Chinese Farmer Slowly Learns Legal System to Fight Chemical Company

Polluted land. Sepp photography/Shutterstock

On the eve of the Lunar New Year in 2001, Farmer Wang Enlin was socializing with his neighbors when the house they were in was flooded by wastewater from a nearby factory, reports the Daily Mail.

The toxic wastewater also flooded some of the farmland in the village of Yushutun in the Heilongjiang Province of China. Wang, whose property was also affected, learned that it came from a large, state-owned chemical company.

According to news reports in People's Daily Online and China Youth Daily, the affected farmland become unusable for a time because of the pollution. The reports said the chemical company continued to dump wastewater into the village, whose residents relied exclusively on farming to make a living.

Wang wrote a letter to local officials to complain about the pollution, according to the Daily Mail. He was asked to show proof that the land had been polluted.

Wang said, "I knew I was in the right, but I did not know what law the other party had broken or whether or not there was evidence."

Although he didn't have money to buy books and had dropped out of school in the third grade, Wang made it his mission to learn the legal system. With the help of a dictionary, he read law texts at a bookstore, copying key portions by hand. He gave the shop owner corn in exchange for letting him spend so much time there. A few years later, an environmental law firm began to help, offering Wang and his neighbors free legal advice.

After a 16-year battle, Wang and his neighbors have won — at least the first round. A court ruled that the families in the village would each receive 820,000 yuan (about $119,000), according to the Daily Mail. The chemical company has appealed.

Wang won't give up. "We will certainly win. Even if we lose, we will continue to battle."