Sept. 25, 2023

Same River, Two Looks

On Sept. 17 Green Earth Volunteers (GEV) surveyed Liangma River, which extends for 9.3 kilometers through northeast Beijing. Volunteers were stunned by the clear-cut differences between the two major sections of the river.

Flanked by green willows and mirroring the blue sky, Liangma River made a fair autumn Saturday in Beijing all the more enjoyable. People were sitting at regular intervals on the bank, their fish hooks awaiting a tug beneath the silvery water that was carefully decorated with reeds and water lilies.

Further to the east, there seemed to be nothing but duckweed and algae. The turbid water was dotted with plastic bottles and foam. The wilderness-like look might remind some of a wetland, but the water quality indicates it is not.

“If the west was artificially beautified to show people how nice the environment is, can we say the east section reveals the harsh reality?” asked Wang Yongchen, founder of GEV and organizer of the weekly river watch tour.

The abrupt transition from fair to foul is marked by a light yellow house above a sluice-gate. It prevents thick duckweed from compromising the picturesque setting of the river’s west section, where foreign embassies cluster together.

From 1981 to 1985, the government cleaned and treated the Liangma River. The upper reaches became a sightseeing section while the lower reaches were used for the discharge of wastewater.

On the river’s east section, a shopping mall has sprung up, the SOLANA Lifestyle Shopping Park, which claims to “perfectly integrate the culture of commerce and the beauty of nature.” Its official website cites proximity to “the improved Liangma River” as a selling point. It was nearing lunch time, but what volunteers saw on Saturday ruined their appetite.

To test the water quality of Liangma River, volunteers took samples from different sections with a homemade device. With the help of her GPS locator, Wang Jingjing, a fourth-year student of ecology at the University of Science and Technology Beijing, evaluated the severity of the river's pollution.

“The water here is certainly no better than Grave V (the Chinese standard for water used for agriculture and landscaping),” she explained to other volunteers, “but we need scientific statistics to persuade government officials as well as ordinary people to tackle environmental problems.”

According to Wang Yongchen, GEV took water samples from Liangma River because they hope to dissuade the government from applying a double standard to river improvement. “SOLANA should also shoulder some social responsibility, for instance, by joining environmental protection efforts after having profited here,” she wrote on Sinaweibo, a Chinese micro-blogging site, “shoppers in SOLANA also need to be cautious of food cooked near such a dirty river.”

This September, volunteers have also toured the Tonghui and Xiba Rivers, both of which flow from west to east and carry sewage discharge. For each river watch tour, GEV invites a scientist to analyze water pollution in Beijing in an attempt to raise awareness of environmental problems.


Reported by: Tong Jun (
Proofread by: Madelyn Finucane

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