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Polluted waters of QianTang River  Environmentalist Yun Jianli 2008   
 
Above: left - the swirling polluted waters of the Qian Tang River near Hangzhou China. Right - Yun Jianli - a vigorous environmentalist and head of the Green River NGO on China's Han River. 
 
In this episode entitled "CITIZEN GREEN," we profile the efforts of a variety of NGO's in China.   Some are struggling with red tape and industrial resistance, others are making a difference.
We also visit Japan where citizens and government in Tokyo are making remarkable strides in the area of re-cycling.

This episode first aired on California Public Broadcast station KCSM-TV digital channel 43 in the San Francisco area
at 5:30 pm Pacific Time on July 3, 2008.
    It was released to all US Public Broadcast Stations in November 2008.   It aired in Hong Kong on ATV World on May 25, 2010.   If you are a broadcaster and wish to air this program contact
This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it     This program was also adapted and expanded for the one hour documentary 'MAKING A DIFFERENCE.'
 
An unedited transcript of this program is published below:


 

[theme music]

ANNOUNCER VO: Earth Factor Asia With Lorraine Hahn
The Power of Citizen Green.

--

Welcome to Earth Factor Asia from Beijing.  In finding solutions to Asia's daunting environmental problems, efforts of government and business leaders count for little without popular support.

On this program we'll be looking at the extra-ordinary efforts being made by ordinary people across Asia

In China in particular, environmental activism is taking its first faltering steps.  We begin with the stories of two women, whose experiences highlight the very mixed fortunes of going green here.

The fishing boats hang - expectantly - along the banks of the Qian Tang River - as they have for thirty years.

For nearly that long, Shao Guantong has come here each day.   Shao painstakingly lowers his boat into the water.    Prepares his nets.

All before setting off for a day - in which he used to catch as much as 60 pounds of  fish - enough to sell and feed his family.

But that was then and this is now.

SOT:  A few years ago here pollutants began to destroy the feeding grounds so the  fish have nothing to eat anymore.  There's too much oil and pesticide in the water.


Today Shao is likely to yield nearly nothing from the waters of the Qian Tang. 

And what he does catch is often not fit to eat.

Waiting to help haul in the catch - or more often just haul in the boat - is Shao's     wife - Wei Dongying.

SOT: (grasping fishing line)  The research that has been done  shows that there are more than 400 waste water pipes depositing chemicals into the river, chemicals which are really hard to break down. 

Mrs. Wei is pretty well known around here.      She's a tireless campaigner. 

Chinese newspapers have published articles about her.

She has waged a relentless effort to clean up the waters.

But she has had troubled fortunes and mixed results.

Since 1992, Mrs. Wei's fishing village of Wuli has become home to an expanding industrial park.

Part of China's six hundred mile eastern corridor of rapidly growing industry -    employing millions. 

Raising the incomes of people once dependent on farming and fishing.

But at a cost - which Wei Dongying was to discover.

In 1998, Mrs. Wei began to suspect her own water well was polluted.  She later  became ill.  As it turned out - only a benign tumour.

 But soon Wei began gathering water samples - certain that factories were dumping tons of waste into the river which were not only poisoning the fish but causing hundreds of people in Wuli to fall ill.

Today she's displays quite a collection of bottles of polluted water.

[dumps bottles on the floor - open here sound of bottles spilling]

SOT:  There are all colors of polluted water.  This one looks like milk but of course it's not.

She sent some of the bottles off to the Environmental Protection Agency for testing.

Acting on her tips, the state has shut down one factory which makes pesticides. 

In the village - people say because of Mrs Wei things have improved.  But not enough.

Wuli is now known as a "CANCER village."

In the past seven years, in a town of fewer than 2000, 72 people have died from various cancers.

SOT:   You can smell the chemicals from the factories. They are the reasons so many people have got sick here.    If things continue like this everyone in the village will get cancer eventually 

Mrs. Wei has kept a diary and a list of those afflicted.

Despite her best efforts - the factories continue to violate the law - to pollute.  Often at night.

And so by stealth, flashlights and bottle in hand -  Wei and her husband carefully climb down the river embankment to gather more samples.

It has been a struggle for the couple in more than one way.

They have been threatened by the factory workers in the plant next door to Wei's home.

The workers fear environmental activism could cost them their jobs were their factory to be shut down.

SOT:   My husband and I went to challenge the chemical plant one night.  The dragged us away and roughed us up. 

Mrs. Wei does not want to push too hard anymore.

Being a citizen activist is a precarious business.

Other campaigners elsewhere have been arrested or imprisoned for going too far. 

Mrs Wei complains she has no political connections. Little money.  Little power.  Little support.

(up sound in Chinese "yige ren...")

