Emerging Environmental Protests in Urban China: A Case Study of Mobilization in Qidong


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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  • Jian LU


Awarding Institution
Award date15 Jun 2016


Since Xiamen citizens protested against a planned paraxylene (PX) plant in 2007, a great number of large-scale environmentally based contentious collective actions have broken out in urban China, such as Dalian citizens’ protest against another PX plant in 2011, Shifang’s (in the province of Sichuan) protest against a copper refinery factory in 2012, Qidong’s (in the province of Jiangsu) protest against a proposed industrial waste-water disposal project in 2012, Kunming’s protest against a PX plant in 2013, etc. This study aims to investigate why and how an increasing number of environmentally based protests have happened in urban China, mainly by observing the case of Qidong.
Firstly, through a comprehensive background research on urban environmental protests since the 2000s, this study investigates the changing characteristics of emerging environmental protests against the construction of industrial projects or infrastructures with environmental and health risks in urban China. Secondly, through a case study of environmental protest in Qidong, this study examines the occurrence mechanism of urban environmental protests. Lastly, this study concludes with the nature and specialty of this wave of urban environmental protests in contemporary China.
The suggestion is that the emerging environmental protests in urban China are more motivated by various groups of citizens’ eagerness to defend their own environmentally related rights and interests against encroachment by alleged wrongful or illegal decisions or behaviors of the authority, rather than broader concerns about the environment and eco-system itself. Moreover, the development of resistance consciousness in the environmental protesters is closely related to the increase of rights consciousness and the decline of political trust. While the environmental protesters in Qidong still frequently deployed state laws, policies, rights discourse, and some rhetoric of the state during their protest, as did the traditional rightful resisters, their collective action was not contained within the boundary of “rightful resistance” and showed a higher degree of militancy and more characteristics of civil rights resistance. Furthermore, I find that the competition for interests among groups within the political system, including local governments and vested local interests, is often a very important driving force underlying these heavily rights-framed environmental protests. This study suggests that the emerging urban environmental protests are cross-class collective actions which are often the joint force of rights- and interests-oriented actions.