Stinking waves waft out from the chlorella-covered river,
endless piles of rotting garbage mount on the riverbank — When an
outside visitor arrives the rubbish dump called Xi’er village, he
must think that he’s entered hell.
Zhang Liansheng, a 60-year-old villager told the Beijing
News that this dump site, a sprawling 1,000 mu (a
traditional Chinese unit of area equaling to 666 2/3 m²), used to
be green farmlands. But years of excavating sand and dumping
rubbish have transformed the site into a huge garbage can.
From farmland to rubbish dump
Located in Shahe township, Changping District of Beijing, Xi’er
village is bathed by branches of the Wenyu River and faces a famous
villa resort across the bank.
Before the tragedy began, the farmland produced abundant
harvests every year, feeding all of the 1,900 villagers. “The soil
was fertile. Rice, corn, wheat – all our crops grew well,” sighed a
70-year-old man. Villagers grew more than enough grain. Farmers
supplemented their income by selling their surplus. These villagers
enjoyed a fairly self-sufficient life.
But things began to change in late 2002. Village officials
started renting their farmland to outsiders at low prices. “The
farmland was not as fertile as some people assumed, so we wanted to
find other ways to earn money,” explained Li Zhizhong, the
village’s Party chief.
As per the contract, the land was allotted for husbandry and
forestry only. But the renters found a more profitable business –
excavating sand. “From that time onward, the sand excavations
began,” some villagers confirmed.
In 2005, a real estate firm from Beijing spotted this area and
wanted to develop it into a commercial center. But just as they
cleaned out all the husbandry and forestry facilities, development
ceased due to lack of funds. The firm left, leaving nothing but
ravaged land behind.
“We’ve been contacting and negotiating with them; no settlement
has been reached yet,” said Li. Unfortunately the suspension left a
loophole for the illegal sand excavators and rubbish dumpers to
“There are rivers running by, so the sand here is of good
quality,” explained a villager. At least 3 illegal sand excavation
sites sprung up here. Meanwhile, others set up landfills, utilizing
the large pits left by the excavators. “We are only making a tiny
little fortune compared with the excavators,” claimed a dump
There are about 10 landfills of different sizes throughout the
village. Most are unlicensed. “Trucks trundle in and out on dirt
roads, dumping garbage, creating mountains,” said Zhang. “Such
trucks can total more than a hundred per day at most! It’s a
The landfills hired workers to pick out useful items from the
massive garbage. Plastic bottles, paper boxes, steel bars and
bricks are recycled. Useless items are dumped directly into the
pits. If no pit is currently available, a new one will be dug.
There is a shallow area covered by black mud-like material,
covering over 100 square meters. If a person comes too close, he
could pass out from the stench. “That is human excrement,” said one
worker. The stuff is trucked here secretly at night from Beijing.
“You can dump anything here, as long as you pay,” the worker added,
confessing that sometimes excrement is dumped directly into the
The fee charged here for rubbish dump is a lot cheaper than
other sites. The cost is usually half of a licensed landfill.
Estimates suggest that the owners here are earning hundreds of
thousand yuan annually.
The worst nightmare
While the excavators and landfill owners are making huge
profits, the villagers are suffering from their worst
With no land to till, these farmers have lost their source of
income. They must buy food from outside at much higher prices than
it would take them to grow their own. Most are eking out a living
by renting out their houses. “They have to figure out a new way of
life,” said Li. Their children have now gone to the big city
looking for jobs. The elderly and the women are left behind. Many
earn a living by sweeping streets or patrolling as security
To clean up the garbage piles here may cost a fortune, something
the village will never be able to afford. They cling to the hope
that the firm might be willing to cover the expenses. “The garbage
is too massive, it might scare them away!” said Zhang.
Villagers hold their local officials accountable for the
tragedy, for failing to prevent the mess in the first place. But Li
doesn’t agree; “The excavation and dumping were prohibited from the
very beginning, and we’ve been trying to crack down on them the
entire time. We even arranged guards to ward off those trucks. But
they can be very tricky. They hauled rubbish in here at 3 or 4
o’clock in the morning while we slept, or at noon while we ate
But the villagers don’t buy it. “Sometimes they are just faking
their efforts,” locals say. “The landfills were once shut down by
the District Land and Resources Department, but it opened again
immediately the following day.”
“Each year I myself hand over tens of thousands of yuan to the
village committee,” explained a landfill owner surnamed Yang. “The
excavators must be giving them even more.”
To the east, a 3 to 4-meter-high sand pile sits by the road,
waiting for the buyer to take away. The sand is no more than 1,000
meters from the village chief’s office.
“The rubbish dump must be put out of commission immediately,”
Shahe town officials said. They explained that the township
government has contacted the development firm and urged them to
resume construction as soon as possible. Plans have been made to
gradually remove the garbage piles from the village. Household
garbage will be transferred to licensed landfills; other garbage
will be buried locally.
(China.org.cn by Lu Lu, September 3, 2007)