Polluted, poisonous and immune to popular efforts to enforce a clean-up: Tai Lake is a metaphor for the state of China’s politics.
The plain-clothes police are always there, watching Xu Jiehua. When she goes out, two of them follow by motorcycle. Sometimes an unmarked car joins them, tailing her closely on the narrow road winding past the factories and wheat fields around her village.
Ms Xu is used to the attention. Her husband, Wu Lihong, was arrested in April last year and sentenced four months later to three years in prison for fraud and blackmail. For her, the police harassment is proof that the charges were false, and that Mr Wu’s only crime was to anger local officials with his tireless campaigning against pollution around nearby Tai Lake, China’s third-biggest freshwater body. It is also a warning that she too should keep quiet.