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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

China’s Environment

Air Date: Week of

(Courtesy of Next City)

Dai Qing has been an environmental activist since she left the Chinese Communist Party when tanks rolled into Tianamen Square in 1989. On a recent trip to the U.S. she came to our studio to tell host Bruce Gellerman about her experiences and the environmental situation in her homeland today.


GELLERMAN: China’s leaders have plotted an ambitious course to ensure the nation’s power-hungry economy does not sputter and fall. Over the next 15 years, they plan to build 30 nuclear plants and double the nation’s hydroelectric output by 2010.

Much of that energy will come from the controversial Three Gorges project, which harnesses China’s mightiest river, the Yangtze. Hundreds of towns, villages, and ancient sites were submerged to create a reservoir as long as Lake Superior, and nearly two million residents were forced to relocate.

While promising energy for the future, the Three Gorges project also fueled China’s fledgling environmental movement, which was powered by a human dynamo - dissident journalist Dai Qing. Known as "DQ" by her friends, she published a book about the environmental consequences of the Three Gorges project. It’s called "The River Dragon Has Come." The book was banned in China, but Dai Qing has brought it West, and she’s here in our studios - may I call you DQ?

QING: Yes, of course.

GELLERMAN: Your book was written in 1990. It was published in English in, what, 1998? You predict some very dire consequences from the Three Gorges project. You say there’s going to be 1.9 million people displaced, ancient sites submerged underwater, that there was going to be flooding of hundreds of towns. It was going to be really a mess. Have your predictions come true? I mean, this project’s almost finished now.

QING: It will come worse than what we researched in 1980’s because, right now, lots of things get worse already. At the beginning, the builder of the Three Gorges project promised compensation. But actually, the central government only gave the money not directly to the people they’re uprooting but to the officials. And when the money arrived it’s very little. So right now, the hate, the angry, just accumulates in their heart, and maybe one day, when the environment gets worse and worse, they cannot live. So something definitely will happen. But it’s a beginning.

(Courtesy of Next City)

GELLERMAN: There were some really dramatic environmental spills and catastrophes that have happened in China just in the last few months. I’m reminded of a chemical spill on a river where they had to truck water in to the city for everyone to drink.

QING: Yeah, these kind of things have already happened. And it is going to happen in the future because in China there is no law to limit the big companies’ behavior. Of course, we have some environment-protecting laws, but when the officials try to let it work, lots of things happen. You know, pay some money to the company and then everything is resolved.

GELLERMAN: Corruption?

QING: Corruption.

GELLERMAN: China sounds like an awfully polluted, dangerous place.

QING: Yeah, I agree with you, and the main reason, I think, is the ownership is not clear. The river belongs to whom? And the mine belongs to whom? And the land belongs to whom? And if you have some connection with the authority you can get the right to develop something. You know, you don’t have to pay for the resource. Very few people see behind the figures; the cost of resources and environment and human rights is huge.

GELLERMAN: You have these thousands of protests. People getting shot. You have people getting thrown off their land.

QING: Mm-hmm.

GELLERMAN: I was reading that the environmental protests have gone up dramatically in China over the years. In 2003, there was something like 58,000 protests – and these are government numbers. In 2004, there was something like 74,000. Do you see that becoming broader? Not just an environmental movement, but a political opposition movement that could challenge and disrupt the Communist Party?

QING: I think it’s already a political project. Because if they just obey and obey, they have totally no sense of their basic rights. This is old China, you know, Chinese, they’re so used to dictatorship they’re just looking for a good emperor in their country. So if the living condition is just okay, they will obey the government. But right now China, the Chinese people, with the help of journalists and environmental NGO’s, they got sense that they should try to protect themselves. So I think this will become a political movement, and I think it’s very important.

GELLERMAN: Now I know your dad was in the Communist Party. Were you ever in the Party yourself?

QING: I was a Communist Party member, and I quit the second day when the tanks, you know, went through the Tiananmen Street.

GELLERMAN: You were in jail.

QING: I was in jail. One person, one small cell.

GELLERMAN: And what were the charges against you?

QING: No charge. Just detain.

GELLERMAN: And why’d they let you go?

QING: Because no evidence. It’s very difficult to charge me. And everybody knows the true reason I was arrested [was] because I show my different opinion about Three Gorges project.

GELLERMAN: By you talking to me, and us broadcasting this conversation…

QING: Uh-huh.

GELLERMAN: You go back to Beijing. Are you afraid?

QING: I can say right now I have lost almost everything. I have no medical insurance, I have nothing. Only I insisted that live in Beijing and just watch what kind of policy, what kind of things they are going to do. So, you know, maybe people will think that I give my opinion frankly and then I’ll face a very dangerous situation. My answer is, my situation is dangerous enough.

GELLERMAN: Would they put you in jail again?

QING: I don’t think so. I don’t think so, because right now the prison is already full of corrupted officials already. I don’t think there’s enough room for liberal independent intellectuals.

GELLERMAN: So, DQ, why do you still stay in China then?

QING: I’m Chinese. This is my motherland. And I’m a writer. My reader is in mainland China so I have to stay with them, suffer with them, fight with them. So this is my choice.

GELLERMAN: DQ, thank you for coming in.

QING: Thank you for giving me the chance to share my opinion.

GELLERMAN: Dai Qing’s book is called "The River Dragon Has Come."



International Rivers Network


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