It's official. The ‘plague’ of cancer is at the center of a major public health crisis in China.
Six patients are diagnosed with cancer every minute, that's 8,550 new cancer patients every day, according to the 2012 China Cancer Census (2012中国肿瘤登记年报) [zh]. The report states that 13 percent of these cancer patients will die.
Many believe the rapid increase in cancer rates is a result of environmental pollution from the last few decades of intense growth in China.
The Cancer Census report was published in January 2013, but didn't receive much coverage. Chinese media were busy focusing on the National People's Congress (NPC) and Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC).
On April 7 and 8, however, the report was repackaged as a public health crisis [zh] by various news outlets, eliciting strong and often emotional debates on China's major social media platforms.
A commentator called Tulao 8 (@土魯8) [zh], from Guangzhou, said on Sina Weibo:
China is a cancer country. Every minute six people are diagnosed with cancer. This is a terrible figure. This is the fruit that ordinary people can enjoy after 30 years of open door policy and reform. Some people are happy about the situation and they see everything as their achievement. Some people are struggling with death and they don't know who is the murderer. Some know who do this to them but can't do anything to stop their bodies from being slowly eaten by the filth.
Environmental authorities in China had already confirmed the existence of so-called ‘cancer villages‘ [zh], with 3000 toxic chemicals identified and found across China (excluding data from autonomous regions such as Tibet, Xinjiang and Qinghai.)
Chinese media has reported as many as 459 cancer villages. It is not unusual to find a 10 percent incidence of cancer in these villages [zh]. The worst case is in Zhai Wan Cun in Hubei province; there the cancer rate is 80 times higher than the national level [zh]. The village only has a population of 3000, but more than 100 people with cancer died there between 2003-2006. The average cancer rate in developed countries is around 3 percent.
Beyond these staggering figures, many micro-bloggers painted the real situation in their cancer-ridden communities.
A blogger calling himself ‘Better to be poor at home’ (@在家貧亦好) on Sina Weibo described [zh] :
I visit my home village during Qingming festival, the two villages nearby have many cancer patients and many have died because of cancer. The first village has 5 and the other one has 6. Most of them are between 30-50, so this is quite odd. The villagers blame ill fortune, but something must have gone wrong for so many cases to appear in the rural villages. The authorities should investigate the cause.
Another calling himself ‘Red leaves on the mountain’ (@山山紅葉), from Tai An City in Shandong province, said [zh]:
Our Tai'an city has been surrounded by factories. Our villages have been forced to move because of the construction of a aluminum factory. They tried to petition but were stopped. The television reporters have been pressed by government officials. Our land is no longer suitable for growing crops and can only be rented to factories. The number of cancer patients has increase in an explosive manner.
Deng Fei (@鄧飛), an activist who campaigns against water pollution in China by asking people to document polluted rivers, re-posted [zh] a private message sent to him by an online friend:
#Letter from an online friend# Teacher Deng, tears come out when I see that you have raised concern about the pollution of underground water. I left my home village to Shanghai when I was very young but my relatives are still living near Weifang and PIngdu in Shandong province. Now every family can tell a story about cancer. My sister's parents in law were both diagnosed with cancer last year. Now her father-in-law has passed away but mother-in-law is still receiving treatment. I would like to thank you for what you have done to the people in that piece of land.
Cang County in Hebei is an example of a region with high cancer rates, and has suffered in the past from high levels of underground water pollution. Charles Xue (@薛蛮子), an investor highlighted [zh] the news:
#Comment on the “red bean” pollution incident in Cang County in Hebei# [note: the underground water in the region has turned red and the head of environmental department claimed that the water was not polluted, he said that when red beans are boiled with rice, the rice turn red.] The head of Environmental Department in Cang County has finally been sacked because of netizens’ criticism. The report came out and the residue of chemicals has exceeded 70 times the safety standard. In the village, there are 30 diagnosed cancer patients and 26 of them have died. The villagers have been protesting but all these years, all the reports from the county to the province's environmental departments said that the water quality is safe?! How can they pass the water quality test every year? Among 655 cities in China, 400 depend on underground water supplies, so what can we do? What can our kids do?
Another commentator called ‘Little Dadada’ (@小达达哒) blogged about [zh] the cancer death toll in Fuzhou city from Fujian province.
[Cancer the killer and the unbearable heaviness of Fuzhou city] Fuzhou City constitutes 19.3% of the population of Fujian province, and the annual death toll from cancer patients is more than 11,000. The cancer death rate has topped all the middle to small size cities in the country.
A user called ‘Huihui Da'（＠回回達）concluded [zh] by noting sarcastically that:
Well, We drink pork soup [refers to dead pigs in Shanghai river], eat poisonous bread, toxic sprouts produced by industrial farming, breathe in toxic smog. Of course we have cancer.