News Feature | August 13, 2014

In Response To Water Crisis, Chinese Public Officials Swim In Polluted Waters

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome


One Chinese province is taking an untraditional approach to addressing water pollution: drafting public officials to swim in questionable waters. If that strategy doesn't make sense to you, you're not alone.

"It’s not clear exactly what the [Zhejiang province] hopes to accomplish with the new initiative," the Wall Street Journal reported.

One possibility is that a recent political event helped motivate the new policy. 

The swimming test may be "a nod to a challenge last year from Zhejiang businessman Jin Zengmin. Mr. Jin offered 200,000 yuan for the province’s environmental protection chief Bao Zhenming to take a dip in a river in Ruian town. To make his point, he posted a picture of trash clogging up the river on his Chinese Weibo account," the report said.

The policy may have some historical inspiration, as well. 

"There’s a rich political symbolism associated with leaders swimming in rivers in China thanks to Mao Zedong, who took a famous dip in the Yangtze River in 1966, accompanied by a team of bodyguards and 5,000 admirers, to prove he was still robust on the eve of the Cultural Revolution. But the destruction wrought in the decade following the Great Helmsman’s swim makes it a dubious template for today’s officials," the Wall Street Journal reported.

The dire nature of water pollution in China is a top challenge for the country. It's unclear "whether Mao would be willing to swim in any of China’s rivers were he still alive today. Nearly 60 percent of China’s water is either moderately or seriously polluted, according to the Ministry of Land and Resources’s annual report released this April," the report said. 

The coastal province of Zhejiang, which enacted the unusual policy, is notorious for its polluted waters. "China's national broadcaster CCTV reported thatmore than 80 percent of the waters of the East China Sea outside Zhejiang Province were polluted by constant industrial discharge," People’s Daily reported.

China's pollution problems are not confined to water. 

"Soil pollution has received relatively little public attention in China. Despite the fact that it poses as big a threat to health as the more widely covered air and water pollution, data on soil pollution has been so closely guarded that it has been officially categorized as a 'state secret,'" Yale Environment 360 recently reported

Image credit: "Algae and dead fish in Dianchi Lake, China" eutrophication&hypoxia © 2009, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license:

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