The Coal Monster: Pollution Forces Chinese Leaders to Act

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Many are being driven in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hong Kong, contributing to the smog. Foreign cars are even more noticeable in industrial cities, such as Hainan, Xintang and Guiyu.

Trading Pollution for Prosperity

In Guiyu, Li Qiong, 51, is sitting in front of a small electric furnace on which she is heating discarded computer circuit boards. She works quickly. Using tongs, she removes the circuit boards from a basket to her left and places them on the hotplate. Then she waits until gray smoke is produced and the silvery solder melts. She removes the circuit board from the furnace, scratches off the bits of metal and tosses the still-smoking circuit board into a basket to her right. Li is paid by the unit and earns about 5,000 yuan, or roughly €600, a month. "I have two daughters," she says. "I support both of them while they attend the university."

A few buildings away, three men hoist laundry baskets full of chopped up bits of circuit boards from one drum of water to another. The pieces of plastic become cleaner as they are moved from one drum to the next. When the workers go home at sunset, they empty the drums into the canal in front of the building.

"Our city has become prosperous," says Ye Weitang, a 69-year-old farmer. "But we can no longer use the groundwater to irrigate the sugarcane fields." It doesn't matter, though, he says, because he now irrigates his fields with water from the tap, which comes from far away. He can afford it, he says.

Wealth and filth apparently go together.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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