SOT:    A one person effort cannot work.  I keep reporting the water is bad.  The factories keep saying it is good.  I am not a well educated woman.  I know little.  What can a poor fisherman's wife do?  

Still -  Mrs Wei continues to campaign -- and test the waters.

You'll no doubt find Wei dongying and her husband - hunched down over a bubbling cauldron of polluted water gathering samples.

Hoping their individual actions will somehow promote government action.

And perhaps hoping too that - as Rob McBride now reports -

other campaigners are having greater success in cleaning the waters.

[end LH VO]

(Earth Factor Asia wipe)

[RM VO]   [up sound briefly people singing]

On the Quayside of the Han River in Xianfang in Central China - they are in full song - led by a woman who has everything to sing about.

Yun Jianli has hustled and bustled together a

vibrant environmental NGO called, "The Green

Han River."  And by anybody's standards it's

achieving results. 

With her band of red-coated volunteers, she's

brought about major improvements in the

heavily polluted Han River and its tributaries,

through a campaign of local water monitoring

and advocacy.

Any obstacles or local skepticism, proving no

match for her feisty personality.

SOT - 'hello' [Chinese greetings]

This day marks an especially important one in her

mission - the arrival of a river boat to help carry

out her work on the Han, thanks to a donation

from an American NGO.

SOT -  The Han is one of China's four great rivers along with the Yellow, the Yangtse and the Huai. In order to protect the river, a lot of small factories that were polluting were closed down. Some bigger ones have installed waste water treatment facilities.

With her new boat, Yun can now take her

campaign onto the water itself - this a party of

local school-children receiving the green message.

But these early trips are not without their teething

problems.

[banner falls]

While Yun preaches from the front, the crew

has to play cat and mouse with hidden mud banks.

And when the boat finds the mud momentarily, the

engines are revved and the human ballast is shifted

to get us free again.

This is bare-foot environmentalism, but it's effective.

A younger generation learning not the treat the

river the way their parents did.

[up sound kids ahhh in disgust at polluted water]

All lessons that are hopefully being learned for

life.  And certainly leaving their mark on classmates Xu Yiu Ke and Wei Jing yi.

SOT: "If I see garbage in the Han river I should pick it up. If I can't reach it, I should use a stick."

Yun began her work in 2002.  Alarmed at the

pollution levels in the Han and the other rivers that

feed into it, she set about tracking down and dealing with the polluters.

SOT: The water of White River which runs into the Han was at one time completely was black. It smelled really bad. It's a lot better now.

This trip continues through countryside that

seems productive enough, with fields full of

rape seed and wheat.   But what the villagers want

to grow is rice, which the water from the river is still too polluted to support.

SOT    Because of the pollution we have not been able to grow rice here for many years.  With our efforts and local government action., the river is getting cleaner.  So I hope we can grow rice again in a few years.

If the water isn't fit for agriculture, it certainly isn't fit for people. 

The village of Zhai Wan knows the consequences

of drinking from the river.

A modern well and water treatment plant constructed here, count among Yun's proudest achievements.

SOT: We didn't know the cause of the illnesses but there were a lot of people getting sick.  But since we have been using water from the well we have had only a few cases in the past two years. This water we know is good.

         

Down by the river itself, the water is still far from clean.

Village head, Zhai Jin Han shows us some of the scum that still collects here from industrial pollution upstream.

Waste pulp from paper production.

But it's far better than it used to be, as this picture taken just two years earlier at the same spot shows. 

[SOT - music up - song on bus]

Slowly but surely, Yun is making a difference.

Her upbeat and charismatic campaign has carried her far.

At ease with the media that she's won over onto her side.

Now with a loyal following of some 2,000 volunteers and seeming to pickup more volunteers wherever her campaign goes.

(up sound in Chinese)

SOT: When the volunteers come to us, we are like a big family.  I am like the older Aunt who helps co-ordinate things.  At first we emphasized education.  Now it is participation that the important thing - ordinary citizens, government, even the kids in kindergarten.

She is also very skillful at playing the political game.

Having formerly worked in public administration she knows just how the system works, and just how far she can play it.

SOT: There are things that NGO's do better than government cannot. And we have to make the government realize our value and work with officials in their campaigns.

The last stop on this trip is to celebrate another success, thanks in part to a donation from the Japanese Government.

SOT: This is a symbol of friendship between China and Japan.  It will improve people's here.

In the village of Liu Wan the water is about to be turned on for the first time, at their soon-to-be-completed well and water pumping station.

Another village thankful that a woman named Yun decided to take a stand.

(sound up in Chinese - then water is released)

{END PACKAGE}

[Up sound Ma Jun]"An estimated 60% of the monitored sections of our rivers got contaminated...

