A woman collects a sample of the red polluted water flowing from a sewer into the Jian River in Luoyang, north China's Henan province. The river was red because dye was dumped into the city's storm water pipe network in 2011.(Photo: Getty Images)
By Calum MacLeod, USA TODAY
BEIJING - Swim for a half-hour in a river in east China's Cangnan county and win $48,000.
Sound like easy money? Take a look at the river.
angry at their toxic and trash-choked rivers have made online offers of
cash rewards to the chiefs of their local government's environmental
protection bureaus to take a swim in the waterways they are in charge of
One Internet posting offers $32,000 if an official
will spend 20 minutes in a river in Rui'an or $16,000 for a 10-minute
river dip in Dongguan down south.
None of the Internet users
expects the officials to take the bait. The social media campaign
against water pollution that inspired these rewards leads some analysts
to hope authorities will take action after the relative success of a
public movement to increase government transparency over the abysmal air
quality in many Chinese cities.
China's water and air quality has
long been sacrificed by the government to China's thirst for industrial
growth in recent decades. Even the government releases grim statistics:
64% of groundwater in 118 Chinese cities is "severely polluted," state
news agency Xinhua reports.
To provide examples, Chinese
journalist and activist Deng Fei, whose Twitter-like micro-blog has
almost 3 million followers, asked people last week to post pictures of
rivers in their hometowns as they traveled there for the recent Chinese
New Year celebrations.
The strong response, by thousands of
Chinese Internet users, "shows more Chinese pay close attention to
pollution, and now they have the tools to express their opinions," Deng
Although China's citizens still lack formal channels, such
as democratic elections, to influence their government, this social
media-driven campaign "has become a large-scale discussion topic that
shows the will of the people," so China's "parliament," the National
People's Congress (NPC), and ministries must take notice, he said.
delegates to next month's annual session of the NPC - when the ruling
Communist Party's new leader, Xi Jinping, will be appointed president -
promised to raise the issue of water pollution, Deng said.
rewards for hazardous swimming started Saturday when eyeglass
entrepreneur Jin Zengmin posted photos online of a filthy river in
Rui'an in Zhejiang province, with his $32,000 bet for the area's
environmental protection director. Jin reminisced about swimming in the
river as a child and watching his mother washing clothes there.
"Even animals don't dare swim in these rivers, much less officials," Deng said.
offering of money "is an expression of anger and frustration over the
dereliction of duty by local environmental officials and their failure
to enforce the rules," said Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public
and Environmental Affairs, a Beijing-based non-profit group.
Middle-aged Chinese "remember their rivers used to be cleaner, drinkable, swimmable and touchable, but no longer."
social media push has the potential to grow into something similar to
the air quality campaign, given that the problem of water pollution is
as bad, or even worse, Ma said.
"The local government still puts GDP rate ahead of environmental protection. We need the public to change that," he said.
chief environmental official in Rui'an, Bao Zhenmin, blamed river
pollution on rubbish discarded by residents and migrant workers, not
shoe factories as Jin alleged. Bao promised steps to reduce the problem,
Deng said the answer is for the
government to share more information with the public about water
discharges, increase legal penalties against illegal discharges and ease
restrictions on people filing lawsuits in environmental cases.
He said environmental offices should be controlled by Beijing, not the local governments often responsible for pollution.
Contributing: Sunny Yang