Canada: Chinese Farmer Studies The Law To Take On State-Run Chemical Company

Last Updated: February 21 2017
Article by Devry Smith Frank LLP

"You can do anything you set your mind to." These wise words, spoken by Benjamin Franklin, were certainly true for Wang Enlin, a Chinese farmer with only three years of formal education.  He spent the last 16 years learning the law on his own so he could sue the state-owned chemical company, Qihua Group, who he believed polluted his land.

And for now it appears his efforts have paid off.  He has won his legal battle against Qihua Group in the lower district court, but the chemical company is appealing the decision.

Wang's troubles began back in 2001 when Qihua Group allegedly dumped toxic wastewater from its nearby factory onto his farmland in Heilongjiang Province.  Wang was not the only farmer to suffer.  The wastewater also flooded the farmland of many others in his village.

Qihua Group's actions created a dire situation for the resident's of Wang's village.  Much of the village's population depended on agriculture, and the toxic water had contaminated the land to the point where it could no longer be used to grow crops. A government document from 2001 claimed that the affected farmland would not be useable for a long time due to the pollution.

Qihua Group's release of toxic waste was likely not a one-time occurrence.  The company is alleged to have released 15,000 to 20,000 tons of chemical waste every year between 2001 and 2016.  The company has reportedly created a 71-acre wasteland and a 478-acre pond with its liquid waste.

Wang faced the issue that many non-lawyers face when wronged by another party: "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."

Wang was also facing a far more powerful adversary. Qihua Group, whose assets exceed two billion yuan (approximately $382 million CAD), likely employs an impressive legal team to defend itself.

Wang first complained to the Land Resources Bureau about the toxic wastewater dumped by Qihua.  When asked for evidence that Qihua had polluted the village, Wang was unable to provide any.

That is when Wang set out on his journey to learn the law. Equipped with a dictionary and his three years of education, Wang set out to prove the allegations against Qihua by studying the law himself.  He began by reading dozens of legal books.  Since the books were too expensive for him to purchase, he spent hours at a local bookstore for days on end, reading and making handwritten notes about what he read. He even paid the bookshop owner in sacks of corn to do this.

In 2007, Wang started receiving free legal advice and was finally able to file a legal petition.  But the case took another eight years to get to court.

After 16 years of studying, Wang's efforts paid off.  Angangxi District Court finally ruled against Qihua Group, awarding Wang and his neighbours 820,000 yuan (approximately $157,000 CAD).

Although Wang achieved victory in the lower court, his battle is not over.  Qihua Group intends to appeal the decision.

Nevertheless, Wang remains optimistic about his chances of success and is determined to fight his fight to the end.  In his words, "We will certainly win. Even if we lose, we will continue to battle."

If you are in need of any legal assistance, please contact one of our experienced lawyers at Devry Smith Frank LLP today.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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