'Lucky' coins that visitors throw into Chinese spring risk polluting the water, staff warn

PHOTO: Tripadvisor.com

More than 60,000 yuan (S$12,302) in coins has been scooped out of one of China’s most renowned natural springs over the past three years.

The coins are tossed into the water by the millions of tourists who visit the Baotu Spring Park in the city of Jinan, in China’s eastern Shandong province, each year.

The coin tossers believe their act will bring them good luck, love, and whatever else their hearts desire.

The result is a scene reminiscent of that which confronts visitors to Rome’s 300-year-old Trevi fountain, where tossing one coin is meant to mean a return to the Eternal City, tossing two means you’ll return and find love, and tossing three means you’ll return, find love, and marry in Rome.

Staff at the park have had enough. They banned the practice back in 2015, but in vain, and this week again called for it to stop because the natural spring water is being polluted, China Central Television reported.

Staff have cleared coins from the spring 29 times in the past three years – they are given to the local fiscal administration – CCTV reported.

“As managers of the springs we have made it clear that such a practice is banned, as coins contain metals and can pollute the water if soaked for a long period,” the park’s spokeswoman, Nie Jing, told CCTV.

Nie said that tourists believed tossing a coin in the spring offered them “some kind of spiritual sustenance”, but called the practice uncivilised.

“It represents people’s good wishes, especially during the Lunar New Year,” she said.

Millions of tourists are drawn each year to its crystal-clear waters, quaint pavilions, rock formations and landscaped gardens. Water spouts more than 25 metres (80 feet) can come up from limestone caves beneath the spring, and the water temperature hovers around 18 degrees Celsius (64 deg F) all year round.

The Baotu spring is the best known among more than 70 in Jinan, which is known as China’s “Spring City”. It has cultural significance for Chinese people, having been described in literature and declared the “Number one spring under Heaven” by the Qianlong Emperor who ruled China from 1735 to 1796.

PHOTO: Tripadvisor.com

The park became a topic of national discussion this week when a video showing a tourist retrieving coins from  the spring with a handmade rod attached to a magnetic head created a buzz online. The man scooped up the money in front of tourists before taking off with the proceeds.

A public backlash over his actions sent the police in search of the man, who was later found and given a warning. Police said he had only taken a “small amount of money”.

Around the world, people toss coins into fountains or wells, believing that it will bring them good luck or grant their wishes.

Each year, some €1.5 million (S$2.4 million) is fished out of Rome’s Trevi fountain. Traditionally donated to a Catholic charity to help the destitute, the money became the centre of a dispute in 2019 between the church and the mayor, who wanted to use it to help restore the city’s crumbling facades.

Tourists stand in front of the Trevi fountain in Rome, Italy, July 25, 2017. 
PHOTO: Reuters

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.