Is China ‘Dying for Development’? An examination of pollution and illness
The June issue of The China Quarterly features a fascinating selection of articles entitled ‘Dying for Development’. Expert in Human Geography in China at Oxford University, Anna Lora-Wainwright looks at the issues surrounding development that have arisen from China’s rapid growth in recent years.
China’s particular development path has given rise to a complex and intersecting set of environmental health problems which may be described as ‘diseases of transition’ – diseases caused by China’s rapid and uneven journey from poverty to affluence. Citizen participation is often presented as a miracle cure for problems in implementing environmental protection effectively, but less is known about the intricate processes through which citizens understand and respond to environmental health threats. This collection presents in-depth, qualitative case studies set in the varied contexts of rural, urban and virtual spheres and in relation to different types of threat (waste disposal, rural industry, food contamination, air, soil and water pollution). It portrays a range of complex positions that citizens inhabit in relation to pollution, how they evaluate the costs and benefits of the developments it is often coupled with and what action (if any) they take against it at different scales (individual, family, village, township, city, national, transnational and online). In doing so, it illustrates the role of citizens in overcoming challenges to environmental enforcement, leaving these challenges unchanged, or crystallizing them even further.
The Chinese state and many of its citizens are ‘dying for development’ in the sense that they yearn for it but at the same time they suffer physically, socially and politically from its side-effects. Environmental health threats pose not only an economic question over where resources to mitigate these risks should be drawn from, but also a deeply moral question over the current development path. Through the lenses of pollution and illness, this collection explores some of the key themes in the study of contemporary China – such as citizens’ agency, individualization, state-society relations, attribution of responsibility, the effects of modernization, ambivalence towards development, and contention about social justice.
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