We previously discussed how a local businessman shamed the Chinese government by offering to pay the top environmental official 200,000 yuan (around £20,000) to swim in the disgusting river near Rui’an City. The same dare was made by two Chinese environmentalists, including Chen Yuqian, a 60-year-old resident of Pailian village in Zhejiang province. It was a modest suggestion given the rampant environmental hazards and choking pollution in the country, including the dozens of cancer villages (which only this week were acknowledged by the government). However, he received his answer this week. Forty men came to his house and beat him for embarrassing the government — a standard response for Chinese environmentalists and villagers who succeeded in drawing attention to the dire plight of Chinese citizens.
Chen is a farmer who posted his challenge on the Internet. The result was that the 40 men broke into his house with batons on Sunday morning. His daughter says that the only thing the men said was “[You] used the internet, you always use the internet!” The Chinese government has long fought access of citizens to the Internet and social media.
The thugs stayed in the house for four or five hours beating Chen. Then police arrived — though environmentalist have little doubt in their minds that this was orchestrated by the government.
Chen has been campaigning the local paper mills dumping toxic waste into the river near their house. His family has developed red blisters from the water and land pollution linked to the factory.
Years ago, I spoke in Beijing about the need to allow citizen suits to allow locals to enforce basis environmental laws. The problem, of course, is that rampant corruption among Chinese government officials makes them partners in these environmental crimes. For Chinese officials, the problem is not the toxic river, but discussing the toxic river on the Internet.
In my visits to China, I have met Chinese environmentalists who show a level of bravery that I have rarely seen in person. They continue against all odds to fight for the environment and their fellow citizens. Chen Yuqian is one such person. A farmer who refuses to yield against overwhelming odds.