Edited by Susan Trevaskes, Elisa Nesossi, Flora Sapio and Sarah Biddulph
Chapter 4: Ripples across stagnant water: stability, legal activism and water pollution disputes in rural China
Law penetrates almost every aspect of social life in China today. Indeed, in November 2011 the Chairman of the NPC (National People’s Congress) Standing Committee declared that a socialist legal system with Chinese characteristics was fully established in China, providing a legal basis for all sectors of social life (Xinhua News Agency 2011). Great strides in legislation over the past 30 years have been accompanied by promotion of activism in the judicial field (Wang 2009). ‘Judicial activism’ has become an important route for pursuing social stability in the present political climate where stability is the nation’s foremost socio-political goal. This activism is particularly manifest in dispute resolution conducted through ‘grand mediation’ (da tiaojie) (Liu 2012) and to a lesser extent through government legal aid departments for those who are eligible. In rural areas judicial activism also operates through local governments, aiming to resolve disputes between citizens and local industry or government in a way that ensures social stability is maintained among rural populations. Traditionally rural China was beyond the reach of law; now it is under the vast net of justice administration accomplished through national policies, law popularization drives and ‘sending law to the countryside’ (song fa xiaxiang). This chapter documents the tales of two areas in rural Hubei Province where residents have struggled to resolve problems that have gravely affected the lives and livelihoods of people residing in the vicinity of manufacturing plants that pollute local rivers.
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