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Patrolling the Rivers: A Romance


The following is translated from an original article by Liu Yun in Chengdu River Stories (page 160):


A group of people became acquainted because of a love of rivers, met up to pay a visit to the rivers, and got to know each other by protecting rivers. This story is simple, beautiful and romantic, it’s the story of myself and a group of people, and our time on the banks of Sichuan's rivers.


In 2014, I was still at university. Because I was researching the “black, smelly river,” Longxi Canal, in Mianyang I became acquainted with some environmentalists, and together we carried out many operations in Sichuan, with the aim of preventing pollution. By 2016, we had visited 72 rivers in Chengdu. By patrolling, checking, recording and reporting on the rivers, we were able to understand the basic problems of the river.


The process of patrolling rivers allows you to create a living map. Not only do you find rivers hidden at the end of streets and alleys, you can also draw up a map in your mind of rivers you’ve followed before, giving you a feeling of safety as you explore.


Of course, the speed of the river poses a challenge for the group of people following it. At a speed of 1km in 5-7 minutes, you soon find out that you can’t keep up with it, and are better off walking at your own slow pace, because it will be up ahead waiting for everyone.


One person can walk quickly, a group of people can walk a long way.


We were joined by Lei Jianying, who loves cycling and sports. Having always worked in environmental assessment, she joined the River Protectors movement in 2015. I met her in June 2016, during a patrol of the river. Her presence meant that we could reflect on what we were doing. After gathering and ordering our thoughts, we tried for the first time to open up a dialogue with Chengdu Waterworks, hoping that our movement would create a stronger link between the government, the public, and the rivers.


Our team is still growing. New members include 80-year-old river engineer Zhang Chengxin, 62-year-old teacher Wang Xiaoshu, a volunteer from Shanxi, and 76-year-old biologist Chen Qingheng. CURA’s president Tang Ya also brought her Sichuan University PHD students along on public bicycles, and together we patrolled the river.


In the summer of 2017, we investigated 17 ‘black smelly rivers.’ We found 15 drain outlets, made 4 applications to make the information public, had 3 discussions with the government to control the black smelly river, and held 3 river cleaning events.


Patrolling the river is boring work. Before the public bicycles were introduced, we could only rely on our own two feet, so it was hard. People cried over the damaged river, and their tears were not in vain.


In over a year of river patrolling, we have seen far too many polluted rivers. Chengdu’s “1000 years of river networks” and “1000 li of fertile ground” have been occupied by skyscrapers. People have become accustomed to polluted waters. Of the 72 rivers that we patrolled, most of them were Grade 5+ level, meaning they were unsuitable for any use. It’s difficult for rivers to run through cities, and the destiny for most is to be blocked off.


We are searching for ways to allow rivers to be renewed naturally. Removing pollution, desilting the river and changing the water are all brutal ways of managing rivers. How can we renew riverside ecology?


Fortunately, there are more and more people willing to look after rivers. When I attended the national river protection event “Guarding the River- 1 Kilometre,” I was moved, not only because I was meeting people who lived downstream from me, but because of the linking of spirits of people who wanted to work together to protect every kilometre of river. I know that as well as those around me, there are also many river protectors in many places, and in the future this number will only continue to grow.


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