Edited by Teresa Wright
Chapter 15: Environmental public interest campaigns: a new phenomenon in China’s contentious politics
Since the mid-2000s, Chinese citizens have mobilized against high-stakes, governmentbacked developmental projects. Beginning with resistance against a waste incinerator in Beijing in 2006 and a Paraxylene (PX) plant in Xiamen in 2007, instances of preventive contention have proliferated and acquired a peculiar “extra-legal legitimacy” (bu hefa zhong de hefaxing). Aside from waste-treatment facilities and PX plants, other heavy industry plants, power stations, railway projects, nuclear facilities and even crematories have become targets of popular ire. Even though the Chinese one-party state has since the early 1990s grown increasingly accustomed to street protests over livelihood issues, these events appear to have stood out. But, aside from noting their often large-scale nature and the participation of the urban middle class, pinning down more precisely how some of them display new and innovative traits while others may be not so unusual has proven difficult. So far, only a few contributions have begun to address this question. This chapter nudges this debate forward by posing two questions: first, how are major instances of popular environmental resistance similar to or different from other types of protest in China and forms of environmental contention elsewhere? Second, do they constitute a new type of contention in China? To answer these questions, I first outline key attributes of three prominent repertoire concepts: Rightful Resistance, NIMBYism (Not In My Backyard) and Environmental Movement. Taking advantage of the selectivity of the news media, which tend to report cases that are “newsworthy” because they break with established routines, I selected 25 cases of environmental contention between 2007 and late 2016 that have been covered in the New York Times and the South China Morning Post (see Table 15.1). I analyzed them based on additional news reports and Internet materials, existing scholarly research and some interviews with primarily environmental activists.
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