22 January 2019

Who’s afraid of pollution?

If Chinese TV programs are any indication, there is not much public awareness in the mainland about the dangers posed by pollution. And it becomes evident that Beijing’s leaders still have a lot to do to enforce the green concept.

In an episode called 10,000 years of happy life (available on for free viewing), there is a scene in which a local government official is trying to persuade his son to shut down a contaminating factory in the town.

Clinging to his big investments, the son, who owns a textile dyeing factory, doesn’t heed the entreaties as he is only concerned about the revenue loss and huge investments it would take to meet standards set by the environmental authority.

Here is part of the script:

Son: Show me a factory that does not pollute.

Father: Our leaders have ordered firm action against pollution to ensure a blue sky again, haven’t you heard that?

Son: That is a slogan; but it’s different if you have to do it. Think about all the losses.

Father: Don’t you see people are dying left and right because of pollution; what’s the point of making all that money if the people are all gone?

Son: I have heard of people starve to death, or beaten to death, drowned, burned, or get hit by a car and lose their lives, but I have never heard of people dying of pollution.

Father: What about all kinds of illnesses brought about by pollution?

Son: I am not a doctor, don’t ask me that.

Father: Tell me, can you fix the pollution problem in your factory or not?

Son: No, not now. Mine is just a small operation, I cannot afford the expensive equipment.

Father: So, what are you going to do about it if you are not shutting down?

Son: Don’t you see I am already working on that.

Refusing to invest in decontamination devices, the son however said that he would actively deal with the problem, taking out an envelope stuffed with cash. His best approach turns out to be bribery.

Drama is after all, drama. But for what it’s worth, it does give an idea about the difficulties of fighting pollution in a society where money is the overriding concern.

A skewed value system is certainly to blame for many ills in China. That said, it is not unreasonable to sympathize a bit with the son as no one would like to burn a huge amount of cash on an activity deemed peripheral at best.

Given this situation, developing low-cost pollution control devices is of utmost importance for Chinese businesses, especially small and medium-sized firms.

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EJ Insight writer

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