The Struggle for Sustainability in Rural China

The Struggle for Sustainability in Rural China: Environmental Values and Civil Society

BRYAN TILT
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 216
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/tilt15000
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  • Book Info
    The Struggle for Sustainability in Rural China
    Book Description:

    Though China's economy is projected to become the world's largest within the next twenty years, industrial pollution threatens both the health of the country's citizens and the natural resources on which their economy depends. Capturing the consequences of this reality, Bryan Tilt conducts an in-depth, ethnographic study of Futian Township, a rural community reeling from pollution.

    The industrial township is located in the populous southwestern province of Sichuan. Three local factories-a zinc smelter, a coking plant, and a coal-washing plant-produce air and water pollution that far exceeds the standards set by the World Health Organization and China's Ministry of Environmental Protection. Interviewing state and company officials, factory workers, farmers, and scientists, Tilt shows how residents cope with this pollution and how they view its effects on health and economic growth. Striking at the heart of the community's environmental values, he explores the intersection between civil society and environmental policy, weighing the tradeoffs between protection and economic growth. Tilt ultimately finds that the residents are quite concerned about pollution, and he investigates the various strategies they use to fight it. His study unravels the complexity of sustainable development within a rapidly changing nation.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52080-5
    Subjects: History, Political Science, Environmental Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-IV)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. V-VI)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. IX-X)
  5. PREFACE
    (pp. XI-XVIII)
  6. 1 ENVIRONMENTAL VALUES, CIVIL SOCIETY, AND SUSTAINABILITY IN POST-REFORM CHINA
    (pp. 1-20)

    On a summer evening in 2006, Mr. Zhen Dehua, the Communist Party secretary of Futian Township, hosted a modest banquet of roasted rabbit and chicken soup in honor of my return, along with a Chinese economist colleague, to conduct research in the area.¹ The monsoon rains had not yet arrived, and the air in the makeshift banquet hall, which normally served as a meeting room in the township-government office building, was hot and stifling. Party Secretary Zhen led the guests, who also included the mayor, the vice mayor, and the head of the township industrial-development office, in a series of...

  7. 2 THE DEVELOPMENT IMPERATIVE
    (pp. 21-43)

    This chapter’s epigraphs, despite being attributed to figures from opposite poles of twentieth-century Chinese political history, are strikingly similar in the urgency they attribute to national development. Chairman Mao Zedong, the enigmatic leader of China’s socialist revolution who ruled the country from the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 until his death in 1976, viewed development in general, and industrialization in particular, as a matter of the highest priority. For Mao, economic development entailed overcoming what he perceived as the nation’s backward, “feudal” (fengjian) past by leveraging science and technology in a march toward an imagined future....

  8. 3 SAYING FAREWELL TO COMMUNAL CAPITAL
    (pp. 44-63)

    After Mao Zedong’s death and Deng Xiaoping’s ascendance to power in the late 1970s, the People’s Republic of China was set on a path toward what top political leaders called “socialism with Chinese characteristics [zhongguo teside shehui zhuyi],” a euphemism that in fact meant a retreat from socialist ideals and an espousal of market-driven capitalist development that would gradually wrest the economy from state control. “Socialism with Chinese characteristics” sounds like many other reform-era platitudes without real-world implications, but in fact it has had a very real effect on the structure of rural industry in Futian and throughout China. One...

  9. 4 THE ENVIRONMENTAL COSTS OF PROGRESS
    (pp. 64-82)

    I made my first trip to Futian in 2001 to explore whether the township would be an appropriate place to study the environmental consequences of small-scale industrial development in the countryside. Although it was late August, the summer monsoons were still in full force; on the way out to the township from the municipal center of Panzhihua, we had to stop in several places where the standing water on the road reached the undercarriage of our car and was too deep to pass. Once in Futian, Little Hu, in the company of several other cadres, gave me a ride in...

  10. 5 POLLUTION, PERCEPTIONS, AND ENVIRONMENTAL VALUES
    (pp. 83-107)

    In the introduction to this book, I raised a key point of scholarly debate: In the midst of a decades-long national push for economic development, do the Chinese people care about the environment? If China is to achieve a more sustainable pattern of industrial development, it will need to rely on technological advancements, to be sure. But any serious attempt at environmental oversight and enforcement ultimately relies upon public awareness of environmental problems and public support for changing course. Much of the research on global environmental values makes the “postmaterialism” assumption, namely, that environmental consciousness is only made possible by...

  11. 6 CIVIL SOCIETY AND THE POLITICS OF POLLUTION ENFORCEMENT
    (pp. 108-126)

    In futian, the agrarian livelihood was the primary frame through which villagers conceived of and expressed their environmental values. Consequently, factory emissions were perceived as a threat to the agroecosystem and to the subsistence activities supported by the ecosystem. I wish to build upon this concept in the present chapter by showing how villagers’ actions and responses to pollution, mostly motivated by concern for their livelihoods, contributed to enforcement of pollution standards and ultimately to the closure of local factories at the hands of Environmental Protection Bureau officials. As the key agency representing the Chinese state in matters of environmental...

  12. 7 STRUGGLING FOR SUSTAINABILITY
    (pp. 127-150)

    As China’s legal framework for controlling pollution becomes more stringent, pollution control is also becoming a fundamental part of the nation’s commitment to sustainable development. Yet cadres in Futian, who faced real social and economic consequences because of the closure of the township’s factories, struggled to reconcile their interests, and the fiscal needs of the township, with this national mandate for sustainable development. Recent speeches by high Communist Party officials, coupled with a growing body of environmental law and policy, point to a shift toward a new discourse of environmental sustainability on the part of the central government in Beijing....

  13. 8 CONCLUSION: ON CONTRADICTIONS
    (pp. 151-162)

    Any ending to this book feels somewhat arbitrary, since the story of industrial development and pollution control in Futian continues to take many surprising twists and turns, as does China’s path to economic development. During my last visit to the township, cadres were eager to bring me up to date on recent events. All three factories—the zinc smelter, the coking plant, and the coal-washing plant—remained closed in Futian. However, the zinc smelter, still owned and operated by Mr. Zhang and other members of his family, had reopened in Shilongba township, just a few kilometers west across the Yunnan...

  14. Appendix: LIST OF CHINESE CHARACTERS
    (pp. 163-166)
  15. NOTES
    (pp. 167-174)
  16. WORKS CITED
    (pp. 175-184)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 185-192)