Wu Lihong, a former factory salesman, is on a crusade to save Lake Tai – China’s third largest freshwater lake – once considered an ecological treasure. With the boom in Chinese economy, authorities in the province of Jiangsu, east China, welcomed the industrialization that was happening around the lake. Twenty years later, the once proud water body is a teeming mess of dead fish and dead water, overwhelmed by the pollutants and contaminants released into it by the factories that function along its perimeter.
Wu Lihong’s association with the lake began in 1989 after he noticed that the air in his hometown had begun to smell putrid. He began documenting the toll this activity was taking on the lake, contacted the government to draw their attention to the issue and began filing petitions to stop further damage. But the government was more interested in giving businesses incentives to build chemical plants and dams.
Wu’s commitment to saving the lake was rewarded by government praise and acknowledgement and an ‘Environmental Warrior’ award from the National People’s Congress. Unable to get a concrete resolution to check the damage to Lake Tai, Wu pressed on – using the acclaim that he received to contact high ranking government officials in Beijing directly. Soon, his refusal to back off from the issue made him the subject of scrutiny and regulation. He says he was constantly under police surveillance and that many efforts were made by the government and the factories to buy his silence and cooperation. He was finally arrested in 2007 on charges of blackmail, extortion and fraud, and consequently imprisoned for three years.
By this time, Nature decided to take a stand. A massive algae bloom, the result of the pollution, turned the lake’s surface to turn into green scum, leaving almost 2.3 million people without drinking water. This was too much of a disaster to ignore – and the factories along the lake were forced to close down, water treatment was started and $14 billion was pledged for cleaning the lake by 2020.
Wu was released in April 2010, and continues on his crusade. He states that although a certain level of water treatment is being done, there are still large plants operating around the lake, which continue to pollute – only the ones directly along the river have been shut down. And although the water seems to be getting cleaner, the catch of fish is steadily declining and the algae bloom is reportedly on the rise again. Wu Lihong is clear that he will not rest until a permanent workable solution is arrived upon, and continues to be true to his mission – answering the call of the Lake to be restored to its former glory.