Profile: Liu Lican, Focusing on environmental reporting in China


Internews, Washington, DC

Liu Lican is the Co-founder and Programs Director in the Greenovation Hub, a Chinese grassroots NGO focusing on environmental protection and innovation. He also serves as project coordinator of Internews’ Earth Journalism Network and helped develop two reporting toolkits, “Environmental Health and Climate Change” and “Global Trade Reporting: New Trends in Africa-China-Western Countries Economic Integration – Fair Timber Trade as an Example.” His most recent book, “The Sick Villages in a Strong State,” is the first book in Chinese that reveals the so-called “cancer village” problem in China. Through recounting the health consequences of environmental pollution, the book displays the lives and struggles of rural residents and the problems of environmental governance. 

Internews asked Lican to speak more about his work on environment issues:

You were recently named one of the inaugural Asian Development Fellows by the Asia Foundation. What does this recognition for your work mean to you and to the field of environmental awareness in China?

This fellowship, aiming to help fellows develop leadership for Asia’s future, got more than 600 applications from 18 Asian countries; 10 fellows from nine countries are selected.  All of the other fellows are talented and committed young leaders in their areas, including governance and policy, education, gender, religious minorities, and social enterprise. I am the only one working for environmental NGOs. So for me it is not only a recognition for my work but also a signal about how international society thinks that the environmental challenge is also about development problems for China and Asia. It encourages me to think about the environmental problem from different perspectives and relate it to other social, political and economic issues.

With Internews’ Earth Journalism Network, you’re working on projects to boost coverage of fisheries and ocean issues. How have you seen coverage of these issues change within China, and what do you think is needed in order for wider public awareness of these and other environmental issues?

Fisheries and ocean issues have not been well covered for a long time. Traditionally China is an inland country and people do not really talk much about the ocean, even though many parts of China have coasts and increasingly rely on fishing as a business. But things are getting better now in terms of coverage of these issues, partly because the consumption of marine products, pollution and food safety issues, and international conflicts about oceans with other countries. To raise public awareness of ocean and other environmental issues in China, I think it is good to link them to other problems like public health, food safety and children’s care, policy and politics, economics, jobs and even housing. And people now want solutions rather than problems. So it will be good to showcase some solutions to these problems.

I was fascinated to read this article about your book on so-called “cancer villages” in China. Do you see growing awareness of the links between industrial pollution and public health?  

The awareness of the links between industrial pollution and health are definitely growing in China. Thanks to pollution itself and social media, people talk a lot about air pollution and its health consequences. A joke goes like this: to live in China you have to be a chemist because you have to know what kind of food is safe and what kind of water you can drink. I do not see that things are getting better, given that the health consequences of pollution always lag behind the pollution itself. It may take many years for the development or emergence of the environmental health problem. Since China experienced years of industrial pollution which is still growing, the health problem will likely be more visible in the future than now. The good thing is that the government acknowledges this problem and is doing some investigation about air pollution, soil pollution and water pollution. But the government does not want to release data and information to the public. Even though the government is really trying to recover the environment, the environmental health problem is quite serious and the public is still worried.