Chinese environmentalist Ma Jun during a clean-up operation at the Xiaotaihou River, in Chaoyang District

Sim Chi Yin

© Sim Chi Yin / Magnum Photos


The man with his pole and boots wading in the waters of a river near Beijing is writer and environmentalist Ma Jun (born in1968), recipient of numerous international awards. In 2006, he was appointed director of the Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs (IPE), which was founded with the ambitious goal of creating the first public database to record the severe pollution of China’s waters. Ma Jun and his team have compiled the Blue Map, a dynamic mapping of China's waters that is being constantly updated and is accessible to everyone in real time. Although the battle for transparency and awareness has been difficult, Ma Jun prefers peaceful means and focusing on information, because he realises “that uninformed protest creates only noise, but no real impact”. Ma Jun has succeeded in convincing more than 1,300 government agencies and companies to share their numbers on pollutant emissions, acknowledge their guilt, clean up contaminated sites, reduce pollution, and focus on environmentally friendly development and production.
Many of the world’s large multinationals now seek out suppliers and partners among the ranks of those who have joined the Ma Jun project, because they know that promoting environmental policies is also very good for their own image with today’s consumers who are increasingly informed and environmentally conscious of the products they buy. Although more than 1.3 million environmental breaches have been reported by industries in China so far, Ma humbly describes his work as “a drop in a bucket”. Still, much has been done, and the initiative of a single man has benefited the lives of millions of people.

Marco Marson