China's Toxic School

Harry Jiang's picture

A recent school pollution incident in Changzhou, Jiangsu, China, has grabbed widepread attention.

Changzhou Foreign Languages School is the best middle school in Changzhou City. Several months earlier, the municipal government of Changzhou relocated the school, choosing a site across a field that was previously owned by a chemical plant. Since over two months ago, the whole block has been saturated in an insufferable odor that came out from the chemical plant. Over one fifth of the students at the school showed symptoms of erythema, sore throat, allergic rash, and in extreme cases, lymphoma. The parents tried to appeal to the government for a temporary resettlement of the school so that the school could function normally and the children could be kept away from the poisonous chemicals. However, in consideration of the relocation costs and the consequences of a PR catastrophe, the government and the school board turned down the proposal. Due to the failure of an attempt to negotiate with the government, the parents and teachers organized several protests in front of the school gate demanding a temporary relocation, only to be suppressed by the police. Several parents were arrested. The government, however, remained quiet.

Serveral days ago, CCTV, the national television station broadcast this incident; the news has become viral since. However, the school executives and the city government continue to maintain a tough stance on the issue; it’s one of the few occasions when the journalists at the China Central Television encounter tremendous resistance. Although the provincial government and the city government created a task force and adopted a “zero tolerance policy” on any mistakes previously made, they argued that “their conscience is clear”. Two of the three parent protest leaders have been arrested for “spreading rumors and incentive arguments” and “disruption of public order”. 

Due to the recent anti-corruption campaigns in China, the cleavage between the central and local government is becoming more and more significant; although the top level of the Chinese government remains untouched by the media, the decisions made by the local government are heavily influenced by public opinion and government officials in higher power hierarchy. With proper media influence, the situation could be changed.

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Date Published: 

Monday, April 18, 2016