Severe pollution in seaside city inspires creative protest

Over the weekend of 9–10 July, a public phone booth on a busy Beijing street, long underused in the era of smartphones, became a “hotline” for pollution victims in the city of Huludao, Lioning province, to share their sufferings with total strangers.

It was set up by the artist and activist Nut Brother, well known for his creative tactics in exposing pollution problems. On his Weibo account, Nut Brother recruited members of the public to visit the phone booth, pick up the phone and listen to pollution victims deprived of other channels to air their grievances. Those conversations were recorded as part of a documentary project.

Previously known for its seaside resorts, Huludao has in recent years increasingly chosen a development path favouring polluting industries, especially in the sectors of pharmaceuticals, metals and waste treatment. 

The phone booth action was part of a greater effort by Huludao residents to raise national awareness of their plight. A Sanlian Weekly report on 18 July followed the experience of a few Huludao locals who have had to suffer terrible smells from the city’s industrial district since around 2019.

In May this year, following repeated complaints from residents, municipal environmental authorities ran factory inspections and found dozens of environmental law violations. Officials claimed they had identified a few hazardous waste-processing firms as the source of the odours torturing residents.

The inspections led to those facilities being temporarily shut down and Huludao’s air suddenly became “breathable,” residents told Sanlian Weekly. But they fear the polluting facilities will resume operations as before.

Meanwhile, in Beijing, another “hotline” session at the phone booth ran for about 30 minutes on 16 July before being called off by authorities.