Chinese farmer beaten for daring official to swim in filthy river

Activist attacked by 40-strong mob after bet to highlight pollution in China's waterways

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The Independent Online

A Chinese farmer who dared a local environment official to swim in his province’s polluted rivers has been badly beaten in an attack his family says was linked to his activism.

Chen Zuqian, from the township of Banqiao in Zhejiang province, was one of a number of farmers and business people who publicly offered money to government officials to swim in  rivers to highlight the sorry state of China’s waterways.

Mr Chen had been campaigning to shut the paper mills he said were  poisoning his local rivers, after members of his family fell ill. When a local businessman, Jin Zengmin, posted pictures of a rubbish-filled river in Rui’an city on his microblog last week and offered officials 200,000 yuan (£24,000) to take a dip, Mr Chen followed his lead.

But soon after posting his own offer online, a group of men came to Mr Chen’s home, his daughter, Chen Xiufang, told The Independent.

“While Father was alone at home, at 6am on the 24th, around 40 men and women in plain clothes who were recruited by the government came to the house,” she alleged. “They came in and they started smashing everything.”

Ms Chen said her father suffered injuries to his head and feet and that he was now on a drip.

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.

China’s economic boom has been fuelled by factory output. There are stories every year about rivers and lakes throughout the country becoming blocked with algae blooms caused by fertiliser run-off, chemical spills and untreated sewage discharges.

Last month, nine tonnes of the chemical aniline, which is used to make polyurethane and smells like rotten fish, leaked into a river in northern China, contaminating the water supply of a neighbouring province.

In the five years to 2010, China spent 700 billion yuan (£74bn) on water infrastructure, but much of its water remains undrinkable.

Increasingly, the desperate state of China’s rivers is not only an issue for environmental activists. All over the country, entrepreneurs are pushing for a better clean-up of the rivers. Mr Jin’s offer came after he accused a shoe factory of dumping waste water into the river.