Being an activist in China - as we've seen - can be a delicate balancing act... 

But one man who seems to have that balance right is Ma Jun - journalist turned environmentalist.

We joined him along one of Beijing's canals - built under Kublai Khan in the 13th century -canals the government now struggles to keep clean.

Ma spends much of his time monitoring industrial pollution in China's waters and air; trying to get factories to do something about it.

Ma says succeeding as part of the green movement here is all about building trust - slowly.

2710 China has a long history and throughout that history China has been ruled in a top down way.  There's not much tradition for citizen involvement in public governance.  Now China is trying to build a modern society and the government has realized it cannot do everything; it cannot manage everything by itself.  It needs non governmental organizations to fill up some of the gaps.  2800

Ma Jun's NGO - the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs - is tiny.   Two or three researchers housed in a small apartment.

Using government reports, his staff compiles an online data base of up to 18 thousand companies - which in one way or the other are breaking China's environmental laws.

He then puts this - ‘list of shame' - on line.

SOT:  you actually get the data on water quality the amount of discharge and the list of polluter by year.

Ma showed me a map filled with polluting companies - some of whom - after they're exposed - come to Ma to - clear their name.

2/320  Fifty or sixty of them have actually come to this office to explain what went wrong, how they fixed the problem; so they actually provided all these documents to explain what happened and with follow up data..

LH:  how do you get companies to come to you?

425 We start with something modest.   This is a way that is less confrontational.  We try to work with the company to solve the problem, rather than simply try to confront them.  454

Overall - Ma says - environmental LAWS are GOOD in China.

This issue is enforcement.

0355 Obviously the enforcement of our rules and regulations must be strengthened by the government. 

LH:  What about fines?

The cost of violation is much lower than the cost of compliance.

There's a subsidiary of the American brand Carlsberg for example.

A joint venture in the northwest of China. We sent them two letters - twice a year.  Requiring a fine.  But the fine was 5000 RMB yuan and to build a sewage plant it would cost them 3.9 million yuan.

Clearly - it's easier to pay the fine.

For Ma Jun - catching environmental culprits is a bit like catching fish in this old canal... 

It takes time and patience...

  And ... dedication...

(music and graphics wipe)

Individual efforts, when combined, can achieve results.  And one place that seems to be able to harness the power of  the individual better  is Japan.  So it's no surprise that when it comes to one of the simplest contributions- that of recycling - Tokyo leads the way.

They are the everyday things that the people of Tokyo throw away - but are certainly not garbage.                  

Paper and cardboard in one corner of the plant.     

(up sound)

Tin cans in another section.

Bottles - both plastic and glass - elsewhere.  

(up sound)

This is one of Tokyo's model recycling plants at work, methodical, efficient, working through the mountains of recyclables that Asia's most affluent metropolis generates each day.

As evidence of what this society can afford to throw away, take a look upstairs.                                           

A showroom of perfectly good furniture that went out with the garbage.  But now cleaned up and given a number to find a new life in someone else's home.

SOT  "During the years of rapid economic growth, Japan of became a society where there was mass consumption and dumping on a large scale. It was cheaper to buy another product that it was to recycle it.  And because of that, industry had a hands off approach.  So it meant the local authorities had to step in."                

This is one of the ways the authorities step in.                           

An elementary school, closed because of Japan's falling birth rate, but now finding itself recycled as a centre for local residents to learn about greener ways of living.

It is situated in the Minato-ku Ward of Tokyo, in the once heavily industrialized and polluted area near Tokyo Bay.

Next to Haneda airport, this part of town is also home      to one of Tokyo's hi-tech centers for processing industrial and construction waste.

Materials are shaken - shredded - and pummeled into their re-usable base materials.  It is all part of Tokyo's ambition to become the most recycled place on earth.           

SOT: "If you dump the waste into a landfill, it is just that - waste.  But we see if differently.  There is real value in the waste, and through recycling and sorting, we can realize some of that value.  That's our mission."    

Managing to recycle more than 90-percent of everything that passes through here, this plant represents Tokyo's city-wide drive to become a model steward of the environment.

SOT: "We used to send out garbage for processing to other prefectures in Japan, but since this project has started, the attitude is now that we have to clean up our own waste ourselves."

But for many environmentalists, the Tokyo experience represents the way that all cities should develop some day - ordinary people, industry and government working in clear partnership.

SOT - "Because the people who produce the waste are the residents, we have to have their support or nothing can get started.  But then we have to have the infrastructure for recycling, so that's where industry comes in.  And the administration needs to oversee it all, so the efforts of all three are needed."

