterward, internet users and botanists accused the show of damaging the rare flowering plant Saussurea medusa, a relative of the thistle that grows in alpine habitats and is currently under consideration for inclusion on a list of nationally protected species.

“Go Fighting!” is a competition reality series in which contestants are pitted against each other as they try to complete assigned tasks within a given environment. For Sunday’s episode, the program brought celebrity guests to Tibet to compete in challenges while touring local poverty alleviation projects. Three celebrities — comedian Yue Yunpeng, actor Yu Haoming, and singer Liu Yuning — were sent on a mission to find and collect the rare Saussurea involucrata, or snow lotus, from the barren hills of the Tibetan Plateau.

Video shared online shows Liu picking flowers from the ground and presenting them to the camera. Experts later identified the plant as Saussurea medusa, a close cousin of the snow lotus. “Come visit this place if you have the chance!” Yue says, one of the prized flowers clutched between his fingers.

Chinese variety show “Go Fighting!” was criticized for challenging celebrity contestants to pick rare snow lotus plants high in the hills of the Tibetan Plateau. In a subsequent apology, the producers said no rare plants had been harmed in the making of the episode — but experts aren’t buying it.

The seemingly innocuous act of picking flowers was met with backlash on Chinese social media. Gu Lei, a botanist and associate professor at Capital Normal University in Beijing, was one of those who took to microblogging platform Weibo to criticize the show. “Because of the scarcity (of Saussurea medusa), we aren’t even willing to collect specimens for scientific research,” he wrote.

Gu told Sixth Tone that wild Saussurea medusa is under threat due to its resemblance to the snow lotus — a rare herb that is prized alongside delicacies like lingzhi mushrooms and wild ginseng, and frequently poached for its supposed medicinal properties.

Found at high altitudes in the Tibetan Plateau, wild Saussurea medusa thrives in inhospitable environments, but it takes years for the plants to grow to maturity, bloom, and disperse their seeds.

With the wild population of Saussurea medusa dramatically declining, the plant was recommended for state protection in June, though an updated list of protected plants has not yet been released.

In the wave of indignation following Sunday’s episode, net users demanded that “Go Fighting!” repent for harming the environment.

Liu the singer obliged, apologizing Monday for a general lack of environmental consciousness, though he said the flower in the video had only been a “prop.”

Later the same day, the production crew of “Go Fighting!” apologized on the show’s official Weibo account for “errors in design details” that had caused a “negative impact on the public.” They added that “the act of picking rare plants never actually occurred” — a position seemingly consistent with Liu’s claim.

Gu, however, told Sixth Tone the plant he saw in the video was real, as far as he could tell — and regardless, showing the contestants appearing to pick rare flowers sets a terrible example for viewers.

“The main problem,” Gu said, “is that the TV show promotes the wrong idea that rare plants may be picked at will.”

Mistreatment of plants and animals on television and in online videos has sparked controversy several times in China. Last year, a celebrity vlogger with 3 million followers apologized for picking Saussurea medusa and cooking it with instant noodles while camping, a stunt that angered some viewers.

According to China’s Biodiversity Red List of Higher Plants, over 3,700 species in the country are threatened. However, less than 300 species are currently under state protection. According to Gu, this latter list is due for an update.

“Endangered plant protection (in China) still has a long way to go,” he said.

Editor: David Paulk.

(Header image: A screenshot from “Go Fighting!” shows celebrity contestant Liu Yuning holding a close cousin of the rare snow lotus. From Weibo)