In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Environmental Issues in Contemporary China

  • Introduction
  • Journals
  • Literature Reviews
  • Pollution
  • Resource Degradation

Chinese Studies Environmental Issues in Contemporary China
Richard Louis Edmonds
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 April 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 April 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920082-0044


The environment is a broad category, which at its widest includes virtually everything in our lives. In addition, what has gone on before as well as, increasingly, what is going on outside China affects the environment in contemporary China. Moreover, study of the environment involves input both from natural science and social studies, as well as humanities. Past land use patterns and forms of social structure affect China’s contemporary environment. This makes it extremely difficult to put together an article on environmental issues in China. Here the context will be limited to developments in post-1949 China. While both social and scientific literature will be covered, there will be more emphasis on the social implications over the whole period, whereas the scientific material will aim to present more-recent comprehensive material where available. Over the period covered, the data and research techniques have improved greatly, although problems still remain due to the politicized nature of most environmental issues. Until recently, most work on the environment in China was undertaken by research institutes—many in the Chinese Academy of Sciences and, since 1978, the Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences. Implementation of policy was undertaken by environmental-protection organs, which at the national level moved up the bureaucracy, beginning in the early 1970s, to become Ministry of Environmental Protection in 2008. Prior to the 1990s, China’s environmental matters were in some ways a national affair. The scale of problems was not greatly affecting the world. Resources to fuel China’s economy were largely domestic, and foreign input into China’s environment was limited. Since the early 1990s, the situation has changed dramatically. Cooperation with foreign countries, particularly developed countries, increased greatly. With that, the impact of foreign production on China’s environment, and China’s economy on the rest of the world’s environment, has grown exponentially. Thus, today, China’s environment and its environmental policy are of great importance to all of us.

General Overviews

General overviews of China’s environment can take different positions on problems, and issues and methods of amelioration have evolved. Overall, however, politics and policy dominate in environmental matters just as they do in most aspects of Chinese life. No doubt this is because the state is the main player in most activities. This section has been divided into contributions that predate the 21st century (Late-20th-Century Contributions), and those that have appeared since 2000 (21st-Century Overviews), along with a small section on Textbooks and another on Anthologies.

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