Huzhou swaps pollution for profits
Once, his fishing boat was Shen Bodong's entire world.
"I was born on a fishing boat and grew up as a fisherman. I used to have two boats, one for fishing and the other for living on," said the 52-year-old former fisherman who is Party secretary of Xiaomei village in Wuxing district, Huzhou city, Zhejiang province.
The city, which has a population of 3 million, sits on the southern bank of Lake Taihu, the third largest freshwater lake in China, straddling the provinces of Jiangsu and Zhejiang.
Covering about 2,250 square kilometers, the lake and its surrounding area have long been renowned for scenic landscapes and abundant aquatic resources－acclaimed as "the land teaming with fish and rice".
"Before 2007, we used to work, live and sleep on the boats－a tradition passed down through generations. Sometimes, we had trouble setting the dinner table when the wind blew, not to mention getting a sound sleep," Shen recalled, looking at a 2-meter-long wooden model of a fishing boat in the office of the village committee.
When heavy storms occurred, Shen and his peers had to secure their boats in the harbor and stay in hotels.
At the time, the water quality in the lake was extremely poor because all the fishermen's waste was discharged directly into the lake, posing a serious threat to the ecosystem and adding to the problem already posed by pollution caused by industrial wastewater pumped into the lake by nearby textile manufacturers and cement factories.
Shen's life changed in 2007, when his family, along with 257 other households, abandoned their boats and moved ashore in response to the local government's calls to better preserve the lake's ecosystem.
The relocation involved 1,067 people, with each person in a family entitled to a 25-square-meter apartment at a subsidized price of 870 yuan ($138) per square meter, which was extremely low even then.
"By 2011, we had all moved into apartments, with direct access to the sewage system linked to the urban sewage pipe network," Shen said.
However, the story of Shen and his peers is just a small part of the work undertaken by the Huzhou government to improve conditions in the southern part of Lake Taihu and provide long-term sustainable development that will not damage the ecosystem.
A cradle of change
Huzhou is the cradle of President Xi Jinping's "Two Mountains" theory－in which clear waters and lush mountains are invaluable assets, comparable to gold and silver mountains of legend. In August 2005, Xi, then Party secretary of Zhejiang, proposed the theory during an inspection tour of Yucun, a village in Huzhou's Anji county.
Since then, Xi has referred to the theory many times, both domestically and during overseas trips, to illustrate China's determination to improve environmental protection and widen green development efforts.
In May 2016, at the second United Nations Environment Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya, the United Nations Environmental Programme published a report－Green is Gold: The Strategy and Actions of China's Ecological Civilization－which examined China's attempts to build an "ecological civilization".
The report said China had made a number of notable achievements: For example, by the end of 2014, the country had built 10.5 billion square meters of energy-saving buildings in urban areas, accounting for about 38 per cent of the total area of urban residential buildings.
It added that as part of the attempt to build an ecological civilization, China would build on its success via a number of measures, including building a green manufacturing system that is efficient, clean, low carbon and circular.
"If China succeeds in achieving these goals, then it will have taken a major step towards shifting to a greener economy that uses resources more efficiently, limits the risks of climate change and improves the health of its people," said Achim Steiner, administrator of the UN Development Programme.
During his 2005 tour of Anji, Xi hailed the village's move to close polluting mines and adopt ecological tourism by taking advantage of its natural scenic views.
"We should never follow outdated modes of development. In fact, clear waters and lush mountains themselves mean gold," he said.
In an article published by Zhejiang Daily in 2006, Xi further explained the theory by elaborating on the three stages of developing ties between green development and economic growth.
During the first phase, people sought quick economic returns by ignoring environmental protection. In the second phase, they began to realize the importance of green development, but still pursued high economic growth, leading to contradictions between achieving high economic growth while maintaining and improving the environment.
It was only during the third phase that people finally realized that green development also produced true "gold", and it is only through green development that humans and nature can coexist harmoniously.
"Xi's Two Mountains theory definitely solved the long-term puzzle and unlocked the development path for Huzhou," said Qian Sanxiong, the city's mayor
Since then, Huzhou has trodden the path of sustainable, green development using measures and efforts from the government and residents.
In Zhushan, a village in Huzhou's Changxing county, Zhou Guoqin was washing clothes in the Zhushan River near her home. She said the water is now so clean that the villagers all wash their rice, vegetables and fruits in the river.
"The water in the river now is definitely clear and safe. I usually cook my rice directly after washing it here," she said.
The improved quality of the river water has been made possible thanks to the implementation of pollution control measures in villages across Huzhou during the past 10 years.
All the villages are now equipped with facilities that treat wastewater and sewage before it is discharged into Lake Taihu. Take Zhushan, for example, the 1,500-strong village has built a small sewage treatment factory that has a daily treatment capacity of 60 cubic tons.
To further monitor water quality and protect water resources, all the villages in Huzhou have implemented the "river chief" system, in which officials and village heads are assigned to take charge of protecting the waterways in their areas.
Changxing was the first pilot county in China to implement the river chief policy as early as 2008. It was later followed by Jiaxing, Wenzhou and Shaoxing in Zhejiang.
The system has been rolled out nationwide as part of wider efforts to prevent water pollution. So far, there have been about 320,000 river chiefs in the four-tier system which reaches down to the township level, said Chen Lei, then minister of water resources, last month.
Zhou Libin, head and river chief in Xiaochendu, a village close to Lake Taihu, said his responsibilities mainly lie in checking the three river courses under his jurisdiction every week, which requires him to walk about 6 kilometers.
"Once floating pollutants and wastewater discharges are spotted, we deal with them directly," Zhou said.
Although some observers have stated that environmental protection efforts may hinder the long-term growth of the local economy, Huzhou has definitely benefited from implementing the Two Mountains theory, and has maintained robust economic growth through innovation and industrial upgrading during the past 10 years.
Huzhou was one of the places where China's silk culture originated, and the fabric has been produced there for more than 2,300 years.
The Qianshanyang archeological site in the city has been known as the "source of the world's silk textiles" since fabrics dating back 4,700 years were unearthed there in the 1950s.
As the industry has been transformed and upgraded in recent years, the city has introduced more modern technologies to improve its production process. Now, a quarter of all silk made in China is produced in the city.
"Over the past 10 years, we've always put green development as the top priority and improved the pace of the upgrading and transformation of the traditional sector, launching specific campaigns to adjust the mode of production for polluting sectors such as textiles and dyeing," said Qian, the mayor.
The proportion of the city's two traditional sectors－textiles and building materials－among its GDP has fallen to 29 percent from 50 percent in 2005.
"One thing to note is that the transformation has translated into higher industrial revenue and profits, because technological innovation plays a bigger role," Qian said.
Mizuda Group, which is headquartered in Huzhou's Wuxing district and listed on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange, is a good example of how a former polluting company has successfully transformed into an outfit that helps to provide a greener environment.
A traditional dyeing and textile enterprise, it reduced production in response to rising labor costs and the heavy pollution it was causing in the lake, and developed new core businesses in garbage treatment and recycling industrial waste.
Last year, it paid 300 million yuan in tax, the most paid by any company in Wuxing.
"We will stay with the core green, environmental protection sector because there is so much potential in the "gold rush" that has arisen from the building-up of China's ecological civilization," said Shan Jianming, Mizuda's president.
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