The Globe and Mail profiles environmental activist Dai Qing as she conducts a speaking tour of Canada. As well as the environmental issues with which she has long been involved, the article includes her scathing assessment of China’s political elite:
“The whole world is talking about China rising,” she says. “But at what cost?”
The cost includes environmental devastation on a massive scale. Eighty per cent of the country’s rivers and lakes are drying up, she says. Sixty per cent of the water in seven major river systems is unsuitable for human contact. A third of the land is contaminated by acid rain. Two-thirds of the grassland have become desertified, and most of the forest is gone. Forty per cent of the arable land has been degraded by fertilizers and pesticides. Of the world’s 20 most polluted cities, 16 are in China.
“In practice, the environment is owned by the state officials,” she says. “Land grabs have become the primary means for officials to get rich ….”
Ms. Dai paints an unflattering portrait of China’s new ruling class – the “Red Nobles,” as she calls them, who make substantial fortunes through connections, selling access and exploiting land secured from the central government. The Red Nobility is the new face of China – conspicuously wealthy and self-confident. Many of them have moved their cash and loved ones abroad. They continue to live in China – but they usually have several passports, just in case.
“The traditional Chinese ethic is gone from this society,” says Ms. Dai. These days, everyone is chasing money. Everyone wants a career as a public official because it’s the gateway to becoming rich. “In today’s China, with belief in neither traditional values nor the rule of law, money means everything to almost everyone.”