China's 'most polluted' now a shining example

Updated: 2015-01-29 16:08


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ZHUZHOU - Zhuzhou in central China's Hunan, province, one of the nation's ten most polluted cities a decade ago, has been transformed.

One of the first cities to embrace heavy industry after the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, Zhuzhou was home to cement and chemical plants along with other heavy polluting, high energy consumption works.

Chimney worship

Liu Yi, 45, has worked in the glass industry for 28 years. The factory where she works was built on a low added-value basis, and in 2004 Liu was only making about 220 yuan ($26) per month.

"The sky was often obscured by black smoke pouring from hundreds of old chimneys," she said.

"Policymakers once idolized tall chimneys: The more chimneys, the better. This mindset has now changed," Mao Tengfei, mayor of Zhuzhou, said recently.

Chimney phobia

China's economic growth over the past three decades relied on investment and exports, without much thought given to the environment. Zhuzhou's economic reinvention is just one example of the transition many cities are undergoing today.

"Our mindset has shifted from chimney worship to chimney phobia," said Mao.

Since 2011, Zhuzhou has eliminated 213 polluting factories and closed production lines in cement, steel and chemicals. More than 450 chimneys have been torn down.

"This has led to enormous pressure to create jobs but also to more livable communities and a strong will for industrial upgrades, the foundation of urban transition. These things cannot be achieved without pain," said He Anjie, secretary of the municipal committee of the Communist Party of China.

High-end manufacturing, new materials, services and pharmaceutical industries are the new pillars of the local economy, and companies like Microsoft and Alibaba have established regional offices, innovation centers or joint ventures there.

Fitness program

Exhausted by the pace of economic expansion over the past three decades, many Chinese cities must now embark on an rapid industrial detox and intense workouts to get themselves fit and ready to compete again on new terms.

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