Yearbook 2015: Pollution

Cover of the China Story Yearbook 2015, showing the Chinese character 染, which is embossed on swirls of Chinese black ink Artwork: CRE8IVE, Canberra

Cover of the China Story Yearbook 2015, showing the Chinese character 染, which is embossed on swirls of Chinese black ink
Artwork: CRE8IVE, Canberra

Environmental pollution poses serious challenges for China, including to its economy as well as public health. The China Story Yearbook 2015: Pollution looks at how China’s Communist Party-state addresses these problems and how Chinese citizens have coped with and expressed their concerns about living with chronic, worsening pollution.

This Yearbook also explores the broader ramifications of pollution in the People’s Republic for culture, society law and social activism, as well as the Internet, language, thought, and approaches to history. It looks at how it affects economic and political developments, urban change, and China’s regional and global posture. The Chinese Communist Party, led by ‘Chairman of Everything’ Xi Jinping, meanwhile, has subjected mainland society to increasingly repressive control in its new determination to rid the country of Western ‘spiritual pollutants’ while achieving cultural purification through ‘propaganda and ideological work’.

To adulterate, contaminate, spoil or violate—these are among the metaphorical and literal connotations of pollution expressed in this Yearbook via the character ran 染, which forms part of the word for pollution in Chinese, wuran 污染. As the world increasingly relies on economic ties with China, the complexities of China’s one-party system and the Chinese government’s attitudes towards ‘pollution’ are of increasing global significance.

Yearbook 2015: Pollution can be downloaded on the website of the ANU Press as a PDF, ebook.

You can also read or download individual chapters of the Yearbook below.

A key cultural and media event in 2015 was the release, rapid viral popularity, and then nearly complete censorship of Under the Dome 穹顶之下, a documentary about the costs to society of environmental pollution. This edition of the China Story yearbook tackles the theme of pollution: environmental, spiritual, and digital.

Introduction: Pollution—Air, soil, water, body, and spirit

by Gloria Davies and Luigi Tomba

On 15 February 2015, four days before the start of the Lunar New Year, Xi Jinping met with local residents in the Yanta district 雁塔区 of Xi’an. He admired the Spring Festival papercuts they had made and selected one with a traditional ‘three goats’ 三羊 design. Photographs of Xi holding the papercut in both hands, and other photographs of him chatting or shaking hands with different groups of people in Xi’an, soon appeared in print and online. Xi has often called Xi’an, the site of China’s famous ancient capital Chang’an, his hometown—he was born in Fuping county 富平县, only an hour’s drive away. These images, which projected an aura of harmonious cordiality between a beaming General Secretary of China’s Communist Party and people who appeared visibly excited to be in close physical proximity to him, marked an auspicious start to the Year of the Goat for China’s one-party state.

Chapter 1 - Water 水: Under The Dome

by Jane Golley

Four decades of rapid economic growth has resulted in wide-ranging environmental damage across China (and beyond), from smog-ridden skies to contaminated rivers, toxic soils and ‘cancer villages’. These increasingly intolerable costs have emerged as a major source of social unrest in recent years. Premier Li Keqiang acknowledged this in his opening address to the National People’s Congress (NPC) on 5 March 2015: ‘China’s growing pollution problems are a blight on people’s quality of life and a trouble that weighs on their hearts.’

Chapter 2 - Earth 土: The Fog of Law

by Susan Trevaskes and Elisa Nesossi

DURING HIS THREE YEARS AT THE HELM, Xi Jinping has championed a particular notion of the ‘rule of law’. The October 2014 Resolution of the Fourth Plenum of the Eighteenth Party Congress articulated a grand plan for political and social stability that made ‘ruling the nation according to the law’ 依法治国 the Chinese government’s top priority. In late December that year, the Party declared ‘ruling the nation according to the law’ one of the ‘Four Comprehensives’ 四个全面 that constitute Xi’s chief contribution to political theory.

Chapter 3 - Wood 木: Intellectual Hygiene/Mens Sana

by Gloria Davies

In the first half of 2013, the new administration of Xi Jinping banned university lecturers as well as popular and academic media from discussing ‘constitutionalism’ (the notion that the Chinese government and laws must be guided by the Chinese constitution). It also instructed them not to mention the ‘Seven Speak-Nots’ 七个不要讲 (七不讲 for short): universal values, freedom of the press, civil society, civil rights, historical mistakes by the Party, judicial independence, and [the existence of the] Party-elite capitalist class 权贵资产阶级. As of early 2016, these prohibitions remained in place with one small but crucially suggestive difference—in 2015, the government began referring to the ‘Seven Speak-Nots’ as ‘Western values’.

Chapter 4 - Wood 木: The Crystal-Clear Waters of the Chinese Internet

by Jeremy Goldkorn and Lorand Laskai

The top result on a Google search for ‘Internet pollution’ in English is an article on Wikipedia about ‘information pollution,’ which is defined as ‘the contamination of information supply with irrelevant, redundant, unsolicited and low-value information’. The rest of the top Google results concern the carbon emissions caused by the electricity used by Internet servers and environmental degradation caused by electronic waste.

Chapter 5 - Fire 火: The City That Ate China — Restructuring & Reviving Beijing

by Carolyn Cartier

The Beijing capitol region has reached the limits of environmental sustainability. The roads are clogged up with traffic, the city’s residents worry about contamination of food and water, and air pollution in Beijing has become a deadly serious environmental and health issue. But Beijing’s problems cannot be solved by Beijing alone. Hebei province forms a geographical collar around both the inland capital and coastal Tianjin, its historical port. As the largest producer of iron and steel in China, Hebei is also the major source of industrial pollutants in the region. What’s more, its iron and steel industries consume significant quantities of water. Together with increased agricultural and urban household demand, these industries have created a crisis of water supply in the capital region.