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Home » The Human Cost of Coal Mining in China: Xiaojun “Tom” Wang (Transcript)

The Human Cost of Coal Mining in China: Xiaojun “Tom” Wang (Transcript)

Here is the full transcript of Xiaojun “Tom” Wang’s talk titled “The Human Cost of Coal Mining in China” at TED 2024 conference.

Listen to the audio version here:


So in early April this year, I went back to my hometown, Lüliang in central China’s Shanxi Province, for the tomb-sweeping day. The tomb-sweeping day, literally, it is a day when we go and clean the tombs of our deceased beloved ones. It is also a day when we go and ask for blessings from our ancestors. And this year, my sister became a new grandmother, and she wanted to ask for blessings from our father for her new grandson.

We had a hard time finding our father’s tomb. The roads leading into our village had wide cracks, with signs telling people to stay away and beware of landslides. Landslides in my usually dry hometown used to be just a rare natural disaster. Today, they are manmade, everyday threats because our mountains are being hollowed out by coal mining.

Personal Background

And these are the very mountains where my father and my grandfather and our ancestors are buried. My name is Xiaojun Wang. People who are familiar with Chinese language, culture or history will immediately know I was born in the 1970s because of the character “jun” in my name. Jun means soldier, and that, back then, was the best job in China.

And that was what my veteran grandfather had expected me to do: to grow up and become a soldier, just like him. I grew up, became a teacher, a journalist, and then an environmental activist. My work today focuses mostly on helping my village, my province and China to move out of coal addiction, regain our confidence and build a new, clean living without coal. Because I have witnessed how my village, my province had been destroyed by coal mining and coal burning.

Coal Mining in Shanxi Province

My province, over 40 percent, sits on top of coal and coal mining. At its peak in the mid-1990s, we had about 11,000 coal mines all over the province. And even today, right now, more than one million people work at various coal mines. And that means one of every 30 people.

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