Mao’s Little Red River: China’s Latest Pollution Disaster Turns River Red

Screen shot YouTube
Screen shot YouTube
For the residents of Zhejiang, the sight was unnerving to say the least. The river that they regularly fish in had turned blood red overnight. It is the latest example of China’s horrific pollution problems. On this occasion, however, the results were more than evident to the eyes and noses of the residents.

The river was was fine at 5 am and then residents smelled a strange odor and saw that the river was now a deep red. It is clear that someone dumped industrial waste in the river in hopes that the expected monsoon rains would wash them down river. The rains however were delayed. There is a paper manufacturer, a food coloring company and clothing-maker upstream that might be a logical place to start.

China continues to struggle with not just legal and political issues in dealing with pollution but also a cultural and social problem. While there are brave environmentalists who have been beaten and jailed for raising pollution issues, many Chinese are clearly not responsive to such arguments ranging from pollution abatement to food safety.

39 thoughts on “Mao’s Little Red River: China’s Latest Pollution Disaster Turns River Red

  1. We already have China’s cultural and social problems, thanks, in part, to illegal immigration that is out of control. More pollution is next.

  2. Confucius say: If I am walking with two other men, each of them will serve as my teacher. I will pick out the good points of the one and imitate them, and the bad points of the other and correct them in myself.

    What a shame. That river is red as wine, and I mean Red, Red Wine Live. Makes me forget something.

  3. SWM, You show a fundamental lack of economics. In countries like China and Russia you have the government owning and controlling the companies. It is one huge entity. It is not capitalism. That’s why you have the pollution you see here, Chernoble, etc. While our system is not perfect, and the lines are sometimes blurred, there is a distinct separation between govt. and business. Business does corrupt our govt. but they are separate. There is no EPA in China or Russia. By the way, Nixon started the EPA.

  4. Good for Nixon for starting the EPA. He is certainly to the left of these present day tea party libertarian republicans that want to dismantle government. What they practice in China is referred to as “crony capitalism”.

  5. Knowing China’s history, I doubt the river was really “fine” before. China and Russia have horrifying pollution. I’ve read articles about toxic cesspools that children play in. But, that’s pretty typical for Communist or Socialist countries. Not the “nanny state” socialism but true government socialism, of course. When the government owns everything, individual citizens have fewer rights. The government is not answerable to them, and these are the consequences.

  6. Annie:

    “That’s unfettered Capitalism for ya.”

    Wow. That shows such a shocking lack of information about Communist China. The government owns everything, citizens have few rights, and this is the outcome.

    That’s unfettered Communism for ya.

  7. SWM, Yes it is. And this crony capitalism is tough to compete w/. They use their military/intelligence apparatus to steal secrets from other countries. That may be the next step for the NSA, if not so already. I have said here many times, that incredibly valuable information is being used in ways we have no idea @ this point. Govt. employees can be bought, and much more cheaply than people would think.

  8. Actually Karen and Nick,
    There is a very large capitalistic component in China. The state does not own everything.

  9. It is fine and dandy to dump on the Chinese for their environmental problems. But we should recognize our part. We get cheap Chinese-made products exactly because the Chinese are willing to forgo tacking on the external costs of environmental degradation to the means of production.

    Are we willing to accept any responsibility? Or is it just easier to laugh at the bargains we get shopping at Walmart priced at the expense of the Chinese environment, instead of buying American, or buying from socially/environmentally-responsible corporations?

  10. @Karen S. China is not communist any longer. Very definitely socialist, though. There is no dictator on the scale that Mao was. There is a cadre, a junta, if you will, of about a dozen people who call the shots. Not one of these can act independently without serious risk of being deposed.

    @Annie is partially right about “unfettered Capitalism”. Some business owners or CEOs who think they can get away with acting unethically or irresponsibly, often will. There are enough laws in China, but enforcement can be sharply selective.

    Society has two classes. First, government officials and those closely connected to them. These people have acted and can act with a high degree of impunity, though that is changing. Second, everybody else. CEOs running state owned enterprises are under huge pressure to be or become profitable. The CEOs are motivated to cut corners, like polluting rivers, when they can. Enforcement is weak because the government will not attack its own cash cows.

