A Chinese farmer with only three years of school under his belt has dedicated the last 16 years of his life to teaching himself law, hoping to bring down a state-owned chemical company that has been polluting his village and affecting his livelihood.
Wang Enlin, from Yushutun village, in China’s Heilongjiang Province, will never forget that day in 2001, when his village and the surrounding farmland were flooded with toxic waste. It was the eve of the Lunar New Year, and Wang and his neighbors were playing cards and making dumplings, when they notice that the house they were in was being flooded with waste water from the nearby Qihua Group, a state-owned enterprise. That same year, Mr Wang wrote a letter to the Land Resources Bureau of Qiqihar, complaining about the pollution, but during his dealings with officials, he was repeatedly asked to provide evidence that his village and the land he and his neighbors survived off of had indeed been contaminated.
“I knew I was in the right, but I did not know what law the other party had broken or whether or not there was evidence,” the 60-something farmer recently told reporters. The easiest thing to do would have been to hire a lawyer, but Wang and his neighbors could barely afford to put food on the table, so professional legal council was definitely not an option. But Wang Enlin would not give up so easily, and even though he had only attended school until Third Grade, he decided to study law himself and find out what kind of evidence he needed to collect.
Photos: People’s Daily Online
But even teaching himself law was a financial challenge, because Wang couldn’t afford to buy the books he needed, so he spent every day reading law books at the local book store, and copying important information from them, by hand. The farmer would offer the shopkeeper bags of corn for letting him read the books in the shop.
Wang used a dictionary to make sense of the technical terms he didn’t understand, and little by little, he started making some sense of this whole law thing, to the point where he knew what evidence would be required in court. He shared that information with his neighbors, asking them to gather evidence against Qihua Group as well.
In 2007, impressed by Wang Enlin’s efforts to fight against a chemical company with assets worth over 2 billion yuan ($290 million), a Chinese law firm specialized in pollution-related cases, began offering him and his neighbors free legal advice. After checking all the evidence they had gathered in the previous six years, they also agreed to help the villagers file a petition to court.
Due to unknown complications, the trial against Qihua Group only began in 2015, but it was apparently worth the long wait, as Wang and the other villagers have recently won the first instance at the Angangxi District Court of Qiqihar. A judge ordered the chemical company to pay 820,000 yuan ($120,000) in compensation to the residents of Yushutun village. They also have to get rid of all the liquid and solid waste they have dumped in the surrounding area over the last 16 years.
Photo: Xie Xinyuan/IPEN.org
It is estimated that the Qihua chemical plant dumped an average of 20,000 tonnes of chemical waste each year on farmland that covered more than 70 acres. Wang Enlin and his neighbors also presented evidence that a nearby lake had also been contaminated. Its water is now almost completely devoid of life.
Qihua Group has already filed an appeal, but Wang Enlin is confident that he and and the other 55 families involved in the lawsuit will prevail. “We will certainly win. Even if we lose, we will continue to battle,” he told reporters.