Environmental Campaigner Fears For Life Print
Real China
Robert Bowman   

An Olympic torch runner vows to live in the shadows

The tense atmosphere that the Chinese communists left at the climate change meeting in Copenhagen may have lifted, but the odour of the Chinese government persecution of environment campaigner Tian Guirong, is getting thicker.

Tian, from central China's Henan province, who once won much recognition from Red China for the hard work she was doing to save the land and rivers from being further polluted, no longer dares to sleep in the same bed every night due to fears for her life.

"I'm scared, I don't dare sleep at a fixed place. Tonight I'll be at my son's, tomorrow at my daughter's, or I stay at my association," Tian told AFP in an interview at her office in a derelict former factory in Xinxiang city. "We receive threatening phone calls, and volunteers have also got phone calls at home late at night," she said, adding she thinks those who call are thugs hired by angry factory owners.

Tian decided to take the step of cleaning up the environment in 1998, after people she knew died from diseases she believes were caused by dire levels of pollution.

She collected 65 tons of discarded batteries in four years to save 1 million square meters of land from contamination. She has organized 43 publicity events to spread awareness of environmental protection, and conducted three investigations into the pollution of the Yellow River.

In 2002, Tian Guirong set up a village-based environmental protection NGO with a self-financed program, and now the members of this NGO number 13,000. It is China’s first farmer-run environmental nongovernmental organization, and has launched a website dedicated to safeguarding the environment. Her contributions to combating environmental degradation have earned her numerous awards from home and abroad.

In 2005, Tian was one of the 1000 women proposed for the Nobel Peace Price.

A reporter from Beijing Review interviewed Ms Tian Guirong in 2006:

Q: You began collecting discarded batteries in 1999. What motivated this?

Tian Guirong: I was traveling in Beijing that year and I happened to read a short article in a newspaper. The article said that just one A-size battery could destroy 1 square meter of land, and one mercury-based battery could contaminate 600,000 liters of water–the equivalent amount of what a man would consume in a lifetime. That was a big shock to me because I was a battery dealer, having sold millions of batteries for more than eight years. It’s hard to imagine what damage I could have done if all those batteries were casually thrown away.

Q: So you believed what the newspaper said, and began to reclaim discarded batteries, right?

Actually, after I returned home from Beijing, I made an investigation myself to find out where used batteries go in Xinxiang. I was stunned to discover that some local battery factories dump their waste directly into wells and rivers, or bury them by the side of the Yellow River. I visited a chemical professor at Henan Normal University and the professor confirmed what the newspaper said and told me the proper disposal of used batteries is crucial to environmental protection. Since then I have been determined.

How far can Ms Tian’s determination prosper under communist rule despite the enormous benefits she and her fellow campaigners have brought to society?
While millions of Chinese police, both ‘online’ and ‘offline’ are busy catching people sitting peacefully in front of computers writing their messages on the screen, how many police do the Chinese communists need to stop Tian from saving the environment of China?