    Regarding individual freedom, that is variable. If one’s actions do not attack or undermine the government or the harmony in society, one is generally free to act. During my seven years living and working in China, within firm boundaries I felt I had tremendous individual freedom.

    China is a very complex place. The situation there cannot be effectively distilled to a few paragraphs or even a shelf full of scholarly books. Thus, my comment here is but a pinpoint of light in a vast universe.

    China is best experienced in situ for years, not merely visited, not read about, not studied from afar.

  11. LTMG-thank you for writing that so I didn’t have to. There is a lot of transition going on in China on many, many levels. There are factions trying to move it toward capitalism (which may or may not resemble our capitalism) and other factions trying to hold on to the absolute power once enjoyed by government/party leaders. Other factions are just working to influence those in power in order to get their hands on as much wealth as they can and then bail.

  12. Gary T

    No, that’s unfettered industrial pollution for ya.
    Capitalism has nothing to do with it.

    Folks: For all of you who have been throwing the term “Intellectually Dishonest” around, this is what it looks like, right there in Gary’s comment.

    As you can see, intellect has little to do with it, it’s really about the dishonesty; the willful denial of what is plainly, transparently, and painfully obvious. Be careful not to confuse this practice with twisted logic.

    Print his comment out and keep it handy. Next time you feel tempted to accuse someone of Intellectual Dishonesty, stop and take a moment to compare that person’s comment to Gary’s here. If your suspect comment flies in the face of the facts like Gary’s, you can be sure you’ve got an instance of genuine Intellectual Dishonesty.

  13. swarthmoremom

    Good for Nixon for starting the EPA …
    And by Presidential Order at that … cornservatives can thank St. Raygun for the ability to completely forget …

  14. Nixon was the president who actually created the EPA, but it was to consolidate the work needed to enforce the many environmental laws passed by Congress in the 50s, 60s and 70s.

    Though a private citizen, Nader shepherded more bills through Congress than all but a handful of American presidents. If that sounds like an outsize claim, try refuting it. His signature wins included landmark laws on auto, food, consumer product and workplace safety; clean air and water; freedom of information, and consumer, citizen, worker and shareholder rights. In a century only Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson passed more major legislation.

  15. Communist and “former” Communists in the form of an oligarchy control EVERYTHING in China and Russia including alleged private businesses. This is hardly debatable.

  16. All Hail, China!!!

    Let’s send China the rest of our money as we debase our manufacturing

    capacity further, eschew energy independence and give everyone who doesn’t

    work FREEEEEE STUFF just because.

    And let’s be polite when we do so.

    Don’t whisper a disparaging word about the Eminent Chinese, you

    rude, bad, bad “whites,” (you need a spanking) as they receive the remainder

    of America’s treasure.

    What good is a gift if it’s not given with sincerity?

    P.S. Do the Chinese torture people? Maybe in those political prisons? Let’s
    go ask ’em.

  17. Nick- It’s really not as monolithic as you suggest. There’s so much happening there we don’t yet know about because of the lack of transparency. The tension between varying factions is very real, but not much of it gets reported. There is constant jockeying for power between the hardliners and the new oligarchs. It is fair to say that it’s only a matter of degree as to which group will swallow up the nation’s resources faster. I suspect both will leave the masses mostly in poverty and keep a foot firmly on the necks of the middle class.

  18. Nick: I agree with Icono. Things are much more fluid in China and have been for several years as society makes this transition.

  19. icon and RTC, I think we are substantively in agreement. My point is their “capitalism” is quite unlike the capitalism in the US. I totally agree w/ iconoclasts last sentence.

  20. And I would further stipulate that without the benefit of unions throughout the last century and the regulatory protections against the more predatory practices of capitalism, America would look very much like China.

    I would also add that the rightwing is earnestly trying to reduce conditions here to the level of the Chinese

  21. If all the air and water pollution, not only there, but everywhere, including here, had a more IMMEDIATE/visible effect on human health, then something would be done about it.

  22. Good thing we don’t have government collusion in industry here… banking… nuclear power… ???? Doesn’t matter the system. Humans begin to erode the strengths of any system over time. Ben Franklin was straight up about it.

