The Beijing Coking-Chemical Plant is the latest pollution-causing factory to
move from Beijing's urban district in accordance with a municipal government
order aimed at creating a cleaner environment for the 2008 Olympic games.
A major polluter as well as gas provider in the Chinese capital, the factory
supplied 710,000 families and 5,000 hotels with gas in the late 1990s. At one
time the number of its registered workers surpassed 9,000.
Operations at the factory never ceased during its 47-year history, continuing
to function even during the catastrophic 1976 Tangshan Earthquake, which caused
at least 240,000 deaths, 180 kilometers east of Beijing.
But production came to an end on July 15, as a factory manager pressed a
button, dumping out the last load of coke. Emotional workers took pictures, but
the factory's huge chimneys will no longer send out smoke from Beijing's
A Political Star
When Qin Wansuo was hired to the factory in 1974, the first training he
received was political. He was told who their clients were - the Great Hall of
the People, foreign embassies, big hotels and the Zhongnanhai, where the Chinese
central government and Chairman Mao Zedong were seated.
With a list of high-priority customers like this, Qin said he formed the
opinion that his factory's normal operation was not just a business but also a
Since the late 1970s, coal gas was widely promoted inside the city and the
amount of private gas users sharply increased. The factory's political influence
shifted, but did not fade. .
It was a set practice for many years for chief Beijing municipality leaders
to visit the factory during the Spring Festival holidays, the most widely
celebrated in China. Gas supply problems are one of the few factors that could
easily ruin the holiday atmosphere, and the leaders didn't want that to happen.
Later, the factory's role in the city could be best summed up by Qin's
metaphor: "When my factory sneezes, the municipality government gets a cold."