The River Runs Black

The River Runs Black: The Environmental Challenge to China's Future, Second Edition

Elizabeth C. Economy
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 2
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 360
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7591/j.ctt7z8gj
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  • Book Info
    The River Runs Black
    Book Description:

    China's spectacular economic growth over the past two decades has dramatically depleted the country's natural resources and produced skyrocketing rates of pollution. Environmental degradation in China has also contributed to significant public health problems, mass migration, economic loss, and social unrest. In The River Runs Black, Elizabeth C. Economy examines China's growing environmental crisis and its implications for the country's future development.

    Drawing on historical research, case studies, and interviews with officials, scholars, and activists in China, Economy traces the economic and political roots of China's environmental challenge and the evolution of the leadership's response. She argues that China's current approach to environmental protection mirrors the one embraced for economic development: devolving authority to local officials, opening the door to private actors, and inviting participation from the international community, while retaining only weak central control.

    The result has been a patchwork of environmental protection in which a few wealthy regions with strong leaders and international ties improve their local environments, while most of the country continues to deteriorate, sometimes suffering irrevocable damage. Economy compares China's response with the experience of other societies and sketches out several possible futures for the country.

    This second edition of The River Runs Black is updated with information about events between 2005 and 2009, covering China's tumultuous transformation of its economy and its landscape as it deals with the political implications of this behavior as viewed by an international community ever more concerned about climate change and dwindling energy resources.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-5944-3
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-xiii)
    Elizabeth C. Economy
  4. [Map]
    (pp. xiv-xiv)
  5. CHAPTER ONE THE DEATH OF THE HUAI RIVER
    (pp. 1-26)

    In late July 2001, the fertile Huai River Valley—Chinaʹs breadbasket—was the site of an environmental disaster. Heavy rains flooded the riverʹs tributaries, flushing more than 38 billion gallons of highly polluted water into the Huai.¹ Downstream, in Anhui Province, the river water was thick with garbage, yellow foam, and dead fish.² Although the authorities quickly proclaimed the situation under control, the incident represented a stunning failure for Chinaʹs leadership. Only seven months earlier, the government had proclaimed its success in cleaning up the Huai. A six-year campaign to rid the region of polluting factories that dumped their wastewater...

  6. CHAPTER TWO A LEGACY OF EXPLOITATION
    (pp. 27-58)

    The environmental challenges China faces today result not from decades but from centuries of abuse of the countryʹs natural resources. Nation building, war, and economic development have all exerted unrelenting pressure on land, water, and forest resources over the countryʹs history. As early as the seventh century, Chinaʹs population also began to take a toll on the environment. Through the centuries, in turn, exploitation of the environment contributed to the cycles of war, famine, and natural disasters that plagued China and hastened the disintegration of one dynasty after the next.

    Underpinning Chinaʹs current environmental challenge, moreover, is a deeply rooted...

  7. CHAPTER THREE THE ECONOMIC EXPLOSION AND ITS ENVIRONMENTAL COST
    (pp. 59-94)

    The death of Mao Zedong in 1976 and the end of the Cultural Revolution opened the door to a fundamental shift in Chinaʹs political position both domestically and internationally. Beginning in 1978, the Chinese leadership embarked on a reform program that continues today and has taken the country into uncharted territory. Increasingly, the market rather than the state drives the Chinese economy. There is far greater freedom to travel, speak openly, and engage in private social activities, and China has become integrated into the international community through trade and participation in an array of international organizations and agreements.

    This reform...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR THE CHALLENGE OF GREENING CHINA
    (pp. 95-134)

    Over the past three decades, the rate of environmental pollution and degradation in China has far outpaced the capacity of the state to protect the environment. But this does not mean that Chinaʹs leaders have done nothing. To the contrary, they have moved aggressively during the reform period to establish formal institutions, draft laws, and undertake large-scale programs in the name of environmental protection

    In many respects, their environmental strategy resembles their economic strategy. Chinaʹs leaders provide administrative and legal guidance but devolve far greater authority to provincial and local officials; they utilize campaigns to implement large-scale initiatives of nationwide...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE THE NEW POLITICS OF THE ENVIRONMENT
    (pp. 135-182)

    Chinaʹs leaders have come to understand that failure to protect the environment incurs significant social and economic costs, and they are eager to find a means to reconcile their desire to achieve both unimpeded economic growth and improved environmental protection. As we will see in chapter 7, the path they have elected to follow is the one taken by the East Europeans and Asians over a decade ago, establishing an environmental protection bureaucracy and legal system and supporting the existence of environmental nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Beginning with the launch of the first environmental NGO, Friends of Nature, in 1994, China’s...

  10. CHAPTER SIX THE DEVIL AT THE DOORSTEP
    (pp. 183-236)

    The Chinese leadership has embraced the international community as an essential component of its long-term strategy to improve Chinaʹs environment, welcoming cooperation not only with other countries and international governmental organizations, such as the United Nations (UN), the World Bank, and the Asian Development Bank (ADB), but also with multinationals and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).

    At the same time, Chinaʹs economic reforms and its integration into the global economy have opened the door to new policy approaches and technological possibilities in environmental protection. Attributes valued by the market such as efficiency, transparency, rule of law, and managerial expertise have begun...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN LESSONS FROM ABROAD
    (pp. 237-274)

    Many countries face challenges similar to those of China in balancing environmental and economic demands while maintaining social stability. The scale of Chinaʹs environmental degradation and pollution, however, dwarfs that of most countries. Chinaʹs economic and political transition further complicates efforts to compare China with other countries and draw useful lessons from their experiences. Nonetheless, there are broad similarities between Chinaʹs current set of challenges and that confronted by other Asian countries, as well as several countries of the former Eastern Europe and republics of the former Soviet Union. Taken together, these countries reflect the range of Chinaʹs environmental problem,...

  12. CHAPTER EIGHT AVERTING THE CRISIS
    (pp. 275-294)

    Chinaʹs leaders face a daunting task. With one-quarter of the worldʹs population, centuries of grand-scale campaigns to transform the natural environment for manʹs benefit, intensive and unfettered economic development, and, most recently, its entry into the global economy, China has laid waste to its resources. The results are evident everywhere. Water scarcity is an increasingly prevalent problem. Over one-quarter of Chinaʹs land is now desert. China has lost twice as much forested land over the centuries as it now possesses. And air quality in many major cities ranks among the worst in the world.

    Of equal, if not greater, concern...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 295-352)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 353-364)