You watch more. There’s a video of her interviewing a basil plant and two of her reading out loudfrom the Bible. In one, her nose spontaneously starts bleeding. All of her videos are like this: unsettling, repetitive, sparse. Imagine anime mixed with a healthy heap of David Lynch, a dash of Ariana Grande, and one stick of bubblegum. There are a few characters who appear in the videos besides Poppy—one of her recurring guests is a talking mannequin.
Most of her videos are too unnerving to watch from beginning to end for reasons that are hard to put your finger on. You find yourself scrolling to the comments in the middle of the more unsettling scenes, the digital equivalent of turning to a friend in the movie theater and gauging their reaction to the batshit thing you just saw onscreen.
Making matters worse is the astonishing “safety” record of the chemical industry. Between January and August 2016, China suffered 232 accidents in chemical factories, such as leaks, fires and explosions—almost one a day. Since around a fifth of these factories are in China’s most productive agricultural areas or near rivers used for irrigation, many of the spilled chemicals end up in fields. Chemical factories are not the only culprits. About 150km from Mr Tang’s village, in a town called Chenzhou, part of a lead and zinc mine collapsed in 1985, flooding nearby farms with arsenic, a by-product of mining. Arsenic concentrations in the soil were 24 times the legal limit 30 years later.
The second big problem is that land is being poisoned by “sewage irrigation”. Wastewater and industrial effluent are used in increasing amounts for irrigation because there is not enough fresh water to go round. In the north of China there is less water available per person than in Saudi Arabia, so farmers use whatever they can get. China produces over 60bn tonnes of sewage a year and in rural areas only 10% of it is treated. Most of the sludge goes into lakes and rivers, and thence onto fields.
A study in 2014 found that 39 out of 55 areas using sewage irrigation were contaminated by cadmium, arsenic and other poisons and that the accumulation of heavy metals in intensively irrigated areas was rising. An earlier study from 2010 found that water along 18% of the length of China’s rivers was too polluted for use in agriculture. It is used anyway.