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Charles Zhu

Provincial Official Wants YOU To Clean Up His Mess

At least Tony Hayward would sympathize. During the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill fiasco, the then-British Petroleum CEO made a career-ending blunder when he proclaimed, “I’d like to have my life back.” Now Guangxi Autonomous Region vice-chairman Lin Nianxiu has followed up with his own gem.

Just this week, elevated concentrations of cadmium – five times the official Chinese limit of 0.005 mg/L to be exact – were detected along a 100 km (60-mile) stretch of the Longjiang River. The river runs by a number of cities, of which the most populated is Liuzhou, a city of 3.2 million people which derives most of its running water from the river. The most likely source of the pollution was a zinc mine from Guangxi Jinhe Mining Company, because cadmium is a key by-product of zinc production. Striving to show his determination to rectify the disaster, Lin exclaimed, “We’ll spur the entire country’s efforts, and if that’s not enough, we’ll spur the entire world’s efforts to attack this problem.”

Many Chinese netizens ridiculed Lin for his grandiose proclamation that the entire country, or even world, could “foot the bill.” @绊倒在计较间过往 sneered, “The entire world’s efforts? Who does he think he is?” @风马牛主 tweeted, “Don’t know how this Vice Chairman Lin of Guangxi can move the entire country’s will, not to mention the entire world’s will.” But perhaps Lin is attempting to fill the shoes of the departed; @叮当1007 theorized, “Now that the beloved Kim Jong-Il left, Chinese officials have unexpectedly gone back and become North Koreans again.”

What truly irked microbloggers was not Lin’s words, but his actions. @70后vertu上班族 added, “This is pretty funny – using taxpayer money to fix your own mistake while trying to talk like a hero, as if you would sacrifice for the country or the people…evil-hearted officials at play.”

Perhaps in response to Lin’s faltering, alternate policy proposals abounded. @慧慧_lucifer tweeted, “Just mandate that all officials have to drink the water – I guarantee that it will be cleaned up immediately.” @搜捕创意鱼 asked, “Why are you letting others foot the bill?You should compensate us!”

Like the controversy about the real level of PM2.5 pollutants in Beijing, netizen chagrin stems from government handling of the incident as much as the incident itself. The government still very much commits to old “Mao-style” announcements, as one netizen calls it, either giving overdramatic statements or saying almost nothing at all. Like the “dissonant realities” between TV and the Internet, a similar dissonance exists between public statements by the government and the deluge of skepticism on the Internet.

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Charles Zhu

Charles works at an energy and climate change think tank in Washington, D.C, and is a recent graduate of Yale University.