China's Water Warriors

China's Water Warriors: Citizen Action and Policy Change

With a New Preface ANDREW C. MERTHA
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 200
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    China's Water Warriors
    Book Description:

    Today opponents of large-scale dam projects in China, rather than being greeted with indifference or repression, are part of the hydropower policymaking process itself. What accounts for this dramatic change in this critical policy area surrounding China's insatiable quest for energy? In China's Water Warriors, Andrew C. Mertha argues that as China has become increasingly market driven, decentralized, and politically heterogeneous, the control and management of water has transformed from an unquestioned economic imperative to a lightning rod of bureaucratic infighting, societal opposition, and open protest.

    Although bargaining has always been present in Chinese politics, more recently the media, nongovernmental organizations, and other activists-actors hitherto denied a seat at the table-have emerged as serious players in the policy-making process. Drawing from extensive field research in some of the most remote parts of Southwest China, China's Water Warriors contains rich narratives of the widespread opposition to dams in Pubugou and Dujiangyan in Sichuan province and the Nu River Project in Yunnan province.

    Mertha concludes that the impact and occasional success of such grassroots movements and policy activism signal a marked change in China's domestic politics. He questions democratization as the only, or even the most illuminating, indicator of political liberalization in China, instead offering an informed and hopeful picture of a growing pluralization of the Chinese policy process as exemplified by hydropower politics.

    For the 2010 paperback edition, Mertha tests his conclusions against events in China since 2008, including the Olympics, the devastating 2008 Wenchuan earthquake, and the Uighar and Tibetan protests of 2008 and 2009.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6170-5
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Tables and Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. List of Selected Institutions and Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Preface to the Paperback Edition
    (pp. xiii-xxii)
  6. Preface
    (pp. xxiii-xxx)
  7. 1 China’s Hydraulic Society?
    (pp. 1-26)

    In 1957, Karl Wittfogel proposed the idea that power in Asia was derived from water. Those who could harness the monsoon rains and transform them from destructive forces to beneficial assets to aid society became its rulers. Although some aspects of Wittfogel’s “hydraulic state” thesis have since been called into question, the general contours of his idea remain powerful and intuitive. Certainly, using natural disasters, particularly waterborne ones, as a standard against which to measure a ruler’s effectiveness has a long historical pedigree in China. Over the centuries, flooding was a key indicator that the emperor had squandered the Mandate...

  8. 2 Actors, Interests, and Issues at Stake
    (pp. 27-64)

    In the past decade, China’s energy demands have grown exponentially. As recently as the late 1990s, the United States used more energy by January 12 than China consumed in an entire year. Since then, demand for energy in China has skyrocketed, but supply has not kept apace. From 1980 to 2000, China’s energy production increased at only half of its economic growth rate, but since 2001, energy growth has expanded to 1.5 times the rate of economic growth.¹ In 2003, there were serious energy shortages in two-thirds of China’s thirty-one provinces as a result of a combination of poor planning,...

  9. 3 From Policy Conflict to Political Showdown: The Failure at Pubugou
    (pp. 65-93)

    In many ways, the fall of 2004 was like any other in sleepy Hanyuan county, Sichuan province: crop harvests, shorter days, and colder weather. But in other respects, that autumn in Hanyuan was unique: up to a hundred thousand people demonstrated against the imminent groundbreaking of the Pubugou Dam and against acquiescence of local governments to the resettlement of almost half of Hanyuan’s total population.

    The protests occurred over the course of several weeks, with clashes between peasants and police and the destruction of vehicles—several were pushed into the river—and other state property. On October 28, 2004, protesters...

  10. 4 From Economic Development to Cultural Heritage: Expanding the Sphere at Dujiangyan
    (pp. 94-109)

    Although Dujiangyan is in Sichuan, the same province as Pubugou, with many of the same political actors (at least at the provincial level), and the events described in this chapter occurred barely a year before those of Pubugou, the political and policy outcomes could not have been more different. Indeed, the Dujiangyan case lies at the opposite endpoint to that of Pubugou: it marks the successful reversal of policy as a direct result of bottom-up opposition. Despite—or, more likely because of—the lack of protesters filling the streets, the Dujiangyan controversy was not prematurely snuffed out, and opponents were...

  11. 5 The Nu River Project and the Middle Ground of Political Pluralization
    (pp. 110-149)

    Pubugou and Dujiangyan provide the two extremes of the constraints and opportunities facing those who support the political pluralization of hydropower policy in China today. Oftentimes, policy change occurs along the margins of the policy process instead of at the core. Rather than indicate a relative lack of pluralization, what such incremental policy change may suggest is precisely the opposite: a growing complexity of the political processes of hydropower policy formation. Some elements of what occurred at Dujiangyan—and which were completely absent at Pubugou—are embedded in the policy process of the Nu River Project (NRP) in Yunnan province....

  12. 6 A Kinder, Gentler “Fragmented Authoritarianism”?
    (pp. 150-162)

    Columnist Thomas Friedman lays out a somewhat dramatic scenario that, while accurate in sketching out the sources of political tension, is incomplete and quite possibly wrong in its implied conclusions: the political implications of the cases analyzed in this book are not explained by variables conceptually associated with protests, democratization, or continued static authoritarian rule. Rather, they infer subtle shades of political pluralization in China. This book suggests that the dichotomy surrounding the debate over political liberalization—top-down versus bottom-up democratization—might not be the most effective metric with which to measure a country’s progress in eliminating traditional authoritarianism. Rather,...

  13. Index
    (pp. 163-168)