Chinese state media release a map showing the spread of ‘cancer villages’

February 22, 2013

A map of "cancer villages" shared by the Global Times. (Weibo/Tea Leaf Nation)

An outlet with Chinese state media has taken the unusual step of indirectly acknowledging the link between cancer and pollution in China. In the process, it's also shown just how wide this problem is becoming.

As David Wertime writes over at Tea Leaf Nation, the Weibo account of Global Times, a Communist Party-owned newspaper, recently shared a map of so-called "cancer villages," the colloquial term for towns where cancer rates have spiked in recent years.

"Global Times‘ recent sharing of this powerful image, accompanied by a weeping emoticon, perhaps signals that higher authorities have decided ... to open reportage of the existence of so-called 'cancer villages,' " Wertime writes.

A message accompanying the map, translated by TLN, appears to say as much:

According to the Beijing Times, the Ministry of Environmental Protection recently published the ‘Twelfth Five-Year Plan for Prevention and Control of Environmental Risks from Chemicals.’ Among its content is a clear demonstration that because of chemical poisoning, ‘cancer villages’ and other serious [threats to] social health have begun to emerge in many areas.

While activists have pointed to the link between industrial pollution and increased cancer rates in the country since at least the early 2000s, Chinese officials have been reluctant to acknowledge the problem. A 2004 story in the state-run China Daily, headlined "Cancer village in spotlight," drew national attention to the cancer rates in the industrial southwest village of Yangqiao — but officials ordered newspapers to stop reporting the story.

The Post's Edward Cody, traveling to the region in 2004, detailed the "acrid odors from three chemical plants" and "the yellowish waste that flowed in their irrigation canals."

Even independent of pollution, China faces a growing cancer crisis. The World Health Organization expects cancer rates in China to grow by 78 percent by 2030, a product of growing affluence and changing lifestyles.

Caitlin Dewey runs The Intersect blog, writing about digital and Internet culture. Before joining the Post, she was an associate online editor at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.
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Max Fisher · February 22, 2013