Green works

Updated: 2011-05-13 11:57

By Qian Yanfeng (China Daily European Weekly)

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Green works
The Wuxi government has pumped 10 billion yuan in each of the last three years to protect the water quality of Taihu Lake (above). [Nan Ge/For China Daily]

City becomes 'test case' for facing country's environmental challenges

Losing a job at 52 would seem disastrous for any working-class man. But for Mao Baoxing, it might not be a big deal. Mao works at China's largest epoxy resin manufacturing plant in Wuxi, Jiangsu province, or the Wuxi Resin Factory of Bluestar New Chemical Materials Co Ltd, but while he used to be proud of working for such a large company he says he no longer is.

Over the past 50 years since the company was established in the city, industrial pollutants from the manufacturing of chemical products have been taking a heavy toll on the air and water quality in the region.

"All the local people know just how environmentally hazardous the factory is," Mao says. "Now that the government has realized this and asked it to relocate, I strongly support the decision, although that would very likely mean the loss of my job."

Mao's experience is just a tip of the iceberg of what is happening in Wuxi, a city which has championed itself as a new "test case" for solving the glaring environmental challenges faced by a fast developing China, by experimenting a new way of development that highlights sustainability and environmental responsibility. That is, of course, after harsh lessons from previous mistakes and disasters.

Wuxi has had an intricate love-and-hate relationship with its mother lake Taihu. While the city is blessed by its geographical location on the shore of the lake, excessive pollution of the lake and the ensuing environmental problems in the past decades have seriously compromised its natural endowment and even taken a heavy toll on its people.

It has been four years since the blue-green algae outbreak polluted drinking water in Wuxi.

At Taihu Lake, one of the most powerful transformations in China is already under way behind its veneer of serenity, showing the way for environmental redemption to private enterprises and the authorities in other industrial districts.


Green works

Workers at Suntech Power's production line of solar panels. The city is home to a number of leading companies in sectors including renewable energy and bio-pharmaceuticals. Hu Haichuan / For China Daily

Once a cradle of China's industrial development featuring village and township industries at the end of the 1970s, Wuxi has played host to one of the nation's most advanced and developed modern industrial zones. It enjoys a long history of industrial development, especially in textile and machine manufacturing, while printing, dyeing, plating and chemical industries mushroomed in the 1980s. These manufacturing industries have brought unprecedented wealth to the region in the past two decades, but at a high cost. Although the city's manufacturing output ranks among the nation's top 10, years of rapid industrial development have pushed its ecological capacity to the limit.

As a result, growing environmental problems in recent years, such as the algae outbreak in May 2007 in Taihu Lake that disrupted water supply to 2 million residents for weeks, have prompted the local government to accelerate its industrial restructuring and upgrading.

Those efforts seem to have paid off. Over the years, the city has proved that closing more factories than opening them will not necessarily compromise economic development. It has successfully maintained double-digit GDP growth in the past three years while doing exactly that in an effort to curb industrial pollution.

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