For $32,000 I would probably swim in a polluted river. Just a dip, mind you, followed by a good scrub down and a healthy bout of retching. Stupid? Maybe, but I need the cash. $48,000? Even more tempting, obviously.

Of course no one would offer me, a pauper-blogger, any money to swim in anything. It would serve no purpose. I am not an environmental officer responsible for the health of China’s rivers or any other rivers for that matter. Even if I was I would probably balk at the publicity and the humiliation of it all. Still, that’s no excuse to have anyone beat up.

An algal bloom in a Shanghai canal, pic: Gwydion M. Williams (Flickr CC)

Farmer Chen Zuqian is one of several people who challenged local environment officers to swim in their local polluted waterways. Chen lives in Zhejiang province near a paper mill, which he has been campaigning to have closed. If you’ve ever driven by a paper mill, you’ll recall the smell. It is definitely not “new book” smell. After one businessman received considerable media attention for offering 200,000 yuan ($32,000 ) to environmental officials if they would take a dip in what basically amounts to a stream of sewage, Chen did the same. Then, on the 24th of February, 40 men and women came to his home and smashed things up – including Chen himself. Chen’s daughter, Chen Xiufang, then posted photos of her father online, showing scratches and bruises on his face, and claimed the attack was orchestrated by local officials.

From the Independent:

One-fifth of China’s rivers are so  polluted that the water is too poisonous for human contact, while 40 per cent of all waterways are seriously polluted, according to information released by state media. Public anger about the country’s polluted rivers is rising, and government sensitivity is increasing as local media start to publicise the problem.

The head of the local Environmental Protection Department told the South China Morning Post that the paper mills in question are operating within regulations and that there are no concerns about local drinking water. Another source told the SCMP that the chief of Pailian village, where the Chens reside, is also one of the paper mill owners. You connect the dots.

Read more about China’s water pollution, citizen activism and government responses in this report from the Associated Press.

On second thought... Rubbish in the Yangtze, Shanghai, pic: Let Ideas Compete (Flickr CC)