LI YANG Mem­o­ries: Pun­gent smell, ‘ lost in smog’

China Daily (Canada) - - SHANGHAI -

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

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