LINDSEY HILSUM: The 2006 Green China Championships, a TV extravaganza sponsored by the state environmental protection agency and introduced by three tenors singing, "I dream of a green China. We will build a paradise on the debris," segueing into images of an idealized ancient China, pure in nature.
The government is using events like this to try to spread the environmental message and make it popular. One of the awards went to a well-known campaigner on water pollution.
But the no message doesn't seem to have reached the village of Xiditou, where paints and chemical factories discharge effluent directly into the river Yongding. Some of the worst polluters have closed, but villages say others just hide their waste pipes underground.
Mr. Zhao works as mechanic. He never earns enough to pay off the medical bills he incurred after his wife was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Official figures say the cancer rate in Xiditou is 30 times the national average.
Filming discreetly, we went looking for the village chief who owns the Hong Gua paint factory, but he wasn't there. So we tried the party and government headquarters.
The chief said he needed permission from the propaganda secretary. Other officials gathered. A new central government edict says the local official should talk to visiting journalists, but the village chief retreated to the corridor. He took a little persuading from his colleagues.
As he pinned on the microphone, someone said, "You're famous now." "Yes," he said. "So was Saddam Hussein."
Official cancer figures didn't impress him.
BIAN SHAO DONG, Village Chief, Xiditou (through translator): The fact that people get sick has nothing to do with the environment. People get cancer in other places, too. How do you explain that, right?
Those cancer rates are impossible anyway. I don't know how they get those figures. The water isn't unsafe. We all grew up with it. Look how well I am.
LINDSEY HILSUM: Across China, villages are becoming aware of new environmental laws, but they're usually too poor and powerless to stand up to local officials. Party carters and chiefs may give occasional interviews now, but no one's really calling them to account.
The government in Beijing says it's serious about improving the environment, but those whose health has been destroyed have yet to see the proof.