  23. Actually, NICK, China’s form of capitalism, as you and others here have suggested, frequently involves oligarchy and state support/collusion (and corruption). But in many ways it is strikingly similar to any industrial capitalist society that lacks sufficient regulatory protection. There are rules, and there are some good ones in terms of the environment (and some laudable top-down goals in terms of renewable and green energy use), but the agencies charged with enforcing them lack teeth and budget. Local governments depend on revenues from economic growth and frequently look the other way (and often get money in their pockets to do so). Basically businesses like these factories are in it for as much profit as they can get, and all too often, they operate with impunity (the other side of that is that many businesses routinely pay bribes simply to operate and get ahead).

    And as others here have said, China is a complicated place that’s hard to get a grip on it from a distance. You might be surprised by the overwhelming amount of capitalist enterprise and energy that permeates Chinese society from top to bottom. It is the furthest thing from a gray North Korea that you can imagine.

  24. Lisa, Great comment. The entrepreneurial spirit is in all people. Well, almost all people. The Chinese have a culture predating the quite recent travesty of Communism of strong entrepreneurial drive. The problem w/ Communist and recently reformed Communist countries[I use “reformed” loosely w/ KGB Putin] is the capitalism emanates from the government rather than from individuals as it does in free market countries. That is a fundamental difference. I hope China and Russia become more free market but I don’t see it in my lifetime. Of course, for some “free market” is profanity. I don’t even deal w/ those folks. I’m a free market w/ reasonable controls person.

  25. And Lisa, the way true capitalism will be achieved in China is through small business being created. Small biz are the commandos of an economy. In this country, even though the odds are stacked in favor of corporations and corporate welfare, small businesses thrive. Their personal contact and relationship w/ their clients/customers is something a corporation can never match.

  26. It’s simply magical how a single picture of a river that has gone red in China draws the attention of the entire world. Where no one knew, now everyone knows.

    There’s far greater environmental damage right here at home, but we choose to ignore it rather than express our outrage.

    See what Mike Adams has to same about it. His subscriber numbers by now are the envy of every major newspaper in the world, yet he is vilified by those who only want to maintain the corruption that plagues us all. Considering the legal implications he brings up, some of us here mine find it as interesting as the environmental issues in China.

    What I can’t fathom is how so many of us have our heads in the sand when it comes to contamination in our food supply, which contamination by now, when you include trans fat since its formulation in the early 20th century, has caused premature death many times greater then all the combined wars of mankind. The Mississippi River isn’t long enough to float all the dead bodies. What’s it going to take to finally get our attention, a picture of the Mississipi jammed with floating dead bodies?

    GMO pushers horrified at idea of being held responsible for their role in farmer suicides, crop failures and environmental devastation
    by Mike Adams , the Health Ranger
    Sunday, July 27, 2014

  27. Don’t forget about the Elk River fiasco in WV. That certainly wasn’t very nice stuff that made it into the river due to sloppiness, neglect, and government not doing the job they are supposed to do with the money they take from us.

  28. “It is fine and dandy to dump on the Chinese for their environmental problems. But we should recognize our part. We get cheap Chinese-made products exactly because the Chinese are willing to forgo tacking on the external costs of environmental degradation to the means of production.

    Are we willing to accept any responsibility? Or is it just easier to laugh at the bargains we get shopping at Walmart priced at the expense of the Chinese environment, instead of buying American, or buying from socially/environmentally-responsible corporations?”

    Great comment, JC.

    SWM–I thought we practiced crony capitalism here!😉

    Unfortunately, this incident is just the latest in a long string of problems:

  29. Two years ago it was a portion of the Yangtze River that turned red–but then it was blamed on erosion from heavy rains dumping red silt into the water.

    Note, however, there IS an EPA in China:
    “Indeed, on 7 September the Chongqing Environmental Protection Agency noted on its website that a water-quality monitoring centre on the Yangtze had detected very high concentrations of silt in the river. The agency says that torrential rain in the upper Sichuan province caused huge amounts of silt to wash into the Yangtze. It also says that the water does not contain hazardous or noxious substances.”

    (I was surprised to learn this, too!)

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