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  Beijing Scene

Something Fishy

In one of the largest environmental disasters in Chinese history, more than 500 metric tons of dead fish were discovered recently along a 200-mile stretch of river in southwest China. Damages are estimated at more than RMB10 million, or US$ 1.3 million.

Residents of Leshan, Sichuan province first began noticing a few dead fish floating in the Dadu River in mid-March. Within days, the river was swollen with dead fish. After careful consideration and much deliberation, engineers at the Fishing Regulatory Body soon concluded that the fish were probably killed by pollution. Extensive tests on the river and the surrounding area were unable to pinpoint the source of the culprit, a pathogenic bacteria.

Travelers from around the world have long flocked to Leshan, which is famous for the Grand Buddha, a 71-meter statue built into cliffs overlooking the Min and Dadu rivers. However, in the late 1970s, the area began developing into an industrial center and a number of factories now line the banks of the rivers. Since then, the level of pollutants in the waters has increased dramatically.

This disaster comes barely a month after a similar incident in Fujian province, where a local factory poured toxic pollutants into the Shaxi River, killing more than 100,000 fish.

40 Funerals and a Wedding

Forty people were killed and 36 injured in a village in Shanxi province last month when a crazed coal miner detonated a homemade bomb at a wedding ceremony.

Police say Liu Zhanjin, 34, who had secretly murdered his wife and three-year-old son last year, built the device during a period of mental depression, the Yangcheng Evening News reports. In a jealous fit, Liu had stabbed his wife to death after she tried to leave the house to visit friends. Then he killed his son, who had witnessed the incident. After ditching the bodies in a cesspool, the father lied about the mother and boy's whereabouts to his two daughters, who were in school when the murders took place.

As his mental condition deteriorated, the mere sight of others enjoying themselves filled Liu with rage. On March 29, he set off several homemade explosives outside a house packed with 100 wedding guests. The bombs, which were disguised as sacks of rice, were packed with nails, steel bolts, bicycle parts and scrap iron. The 40 dead included 20 members of the same family. Only 24 bodies were identifiable.

Soon after the bombing, Liu revealed his motives, as well as the location of his wife and son's remains, in a 50,000-word suicide letter to the police.

Hangzhou Tea Party

'Tis the season to harvest fresh tea leaves. But tea farmers in Zhejiang province were recently caught dumping thousands of kilograms of surplus Longjing tea, one of China's most prized and expensive varieties, into a river, after losing a lengthy battle against the sale of cheaper imitations.

According to the Economic Daily, the angry farmers hail from Meijiawu, a village near the tea's birthplace of Longjing and not far from the provincial capital Hangzhou. Although Longjing proper produces the highest quality leaves, production has tapered over recent years. Today 60 percent of the area's premium Longjing tea, or about 70,000 kilograms, is produced in Meijiawu.

But the tea's rising popularity has been accompanied by a proliferation of farms producing fake or inferior leaves that claim to originate in the Longjing region. Unable to compete with these cheaper alternatives, stocks of the genuine article have sat untouched in storage for years.

Earlier this month bystanders watched in disbelief as farmers disposed of large quantities of unsold leaves from previous seasons, now deemed unfit for sale, into a small river. Within hours the entire river turned dark and fragrant, witnesses say.

As justification for their actions, farmers pointed out to reporters that windows in shops across Hangzhou bear signs boasting new shipments of this year's top-grade Longjing tea, despite the fact that the crop has yet to be harvested.

How Much For the Kid?

The average Chinese family now spends more money on its single child than on parents and grandparents combined, according to a recent survey.

In most cases over half of a family's monthly earnings go toward raising the little one. The survey was based on families with children aged 12 and under from Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu and Xi'an, the Beijing Youth Daily reports. Children in these cities cost parents a staggering total of RMB3.5 billion, or US$436 million, per month to feed, clothe, school and generally keep happy. Of the high-priced tykes, those in Beijing are the biggest wallet-breakers at RMB1.4 billion, or US$175 million, per month.

These spending patterns are largely a result of China's one-child policy, initiated in the early 1980s, as well as the new abundance of expensive consumer goods and growing purchasing power among the people. In addition to private English tutors, today's Chinese parents are willing to pay for extracurricular activities, including music and dance lessons, and sports. And if securing a spot at the best schools means generous cash donations, so be it.

Furthermore, an increasing number of children are sent abroad for schooling each year, with tuition costs as high as RMB150,000, or US$18,750. England is particularly in favor now due to its reputation for high standards in education and the image of Victorian order, compared to the image of the U.S. as crime and racism-ridden.

The Truck Stops Here

A policeman on a motorcycle was recently killed while trying to pull over a speeding truck after it ran a red light.

According to witnesses, the truck was travelling more than 60 kilometers per hour and showed no signs of stopping, the Yancheng Evening News reports. The policeman chased after the truck, but when he tried to cut it off the truck smashed into his motorcycle killing the officer instantly. The truck driver, who was hauling gravel for the Heng Tong Transport Company, stopped and was arrested on the scene.

The tragedy follows in the wake of a similar incident last December that drew public outrage and calls for stricter measures against unsafe truck drivers.

According to sources in the trucking industry, accidents are partly caused by supervisors who value profitability over safety. One source said most drivers do not receive technical training and only hold basic driver's licenses.

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