The Pearl River runs through the heart of South China’s manufacturing wonderland, and along the way it not only picks up barge traffic, it also picks up sewer drainage and discharge from hundreds, if not thousands, of factories. Anyone who has ever stood on its banks – and I have, many times – can attest to the water’s odd and changing coloration, as well as the large amount of detritus that always seems to be floating on the surface. Quite simply, the water is un-drinkable, and even the minimally health-conscious know that they are better-off taking a dip in a swimming pool.
These facts cause no small amount of embarrassment for Guangzhou’s city fathers (whose fair city sits on the banks of the Pearl), and in recent years they have tried to disprove them by taking the unusual – and unappetizing – step of organizing mass swims in the Pearl. On Sunday, for example, thousands of people – including Guangzhou’s all-powerful Party Secretary – swam an 800 meter stretch of the river. This is the second year that this event has taken place. Last year, according to South China Morning Post, local media reported that the same event was preceded by a mass factory shut-down and the closure of sewage drainage valves. No word on whether those same protective steps were taken this year, but I was amused to see that – despite his best efforts – the Hong Kong media (at least) was having none of Guangzhou’s stunt. The headline of this morning’s SCMP story:
Party chief leads swim in polluted Pearl River