If you look for information about rural China you find out some shocking things. For example, along the River Zhangweixin, in southern Shandong, the farmers irrigate their fields with stinking water that is as black as ink and covered in foam. Water that they also have to drink if they aren’t able to dig wells at least 25 meters deep. In the village of Sinusi, the black river reeks so badly that it takes your breath away.
Yin Yugui, local Party chief states: ‘The water has a bitter acidic taste, but it is all we have’. Zhang Dexin, head of the Department of Economics at the University of Dezhou makes an alarming observation: ‘75% of the population work in agriculture, but they only contribute 4.4% to GDP. We need large chemical and power plants to develop our economy and absorb rural workers. A certain amount of pollution can be tolerated’.
Yes, it is shocking that the data show China has serious pollution in 90% of its rivers and lakes, 320 million small farmers have no access to drinking water, 190 million use water that is polluted beyond permitted limits.
All this in a huge country which has only 8% of global water resources to maintain 22% of the world’s population. At the end of 2006 the Chinese government released the information that in 2005 there had been 87,000 public protests by rural people against large corporations polluting their land, many of which involved violent clashes with the police.
In recent years rural development in China has taken second place to the phenomenal growth in industrial production. Industry has been promoted so much that a well-known Chinese economist, Wen Tiejun, was prompted to remark that it was ‘the brutal exploitation of the rural population that enabled the process of capital accumulation and consequent accelerated industrialization. It is time that small farmers began to receive something in return. You might say that the process of colonization that allowed the large global powers to get rich and achieve dominance has been carried out by China on itself in a sort of self-colonization’.
It is a hard and difficult issue for many of us whose lives are so remote from this situation. We continue to examine our agricultural world without thinking about what is happening in China, where every problem we are trying to tackle in Europe is multiplied a thousand times. We are doing what we can, we are beginning to understand that our lifestyle, production and consumption behavior must change, and we are studying alternatives. And China is going on its way, apparently towards a fate worse than our bleakest forecasts. Whatever the difficulties, it is an absolute priority for us to try and address this situation.
First printed in La Stampa on 28 January 2007
Adapted by Ronnie Richards