Worldwide Locations

Worldwide Locations

China’s Environmental Movement: A Journalist’s Perspective

Tourists take in the view of the Forbidden City from atop Coal Hill in Jingshan Park, north of the former imperial palace on a smoggy day in Beijing on December 10, 2009. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images)

Tourists take in the view of the Forbidden City from atop Coal Hill in Jingshan Park, north of the former imperial palace on a smoggy day in Beijing on December 10, 2009. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images)

Liu Jianqiang, is a former senior investigative reporter at Southern Weekend, China's most influential investigative newspaper, where he provided front-line and in-depth coverage of China's burgeoning environmental movement. Some of Liu's most influential articles include his 2004 expose on the controversial Tiger Leaping Gorge dams in Yunnan province. The story was personally read by Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, who then ordered the project to be suspended pending a central government investigation. Liu's 2005 article on the Summer Palace lake reconstruction resulted in the State Environmental Protection Administration holding China's first state-level public environmental hearing.

Liu Jianqiang was at Asia Society Northern California to participate in a talk entitled "China's Environmental Movement - A Journalist's Perspective." In this exclusive interview with Asia Society Northern California's Neha Sakhuja, he discussed his investigative stories on the ecological impact and displacement of people by China's hydroelectric projects, special interest groups harming China's environment and the constant struggle against censorship.

NS:
What are some of the key environmental problems affecting China today?

LJ: One of the key environmental problems in China is water. The situation is very serious! The government officials in China claim that 90 percent of drinking water is not good. The rivers are also polluted and massive dam construction on a majority of China's rivers is posing a huge challenge. Displacement of thousands of people is something very little is being done about. People are losing their homes and resettlement is not something that is talked about.

Another issue is the quality of air in China. Beijing still fares better compared to other cities in China mainly because it was host to the 2008 Olympic Games, and yes, a lot of the government officials stay there. However, five years ago there was this data which said "The average life of a traffic policeman in Beijing is 48 years because they stand in the street." I think it is a secret and not many people know about this. The situation is not very good in cities in Henan province and Shanxi province in middle parts of China where air pollution caused by cars and factories is very high.

Land pollution is another topic which is recently being reported about. In my opinion the food is polluted by the soil. I have even reported about the effects of GM (genetically modified) rice and climate change.

NS: What are the various impediments to environmental journalism in China and how has this changed over time?

LJ: The environment in China is not politics; politics is very sensitive. Journalists do find it easier to report about the environment.  But my question has always been who is really harming China's environment? It's not you, me or the common people. It's the huge interest groups out there. From local governments to companies and corporations, there are huge stakes in maximizing profit.

When we highlight these stories, journalists are threatened by companies and local governments. This one instance, when a colleague and I were reporting about the Tiger Leaping Gorge dam in Yunnan province - my colleague was detained for four hours and when we did publish the article, the hydropower company called us and told me that the report was false and asked us to issue a public apology.