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Central Government Minister issues unusually strong official endorsement for wood construction on national television

Wayne Iversen

By Wayne Iversen


May 16, 2016

Authors: Säde Rytkönen and Edward Zheng

Thursday May 4th was an important day for China’s wood construction community, as Minister Chen Zheng Gao of MOHURD (Ministry of Urban and Rural development) publically championed for wood construction. The full speech was posted online on China Network Television’s homepage, which is China’s 16th most visited website with approximately 5 million weekly hits.

During his speech Minister Chen highlighted the environmental benefits of wood compared to steel and concrete and discussed the need to promote wood construction in China: both to correct prevailing misconceptions about deforestation and to continue work on developing favorable conditions for wood construction.

The message he delivered can be considered impressive as it signals a new, more positive, tone from the senior government and marks the first time that a senior leader in a central government department becomes an advocate of wood construction.  The contents of the speech have also been included in training materials for the National State Council’s Chinese Academy of Governance, which is the highest level organization offering political training in China.

Such a high-level official’s public support of wood construction will help raise its profile with other levels of government and within the construction industry.  Therefore, Canada Wood China is hopeful that his support will help drive forward our policy development work and expansion of our government network.

When Canada Wood China established its presence in China in 2002, there were no policies in favor of wood – in fact, public perception of wood construction was generally negative, and official endorsement did not exist. The speech, therefore, is a reflection of the work we have carried out over the span of over a decade, including: technical transfer, government relations, education and training, as well as marketing and promotion.

Context of the speech

Minister Chen’s speech was part of the “Reports of the prospects of the 13th Five-Year Plan” held at the Great Hall of People. During the session each of China’s Ministers detailed how the latest 5-year plan will impact the direction of their respective ministry. MOHURD is one of China’s 20 ministries under the State Council; it is responsible for providing housing and regulating construction, including policy development and establishing codes and standards.

Minister Chen discussed a wide range of topics including urban planning and construction strategies; he presented wood construction as a viable solution for construction industrialization. Minister Chen’s total speech was approximately 2 hours in length; he discussed wood for approximately 12 minutes.

The audience consisted of approximately 800 officials and members of academia.

Below is a summarized translation of Minister Chen’s speech on wood construction:


I believe that it is important for China to create favorable conditions for modern wood construction. Why do I say “favorable conditions”? When MOHURD drafted the proposal of promoting wood construction to the State Council some people expressed concern regarding deforestation. However, it is incorrect to assume that building wood structures will lead to the deforestation.

It has surprised me that the State Forestry Council has been our greatest supported in promoting wood construction – I wouldn’t have expected this. I myself am a long-time supporter of wood construction; I believe we owe this to our future generations. When we look at Japan, more than half of their residential buildings are built with wood; in rural areas this figure is almost 100%.

The benefits of wood are manifold. First of all, wood is renewable, recyclable and biodegradable. Wood can grow from the earth – concrete and steel can’t. We have to damage our environment to produce both. We will see how many years we have left until there is nothing left to extract.

Secondly, wood structures have several advantages. They are low-carbon, environmentally friendly, energy-efficient and better insulated. They are also suitable for high seismic areas and are fast to construct. According to our study a wood frame building uses 45% less energy during the construction phase and 50% – 70% during the usage phase compared to a concrete structure.

Moreover, we can build both low and high-rise wood structures. In Canada the highest wood buildings are up-to 18 stories. Wood is also suitable for both residential and public buildings. I have a photo of the waiting room of a foreign airport where the long-span beam was made from manufactured glulam.

However, China lacks localized codes for both construction and building materials industry that relate to wood. Therefore, we have applied North American and Northern European standards. We are far behind – if China would promote wood structures to even half of the extent of Japan, we would dramatically improve the construction industry’s environmental footprint and building energy-efficiency. We would also give birth to a new industry that would need lots of manpower to plant trees and to manufacture materials. Wood needs to be treated and fabricated, this is a huge industry. Therefore, we need to collaborate and do our best to promote wood structures in China.