Supervisor Elham AbolFateh
Editor in Chief Mohamed Wadie

Take A Step Back to Spring Forward — Anji’s Story

Sun 14 Apr 2024 | 01:26 PM
Rana Atef

What do the three cities — Hertfordshire, Rockland, and Anji — have in common? They are all pocket cities right next to world-class metropolises. Hertfordshire is at the heart of the London basin; Rockland is on the upstream side of the Hudson River running through the New York City; and Anji, a small city located to the southwest of Shanghai, is also at the heart of the Yangtze River Delta, surrounded by booming large cities.

Like Hertfordshire and Rockland, Anji provides a glimpse of natural scenery for those city dwellers who are struggling in the concrete jungle, offering less hustle and bustle and more calmness and serenity. But it has taken Anji a bumpy journey to get where it is and to realize that sometimes you need to step back to spring forward.

Back in the mid-1990s, Anji was still struggling below the poverty line, as the mountains surrounding it blocked its way to hop on the express train of development in China. Then Anji, like many other cities around it, embarked on a reckless path of rapid industrialization, characterized by roaring machines and smoky factories. Soon, Anji got rich, but its downstream neighbors in the Taihu Lake basin got “thirsty” in the literal sense, as they were trapped in a water shortage.

How could a place crisscrossed by rivers and waterways have no water? It was because the water in these rivers and lakes was so polluted that it couldn’t be used in any way in the late 1990s. Like other upstream cities, Anji’s 33 heavy-polluting enterprises once discharged 12 million tons of industrial waste water every year. In 1997, the central government issued a decree, adopting strict regulatory standards for waste water discharge and putting an end to Anji’s pollution-heavy growth pattern.

For people in Anji, the question was, “What’s next?” Stepping on the brakes of economic activities could throw the city back into poverty, but this did not happen. Anji has found a new path.

The old industrial parks have taken on new looks. A defunct cement factory has been remodeled into a library, an abandoned mine has been developed into a tourist attraction, workers who used to work in paper mills are running cozy B&Bs in the countryside, and more than 300 cafés have sprung up in the small city. After more than ten years of hard work, Anji has struck a balance between economic development and environmental protection. Rivers and lakes has become clearer and barren mountains are again covered in trees.

Today’s Anji, with its advantageous geographic location, beautiful natural scenery, and convenient public services of a modern city, has become the first choice of neighboring-city residents to escape their busy urban life and a tourist attraction in itself. In the summer, hotels in Anji are swarmed with travelers, and young people are queuing up for a seat at the featured coffee shops.

Is there always a trade-off between environmental protection and economic development? Anji’s story shows that lucid water and green mountains are invaluable assets in themselves, and sometimes taking a step back enables you to make greater progress