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On Social Media, Chinese Citizens Challenge Officials to Swim in Polluted Rivers

BY Julia Wetherell | Thursday, February 21 2013

A riverbank in Puning, China (Wikimedia Commons).

When the smog crisis in China escalated last month, even the tight-lipped state media broke down and joined the widespread complaints across social media that the government wasn't doing enough to curb industrial pollution.  A month later, netizens are mobilizing again; and this time they are directly confronting state officials about the country’s thousands of polluted waterways.  

Global Voices reports that users of Sina Weibo, the popular Chinese microblogging platform, have been aggregating photo documentation of river pollution in their hometowns.  The effort began earlier this month during the Chinese New Year celebration, when a prominent activist named Deng Fei posted a call to arms asking for the images.  Time Magazine wrote yesterday that some weibo posts are now offering cash rewards to state officials, challenging them to go swimming in polluted waterways.  One businessman in Rui’an offered 200,000 yuan to a local environmental protection chief, in exchange for a twenty-minute dip in a garbage-choked river. 

Another source of ire expressed on social media has been the government’s proposed plan to ban barbeques to combat air pollution.  With industrial emissions and CO2 output from vehicles blamed for much of the smog problem, many netizens believe this initiative misses the point. 

As with the smog crisis, a few state media outlets have echoed the concerns of Weibo users, including an official government newspaper, The People’s Daily. The open concern in Chinese society about pollution – and the public health crisis it engenders – means this is an issue the government can no longer ignore. 

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