LI YANG Memories: Pungent smell, ‘ lost in smog’
The first five years of my life were spent in a workshop in the largest paint factory in Jinan, Shandong province. The pungent smell of the air was my earliest memory of life in the early 1980s.
Factory-built bungalows for workers were beside the most polluted river in the city, not far from the paint factory. Local farmers irrigated paddy fields along the river. My parents fed me the rice sold by farmers.
I thought the soil could clean the dirty irrigation water from the river and the rice was edible because older children had eaten the rice for nearly 20 years and they grew well.
I still remember the smelly, smoggy air shrouding the city in the morning on my way to school. Few people wore masks.
Sitting on the back seat of my father’s bicycle, I even wrote a poem in my mind about the smog: “Lost in the smog, I only see myself”.
In school the art teacher taught children to draw a picture of modern cities. I remember that she said big chimneys vomiting black smoke beside tall apartment buildings were the symbol of a modern city and a good life. Paintings with those two symbols won high marks.
Then I thought private cars were far beyond any teachers’ imaginations at the school that was sponsored by the city’s only State-owned meat-processing factory.
Buying pork at a much lower price than the market price was a bonus for workers at the factory. But today most of my elementary school classmates’ parents are paralyzed by cerebral thrombosis because they fed themselves too much pork from the pigs that were given feed rich in fattening preparations and other chemicals.
The great famine in the early 1960s and shortages in the planned economy shaped views about food for many Chinese families. Eating more than one needs is the most popular life style for the working class and farmers, when they could afford to do so in the 1980s.
People’s awareness of environmental pollution and food contamination gradually increased after 2000 with the spread of the Internet.
Food safety and pollution issues seemed to pop up overnight, and covered almost every area of the domestic food industry. Air, water and soil pollution forced affluent people to emigrate to the other countries.
Last year, the tens of hundreds of tons of cadmiumcontaminated rice from Hunan province was the warning bell for Chinese people about soil pollution for the first time.
Some analysts even estimate that 10 percent of the rice in the Chinese market is contaminated by cadmium, a cancercausing heavy metal.
A covert public threat, soil pollution had been a taboo in the government’s discourse until late last month when the ministries disclosed the results of the national soil quality survey.
Before that, some authorities even categorized the extent of soil pollution as a state secret and refused to respond to the public’s questions.
Many residential communities are on soil contaminated by chemical factories. After 1949, Chinese cities grew around big polluting factories, but the public has long been kept in the dark about the safety of soil. Contact the writer at liyang@ chinadaily.com.cn