The move is bold, inspired, and desperate.
According to photos posted by a local journalist named He Guangwei (@何光伟) on Sina Weibo, China’s main micro-blogging platform, peasants from Gouli village in Henan Province hoisted a banner at the gate of the provincial-level environmental protection agency (EPA) that invited the officials to ”have a taste of the ‘pure water’ from the ground under Gouli village.”
The villagers brought samples of their groundwater — murky, dirty, full of sediment and obviously non-potable. According to Mr. He, the peasants complained about pollution from nearby factories, including a cement factory, a salinization factory, and two other chemical plants that produced hydrochloric acid and caustic soda.
Ever since the salinization factory began production, according to the villagers, the local groundwater became completely undrinkable and the villagers have to buy expensive purified water for their daily needs.
And what drew their ire to the EPA is that instead of taking any punitive measures against the offending factory, the EPA allowed the factory to pass its environmental impact evaluation.
The post was retweeted more than 4,800 times and drew almost 800 comments. Many netizens called for the local EPA director, Wang Zhaping, to rise to the occasion and drink the water. @伊921 wrote, “Be a good cadre and drink up! What’s the big deal? You will reincarnate soon and be a new man in 20 years’ time.” Some suspected that the EPA took bribes from the polluting factories.
User @赵夫江 shared the pollution problems in his hometown: “The water from the 5o-meter deep well is only drinkable after a day [spent] to filter out the sediments. The village drilled a 500-meter deep well, but water is still not good. Drinking water is a big problem.”
As Tea Leaf Nation previously reported, some of China’s worst polluters have moved inland to rural areas in recent years, further away from coastal urban centers where pollution is both embarrassing and destabilizing. In rural China, villagers are often less educated about their rights than their urban compatriots and have little means of redress against polluters.
These villagers in Gouli, however, seem to have found a good way to publicize their cause on China’s social media. Mr. He reported that the local EPA visited the village three days after the protest. No word, however, on whether they sat down for a cup of tea made from the groundwater.