At first glance, it might seem like just a black truck filled with bottles of water, but a closer look reveals a darker — or rather murkier — side to what is sloshing around inside.
Its cargo of more than 500 bottles of Nongfu Spring, an ubiquitous Chinese brand, filled with contaminated drinking water from the village of Xiaohaotu in China’s northwestern Shaanxi Province is being driven around Beijing as a reminder of the costs of the country’s rapid economic development.
The mobile exhibition, created by Nut Brother (堅果兄弟) — an artist known for advocacy work on environmental and social issues — was created in defiance after his initial show was shut down.
Shocked by Shaanxi’s dirty drinking water during a work trip to the province in May, the 37-year-old enlisted the help of villagers to fill 9,000 empty Nongfu bottles and transported them to Beijing, where they were installed in a museum.
Nut Brother’s exhibition caught the attention of Nongfu Spring Co, and two weeks later authorities from the Beijing Industrial and Commercial Bureau dismantled his display, removing most of the bottled water.
The company later filed a complaint, claiming his work infringed on its copyright.
“Nongfu Spring literally means ‘farmer’s spring water,’ using village farmers as a brand,” said Nut Brother, who does not reveal his name to the media. “But the reality is farmers don’t drink this water. A lot of their water is seriously tainted with pollution.”
Nongfu Spring Co’s legal department refused interview requests and calls to their public relations team went unanswered.
Large parts of China are blanketed in toxic smog and suffer from polluted waterways as a result of the country’s economic boom.
While much attention has been paid to the impact of rapid industrialization on China’s air, the effects on the country’s water supply are less well-known — and less visible.
Across China, much of the water is “unfit for human contact,” and 14 of 31 provinces failed to meet water quality targets, despite a nationwide push for improvement in previous years, a Greenpeace East Asia report said last year.
“They’ve been drinking this water for more than 10 years,” Nut Brother said.
The samples contain high levels of iron and manganese, which can be toxic in large doses, he said.
“It’s not fit for consumption, but the villagers have no choice,” he added.
The roving exhibit seems to have startled some visitors.
“It’s shocking to know we have people who drink this kind of water,” one onlooker said.
Another passerby bravely took a swig from a bottle.
“You can definitely feel bits of the dirt,” he said. “It makes me feel very lucky to be able to drink clean water. Very lucky.”
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