Following the appeal from Kumbum Monastery to protect the environment in Qinghai, the International Campaign for Tibet has followed up with more information about pollution in the area:
A video uploaded to a Chinese video sharing site 56.com shows turbid and discolored water being pumped out of a spigot by a monk at Kumbum monastery, birthplace of the religious teacher Tsongkhapa, and one of the six great Gelugpa (Yellow Hat) monasteries. Close to Qinghai’s capital city of Xining, Kumbum is an increasingly popular destination for Chinese pilgrims and tourists.
In a posting dated July 17, the anonymous blogger said that the Xining authorities had organized relevant departments to test 919 children around the Ganhetan Industrial District, and the results showed that “almost 1000 children and youths had excessive levels of lead in their blood”. The same blog reports that a journalist came to area and investigated several villages for lead poisoning. As far as can be established, this research has not been published in the state media.
On July 23, the blogger wrote: “In recent years the environment at Kumbum Monastery has become awful. The local government and businesses have colluded to build a great many polluting enterprises five kilometers from Kumbum Monastery, and so every time the wind blows or it rains, smoke, dust and foul-smelling air settles down on the roofs and courtyards, and the temples’ golden tiles and wall murals are already corroding.”
The lead-poisoning is a long-standing issue, and local people say that entrenched corruption has prevented the matter being resolved, and means that students and others have no alternative but to move away from the area. An anonymous villager posted the following message in Chinese on the Huangzhong County government website, dated May 19, 2010: “I’m a villager from Podong Village in Ganhetan Town, and for the past several weeks we’ve been unable to drink the running water; and we’ve heard that the water contains the chemical composition of lead. It is hoped that the County Chairman and relevant County Government officials can run a few tests and give we the villagers in Ganhetan Town a rational explanation!”
The anonymous blogger who posted the appeal from Kumbum also wrote in a separate blog that more than 30,000 farmers had been moved off their land in the area, in order to facilitate the expansion of Ganhetan Industrial District, and in their place more enterprises are to be built that had been moved from the Chinese interior because of serious pollution. Many monks from Kumbum have also been affected, as their families’ land has been taken. The blogger concludes that the authorities should be concerned, because: “Kumbum Monastery is not only the birthplace of Tsongkhapa, it is also a state-level culturally protected work unit as well as a scenic tourist area well known domestically and abroad.”
The same issues are likely to be widespread across Tibetan areas. There is a new smelter producing 100,000 tons of lead a year at Golmud (Chinese: Ge’ermu) in Qinghai, and West Mining and Yugang Gold are due to start a 100,000-tons per year lead joint venture, according to Metal Bulletin News Alert Service (August 3, 2009). The latter 270 million yuan ($40 million) project will also be capable of producing sulphuric acid, a by-product.
Environmental protection is one rare instance where minority grievances can easily resonate with Han citizens, making it slightly harder for the government to bury the issue. Still, presumably Ganhetan industrial park is making more money and contributing more to the State than a comparatively minor tourist attraction/monastery, so they’ll need to gather a lot of force if they want to get the governments attention on this one.