                                                                            

In the hushed corridors of Tokyo's city hall,

Delegates of citizens groups, business, and government. They've come together for an evening meeting on much grander plans for their city - a ten year climate change strategy.

The Plan is to reduce Tokyo's CO2 emissions drastically.

By using the latest in environmental technology to create not only a low carbon economy -  But to make this city - CARBON MINUS.  

Leaving no footprint at all.

Impractical goal.  Perhaps.  But an example of people, NGO's and government working together...

And it all started one bottle and can at a time.

(music ups and wipe)

Finally  -- on this episode -- we've focused on citizens who've been campaigning on behalf of their fellow citizens, but we end on the story of one man who has dedicated himself to protecting the wildlife we share the environment with. 

Professor Pan Wenshi lives in a remote corner of China's Guangxi Province.  He's widely regarded as one of the founding fathers of Chinese environmentalism.

Most mornings or evenings, you will find him here.

This is Professor Pan Wenshi.

Walking among his favorite hills. On the look out for his favorite primate.

And emerging from the sheer wooded  slopes

above him, the ever playful and distinctively

marked, white headed langurs.

A monkey that is unique to this one small corner of Guangxi near the border with Vietnam,  inhabiting the equally unique limestone hills.

Professor Pan first came here in the early nineties,  and was immediately struck by both the place and its rare inhabitants.

SOT:  When I saw them for the first time, I was so amazed.   They had very distinctive markings.  They had babies with yellow fur. Just like they are at the moment.  It was the first time I had been in a semi tropical forest like this and it left such a big impression.

It began a relationship that has seen the once

endangered langur, grow from only several

hundred, to more than 800 today.

In reversing their decline, Professor

Pan had to tackle the increasing conflict between the monkeys and the people who farm the rich land surrounding the hills.

(Chinese language up sound)

SOT: When I went around the village, I noticed piles of firewood everywhere.  And I realized that everyone: old people right down to the youngsters would go off in the carts to collect firewood from around the base of the hills.  These were the very  Trees the monkeys relied on for their food..

Occupying a former army barracks, he established his NGO with the goal of taking a holistic approach to the welfare of the whole community, as a way of protecting the langurs within it.

SOT: I became more and more aware that in order to improve the environment, we would need everyone's efforts from the villagers all the way through to the government.  If the livelihood of the people improved, then they will want to protect it and people would say -‘oh Professor Pan has come from so far way to protect our monkeys.  We should do the same.

One of his first tasks was trying to reduce the

damage being done to the trees covering the

slopes, by the villagers' demands for fire wood.

In this rural area, with its heavy dependence upon the water buffalo, the answer seemed obvious -  utilize the plentiful supply of animal dung to provide biogas for cooking.

In the Wei family household, the odious but

necessary daily chore of feeding the biogas tanks with a mixture of manure, water and straw.

The result, a steady supply of gas to the kitchen stove. 

SOT: It has made a big difference to our routine.  We no longer spend a lot of time collecting fire wood.

Reducing the amount of tree cutting for firewood had obvious and immediate benefits for the langurs.

But as Professor Pan had hoped, the villagers - often wary of things new or unfamiliar - were brought round when they saw an obvious benefit for themselves.

On camera SOT "Without the need to be constantly collecting firewood, the villagers have found they have more time on their hands for their cash crops - sugar cane - and production in the field has nearly doubled."

And Professor Pan has extended the policy of  looking after people as much as the langur, way beyond the sugar cane fields.

He helps support a local school.

And on this day, he's off on a visit to a local hospital, also supported by his NGO.

The hospital that he helped to establish, is primitive by most standards, but in this part of rural China, it provides an essential service.

Here as elsewhere in this locality, Professor Pan is a familiar and respected figure.

Nearly twenty years into his mission, Professor Pan shows no sign of losing any of his zeal. 

But it is time to think about who will carry on his work.

(MUSIC UP SOT)

A younger generation of environmentalists now work with him, taking up the cause.

On the evening excursions into the hills they

now take up the meticulous work of monitoring the local troops of monkeys. 

While increasingly at Professor Pan's side is his daughter, Pan Yue, who is now helping to

develop the NGO her father founded.

For Pan himself, these trips are still as magical.

And as darkness falls and this community of langurs make their way back to the caves in the sheer cliffs, the proof of Professor Pan's success is evident.

Newly born baby langurs, clinging to their mothers.

SOT  This family, they have only one male and 11 females but this year they have 7 or 8 newborn babies. So we can expect that the population has a very good potential for growing.  

The end of another day for a unique monkey that has a unique environmentalist watching over them

(sting music up and graphic wipe)  And that’s all for this episode of Earth Factor Asia.  I’m Lorraine Hahn. See you again next time.  (music up and into credits)
 
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