Wandering China

An East/West pulse of China's fourth rise from down under.

Red Yangtze? Residents swim on [Straits Times]

The public sphere on the internet can sometimes propagate distortions. Indeed, access to all these stories via the Internet is changing the way the world sees China, apart from its intended projection of national identity.

The Yangtze 扬子江 is the third longest river in the world. It flows for 6400km from the glaciers of the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau (in some parts it explains China’s need to maintain control over the autonomous region) and flows into southwest, central and eastern China. It eventually meets the East China Sea at Shanghai. The river is as rich as Chinese history itself and today still generates 20% of China’s GDP. Its reddening can be argued in many ways, a natural course of sedimentation, but a quick look on Google Earth will reveal the sheer amount of heavy industry – it doesn’t take a genius to see where contributory factors come from.

Some had taken the reddening of the river with a narrative of speculation – What has a ‘red Yangtze’ got to do with Xi Jinping? (Straits Times, in the China Post Sep 13, 2012). To lay those rumours to rest…

The Straits Times understands that Xi, 59, injured his back while swimming, and no ulterior motive is suspected behind his diplomatic no-shows…

But the official silence has not stopped Chinese microbloggers and overseas websites from coming up with all kinds of speculation. Some rumors suggest Xi has suffered a mild stroke. Others, that he has suffered a minor heart attack.

Boxun, a well-known Chinese website based in the U.S., went so far as to say that he had been part of an assassination attempt by supporters of Bo Xilai.

A most interesting bit of citizen journalism with The Huffington Post. The Yangtze is red alright, but not the blood red found in popular circulating images. In the article Yangtze River Turns Red – Biblical Curse or Industrial Pollution? Rama Hoetzlein investigates the myths and alarmist bells (comes with a neat infographic based on Google images).

For a gallery of the allegedly doctored photos check out – The River Runs Red: Yangtze River In Chongqing Mysteriously Discolored (Beijing Cream, September 8, 2012)

Beware the myth of photographic truth in the digital age. One of the alleged doctored photos addresses by the Huffington Post. Source – Beijing Cream 2012

– – –

Red Yangtze? Residents swim on
By Kor Kian Beng, China Correspondent
Source – Straits Times, published September 15, 2012

BACK TO NORMAL: The Yangtze River, seen here at Chongqing city’s container terminal, is back to its usual colour: murky yellow. — PHOTO: CHINA FOTO PRESS

BEIJING – Swimming in the Yangtze River is a daily ritual for Chongqing resident Xie Tian- zheng, and he did not stop when its usual murky yellow water turned bright red last Thursday.

Along with about 10 members of a swimming club in the south-western city, he jumped in and swam for 30 minutes.

“We swam, we got up, we washed up. There was no problem at all,” said Mr Xie, 48.

While photos showing the Yangtze with red water may have shocked the world last week, the occurrence did not faze the locals.

Nor did any of those interviewed by The Straits Times view it as a bad omen for China, coinciding as it did with thousands of alligators mysteriously surfacing at a Nanjing lake and an earthquake in Yunnan that killed 81.

The reason is that the Yangtze changes colour around this time every year when the summer rains result in heavier river flows from the upper parts of Sichuan province. As the water reaches Chongqing, soil deposits settle, causing the river to change colour.

Sure enough, the river was back to its usual colour by Sunday, according to residents.

“Of course, this year the colour was redder than usual because of the heavy rains,” said retiree Lin Xindong, 60, who also swam in the Yangtze last week. “But it didn’t bother me. The water had no foul smell.”

The Chinese media carried only short news stories on the red river last Friday and Saturday.

But the phenomenon gained global attention after the British newspaper Daily Mail ran a report last Friday with a photo showing locals collecting water samples in bottles.

Officials from the Chongqing Environmental Protection Bureau also collected samples and found no toxic particles in the water.

They visited firms and residents along the river, before ruling out the possibility that the change in colour was caused by sewage or industrial discharge.

Nonetheless, water supply to some areas in Chongqing was cut off last Thursday afternoon as a precautionary move. It resumed the following day.

Geologists believe that massive soil erosion after heavy rains caused the water to turn red.

However, some locals are not convinced, pointing to China’s record of ecological mishaps caused by industrial pollution.

In 2007, a toxic algae bloom – likely caused by pollution such as chemical fertiliser – in Lake Tai in coastal Jiangsu province contaminated the water supply of more than 2.3 million people.

Last December, a stretch of the Jian River in Luoyang city in central Henan province turned red after two illegal dye workshops dumped their waste into the sewage network.

Said serviced apartment manager Kuang Dong, 30: “The first question I had when I saw the red Yangtze was whether pollution caused it. After all, this city has become much more industrialised in recent years.”


The Yangtze changes colour around this time every year when rains result in heavier river flows from the upper parts of Sichuan province and soil deposits settle.

The Chongqing Environmental Protection Bureau found no toxic particles and ruled out the change in colour was caused by sewage or industrial discharge.


Some locals are not convinced, pointing to China’s embarrassing record of ecological mishaps caused by industrial pollution.

Last December, a stretch of the Jian River in Luoyang city turned red after illegal dye workshops dumped waste into the sewage network.


Filed under: Beijing Consensus, Charm Offensive, Chinese Model, Domestic Growth, Environment, Health, Infrastructure, Modernisation, Natural Disasters, New Leadership, Peaceful Development, Politics, Pollution, Public Diplomacy, Resources, Straits Times, Tao Guang Yang Hui (韬光养晦), The Chinese Identity, The construction of Chinese and Non-Chinese identities, , , , ,

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