China is the most rapidly developing country in the world. Thanks to the pioneering work and arduous efforts by the People’s Republic of China over the past 50 years, especially over the last 25 years or so since the beginning of reform and opening-up, the overall national strength and the living standards of the people have been improved in no small ways. China’s GDP reached 7.9553 trillion yuan (about 964 billion U.S. dollars) in 1998, 50 times that of 1949 (Industry has increased by 381 times, and agriculture, by 20.6 times). Taking into account price changes, China’s economy has been growing at an annual rate of about 7.8 percent for the past couple of years, peaking at over 10 percent in some odd years, when the rest of the world is settling at around %3.3 tops. Really, the country seems determined on catching up and it really is an incredibly large country to begin with. 

Of course, this all comes at a cost. China is the world’s number one greenhouse gas emitter at this moment, and all these past decades of rapid industrialization – still continuing to this day – have left their mark and scars, most felt by the people themselves. Always, the first and last to suffer. A while ago, the Chinese government issues an odd statement (odd considering China’s pride and secrecy) in which it admitted some 20% of its farmlands are polluted, corresponding to a vastly contaminated food chain. A big chunk of this pollution is arsenic poisoning, an inorganic poison spewed by overworked mines and factories.  The effects of this kind of exposure in the food and water people consume over decades are devastating, causing multiple forms of cancer like liver, lung, kidney, and bladder cancer. The most prevalent form is skin cancer. The following photo report documents this seldom spoken tragedy, as shoot by Reuters.

Disused tanks at a closed realgar mining plant  around Heshan. The plant was finally closed in 2011 following massive poisoning of the village.

Disused tanks at a closed realgar mining plant around Heshan. The plant was finally closed in 2011 following massive poisoning of the village. Photograph: Jason Lee/Reuters

A villager washes clothes in a river. In 2010, 157 villagers from Heshan, with a population of about 1,500, had died of cancer caused by arsenic poisoning in the previous two decades, and another 190 had developed cancer due to arsenic poisoning.

A villager washes clothes in a river. In 2010, 157 villagers from Heshan, with a population of about 1,500, had died of cancer caused by arsenic poisoning in the previous two decades, and another 190 had developed cancer due to arsenic poisoning. Photograph: Jason Lee/Reuters

Damaged cowpea seedlings in a field in Heshan village. Airborne arsenic pollution is often transmitted to plants when it rains. Rice, one of the main food sources, can not grow on the fields.

Damaged cowpea seedlings in a field in Heshan village. Airborne arsenic pollution is often transmitted to plants when it rains. Rice, one of the main food sources, can not grow on the fields. Photograph: Jason Lee/Reuters

Skin ulcers are seen on 69-year-old Gong Zhaoyuan's torso. China has many so-called cancer villages, blamed by residents on industrial pollution.

Skin ulcers are seen on 69-year-old Gong Zhaoyuan’s torso. China has many so-called cancer villages, blamed by residents on industrial pollution. Photograph: Jason Lee/Reuters

Wen Jin'e, 65, shows a scar, the legacy of an operation to treat cervical cancer. Wen got 10,000 yuan ($1,600) from the local government for their cancer, but it was not even enough for one round of chemotherapy and radiotherapy

Wen Jin’e, 65, shows a scar, the legacy of an operation to treat cervical cancer. Wen got 10,000 yuan ($1,600) from the local government for their cancer, but it was not even enough for one round of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Photograph: Jason Lee/Reuters

Medicines used by 71-year-old Xiong Demin, who suffers from skin and lung and skin cancer. Photograph: Jason Lee/Reuters

Medicines used by 71-year-old Xiong Demin, who suffers from skin and lung and skin cancer. Photograph: Jason Lee/Reuters

Check out more shots and stories at The Guardian piece.

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