This article also appears on ChinaFile, a Tea Leaf Nation partner site.
It appears that Chinese environmental activism is going further mainstream. The Sina micro-blogging account of Global Times, a well-known Communist Party mouthpiece, has just shared news about the horrific proliferation of “cancer villages” in China. Earlier today, @环球时报 wrote:
A map of China’s ‘cancer villages’: According to the Beijing Times, the Ministry of Environmental Protection recently published the ‘Twelfth Five-Year Plan for Prevention and Control of Environmental Risks from Chemicals.’ Among its content is a clear demonstration that because of chemical poisoning, ‘cancer villages’ and other serious [threats to] social health have begun to emerge in many areas. Moreover, according to media person Deng Fei, these … ‘cancer villages’ are spreading from the middle of Eastern China to the middle of Western China.
Euphemistically-tagged “media person” Deng Fei might better be described as an environmental activist with a decidedly Web 2.0 twist. As Tea Leaf Nation‘s Liz Carter reported on February 16, Deng Fei recently caused a social media sensation when he “encouraged users of Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter, to share pictures of polluted rivers from their hometowns, taking on local issues in a national campaign.”
At that time, Deng’s campaign appeared to have irked at least authorities. A lawyer named Gan Yuanchuan wrote that “officials from Weifang, Shandong sent some of their subordinates to Beijing to prevent media from breaking the news,” a post that was later deleted by censors.
Global Times‘ recent sharing of this powerful image, accompanied by a weeping emoticon, perhaps signals that higher authorities have decided not only to get behind Deng Fei, but also to open reportage of the existence of so-called “cancer villages.” This refers to Chinese villages whose cancer rates have spiked, each a horrific byproduct of China’s runaway development and lax enforcement of environmental protection laws. As TLN‘s Shelley Jiang wrote in September 2012, Chinese officials have previously acknowledged the existence of “cancer villages,” but there has been a notable discrepancy between official and unofficial tallies. With the admission of the villages’ spread, that gap may begin to close.