Chinese are showing their concern online too. Ant Forest, an Alipay mobile game that rewards users for adopting more environmentally friendly lifestyles by planting actual greenery, has led to around 122 million new trees in the ground since 2016, according to the UN.
Speaking ahead of an appearance at the Hong Kong International Literary Festival in November, Chen told AFP his own passion for environmental issues was sparked by learning of the town of Guiyu — a waste site for the developed world’s electronic junk that was once branded an “environmental calamity” by the UN.
Despite growing up just 60 kilometres (40 miles) away in the southeastern city of Shantou, he had barely heard of the e-waste hub where tens of thousands of poor workers dismantled discarded TVs, mobile phones and batteries — often with no protective gear, leaving them directly exposed to toxic chemicals.
“There was a childhood friend who worked for an American recycling company and he told me about this place Guiyu,” explains Chen, one of the stars of China’s flourishing science fiction scene.
“I went there and it was totally shocking. They (the workers) suffered very low pay, they were infected by toxic air, water and soil,” he adds.
He began to question the throwaway culture of the developed world.
“Waste is basically invisible in many ways, you dump it into the trash and it just disappears and that’s how our urban life functions,” he muses. “But actually somebody is suffering from this.”