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In the context of this symposium, this article reviews social science research in the emerging field of environment and health in China, with a particular focus on the impacts of pollution. It begins with a discussion of the particular nature of China's environment-related health problems, distinguishing the different challenges presented by diseases of poverty, affluence and transition. It then reviews recent developments in policy and civil society with regard to environment and health, and the extent to which work in the social sciences has advanced our knowledge of these and of state–society interactions. The article concludes with some reflections on the need for and challenges of interdisciplinary and international collaboration in this area.
After more than three decades of extremely rapid industrial growth, China faces an environmental public health crisis. In this article, I examine pollution in the rural industrial sector and its implications for community health. Drawing on recent ethnographic research in an industrial township in rural Sichuan, including interviews with government officials, environmental regulators, industrial workers and local residents, I explore how community members understand the linkages between air and water pollution from nearby factories and their health and well-being. The article has two main goals. The first is to examine the various ways in which uncertainty about pollution sources, about the severity of pollution levels and about the links between pollution and human health shapes villagers' experiences of pollution on a day-to-day basis. The second goal is to examine the rising trend of “individualization” taking place in China today and explore how this process is related to people's experiences of toxic exposure. I consider the implications of this trend for how social scientists should approach the study of environmental illness in contemporary China.
Based on fieldwork in a heavily industrialized Yunnan village, this article examines how villagers understand and respond to pollution-related health risks. Building on Robert Weller's (2006) concept of environmental consciousness, it shows that Baocun villagers have developed an acute environmental health consciousness. However, despite earlier instances of collective activism, they no longer act as a community to oppose the harm to their bodies caused by pollution. The article investigates the role of uncertainty surrounding illness causation in deterring action. It argues that uncertainty about pollution's effects on health is reinforced by the social, political and economic contexts and developments in the past few decades. As a result, villagers engage in a form of “lay epidemiology” to make sense of the effects of pollution on their health, but not in a “popular epidemiology” consisting of collective action against presumed health damages. The article concludes with some thoughts on how locals act within and despite uncertainty.
This article focuses on environmental controversy in a Chinese rural community. It shows that Chinese villagers may protest against anticipated pollution if the environmental threat is effectively framed. In the face of real and serious pollution, villagers may seek to redress environmental grievances by piggybacking on politically favourable issues. However, when the pollution is caused by fellow villagers, environmentally concerned villagers may remain silent owing to the constraints of community relations and economic dependency. These findings suggest that the relationship between pollution and protest is context-dependent.
Food safety is a matter of intense contestation in the Chinese media. Through three case studies, this article shows that government and corporate elites strive to maintain media hegemony while citizen-consumers and activists engage in counter-hegemonic practices. Under conditions of hegemony, citizen dissent is most likely to take one of two forms: diffused contention or radical protest. Like the yin and yang of civic dissent, these two forms are both the results of, and responses to, state and corporate hegemony.
This article draws on interview and documentary data from three anti-incinerator campaigns in Beijing and Guangzhou to examine how urban middle-class homeowners respond to potential local health hazards. It illustrates how and why campaigners shifted from a heavily localized “not-in-my-backyard” (NIMBY) approach that opposed incinerators based on their siting towards a much broader critique of incineration that exploited weaknesses in waste management policy. Although public health concerns remained central during the course of the three campaigns, how they were presented changed as campaigners developed expertise through self-study. This enabled them to construct an alternative narrative about incineration and present their arguments from a public interest perspective, thus deflecting the pejorative NIMBY label.
The article explores how people in Kunming have interpreted and acted upon food-related environmental health threats, particularly within the contexts of everyday food shopping. It is argued that an increasingly intensified, delocalized food supply system and a state-led emphasis on individual responsibility and choice have produced growing uncertainties about food. However, the article takes issue with the claim that new forms of risk and institutional changes have produced “individualized” responses, arguing that many of the practices Kunmingers have developed to handle food-related risks and their understandings of what constitutes “safe” food have been developed within the frameworks of family ties and regional cuisine. Further, shoppers and purveyors of food have forged new ties of trust and re-emphasized connections between people, food and place. Nevertheless, concerns about the food supply are a source of discontent which is feeding into wider ambivalences towards modernization. This is particularly acute among the economically disadvantaged.
Within the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), some Party units have established a largely unknown network of writing teams which propagate the policies or perspectives of a particular unit by publishing feature articles in Party journals. These writing teams often make use of a pseudonym in the form of a person's name, leading outsiders to believe that the work is written by a journalist. In fact, the pseudonyms of the Party unit writing teams function as a form of secret code. Through this code, inner Party members can recognize which unit's views an article reflects. In order to reveal exactly which units the codes represent, we have collated the names of over 20 writing teams. In addition, we provide an introduction to the functioning of the writing teams and the manner in which articles are produced. Finally, we propose that the CCP's mechanism of “propaganda codes” is gradually undergoing the process of institutionalization.
In the last few years, the demands of homeowners in Chinese cities have gradually shifted away from economic rights and towards political ones. At the same time, alliances across different communities have emerged and vigorous attempts to form citywide solidarities have been made. In this process, a group of dedicated leaders has emerged, contributing greatly to the escalation of collective actions. This article focuses on a core group of Beijing activists behind the organization, expression and participation of homeowners' associations. Relying on data collected from interviews, documents and participatory observations conducted over a period of more than two years, we were able to pin down the socio-economic, social and political backgrounds of these leaders, as well as their attitudes, objectives and repertoire of actions. We describe leaders as falling into a two-by-two typology that is defined by a motivation dimension and an activeness dimension. Depending on his or her goals and approaches, a protest leader can be variously viewed as a political actionist, a frustrated changer, a double harvester or a tiger rider. These different types of leaders are all in one way or another promoting socio-political changes in China.
This essay assesses various dimensions of China's defence industrial enterprises. It argues that the defence industrial system should be divided into two tiers: tier one, composed of weapons and equipment producers for the military, and tier two, composed of “civilian” industrial enterprises that provided critical inputs for tier one enterprises, and which in national emergencies could be mobilized to produce weapons themselves. In 1985, there were 1,158 tier one defence enterprises and 827 tier two enterprises among China's 8,285 large- and medium-scale enterprises. Additional information is provided on defence enterprise shares of the economy at the provincial and the national levels, on enterprise distribution by industrial sector, and on when enterprises were built. The article attempts to estimate the total number of workers, output value and fixed assets of the defence industrial sector, and their weight in the national economy.
The opportunity to attend college and earn a degree has increased dramatically in China. However, that does not mean that everyone has an equal opportunity. Historically, there has been well-documented systematic discrimination against minorities, women and the rural poor. The main question of this paper is whether or not this discrimination has persisted since the recent expansion of China's tertiary education system. Using a census of incoming freshmen from four tier one universities, this paper assesses if certain types of students are over-represented while other types of students are under-represented. Comparing the shares of students from different socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds from our primary survey data with government generated census statistics, we conclude that poor, minority and rural female students are systematically under-represented. In contrast, rich, Han, urban males are dominant in college.