Residents of a Chinese village have been the focus of a campaign aimed at cleaning up the nation’s heavily polluted rivers and lakes.

A photo of the Ruian River in Zhejiang province, brimming with garbage, went viral on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like microblogging tool, after a local entrepreneur offered the environmental protection bureau chief 200,000 yuan ($32,000) to swim in the polluted waters for 20 minutes. Many other Zhejiang residents joined in on the challenge, offering up additional sums of money to the official.

The tongue-in-cheek offers were meant to highlight how desperate people are to get the attention of their government. For one man, however, it may have made him a target.

According to a post by his daughter on Weibo, Chen Yuqian, 60, who made his offer last Wednesday, was roughed up by more than 40 villagers Sunday. His daughter, Chen Xiufang, told the South China Morning Post the assault was organized by village officials in retaliation to his activism.  

The Weibo post was accompanied by a photo of Chen Yuqian with scratches and bruises on his face. Local officials did not respond to the allegations made by the Chen family.


The Chen family has campaigned against the rampant water pollution in their village of Pailian for years now and saw the viral campaign as an opportunity to enlist others. Chen Xiufang said her family had previously petitioned against the alleged illegal dumping of industrial waste into waterways by Pailian officials and two local paper mills. The waste made it into the drinking water of more than 200 villagers, she told the South China Morning Post.

When asked about the Chen family, and the previous complaints made about illegal dumping, the head of the Qingshanhu Environmental Protection Department (which has jurisdiction over Pailian), insisted that the paper mills were operating in accordance with environmental laws. “We monitor the factories’ waste disposal and water quality closely. There is no illegal water pollution,” Zhang assured.

A source identified as Gao, a former employee at a local government office, told the newspaper that one of the paper mill owners was also the village chief of Pailian.