Pollution in Chinese History

Chinese Pollution

Throughout China’s history and population growth, different aspects of the environmental have been used, and overused, and contaminated in order to increase the growth and economy of the nation at the expense of the environment. This problem was exacerbated with China’s rapid industrialization in the 1990s. Pollution began to appear extensively during this period in many different aspects of China’s environment.

Many of the major pollution issues in China include:

  • the exploitation of coral reefs in China,
  • the relationship between economic growth and carbon dioxide emissions, pollutants from asbestos mines
  • environmental activism.

The common theme between these topics is the ruthless system of economic development over environmental and social concern despite the voices of reason and dissent from citizens pushing for change in economic operational methods. As a phenomenon that is intrinsically tied to both the environment and politically active citizens, pollution affects the lives of Chinese citizens in impactful ways, and has done so for decades. Using media such as Maps to show expanding movements, and images to show the true scale of pollution, our group will be demonstrating the continuous struggle between local and governmental organizations to regulate and protect the environment.


Exploitation of Coral Reefs

The Hainan Islands are located in the South China Sea. Hainan is the smallest province of China but, is its most populated island. The Hainan peoples living in the coastal communities heavily rely on the coral reefs for social and economic reasons. For hundreds of years the coral reefs have provided the people of Hainan food, supplies and income. The maritime economy has also

Hainan Island Reefs
Image by news.cn

generated billions of dollars for the Chinese economy. Approximately $5.3 trillion in international trade goes through the South China Sea waters annually. Unfortunately, coral abundance around Hainan Islands has decreased by 80% in the last three decades. Ironically, while China’s recent industrialization has led to a major economic boom over the past several decades, the damages done to the marine ecosystems are simultaneously forcing the Chinese government to spend a percentage of their annual GDP in damages. The biodiversity in the South China Sea coral ecosystem has and will continue to be threatened by human economic activity and government apathy if something is not done quickly. Overfishing, tourism, the South China Sea conflict and lack of government regulation are having a devastating impact on the sustainability of coral reef ecosystems around Hainan Island.

Economic Growth and Carbon Dioxide

The relationship between economic growth, carbon dioxide emissions and China has led to China becoming the greatest emitter of carbon dioxide and other deadly pollutants as a result of decades of rapid economic growth in the world. Researchers now are able to observe the negative impacts of global warming and effects of environmental degradation in real time, simultaneously highlighting carbon reduction and air pollutants as a critical topic in academia. Air pollution in China continues to be very severe, causing huge health risks for local residents.

Chinese CO2 emissions
Image by Climate Home News

China’s carbon emissions and policies is of interest to researchers and have long debated whether over the relationship between carbon reduction and economic growth. Given the complexity and unique development of China’s economy, policy makers and observers are both facing the challenges of the country’s unprecedented situation of reducing carbon emissions while stimulating economic growth. Developing a comprehensive framework based on empirical observation and data from 1980 until the present day, this study will analyze the long-term relationship amongst these two variables. The results will have significant ramifications for both companies and government officials alike, as it will address this growing issue of climate change in China.


Asbestos Mines

China is an economic engine and has a history of its citizens succumbing to the devastating impact of a country that frequently abandons environmental thought in the face of development. The asbestos mines are a reminder of this. Multiple organizations have surfaced in attempt to combat the long

Chinese Asbestos Mines
Image by: GreenSpec

lasting health defects that occur as a result of exposure to the potent material, Asbestos, which is very sought after in the modern world. For many of those involved in mining for unregulated local and state enterprises in search for a material to meet global demand, it was the people who suffered, the true backbone of China’s rapid development in the 20th century. With political support against banning Asbestos Mining and the lack of acknowledgement from state authorities that the health of workers is significantly comprised in the presence of Asbestos, a health crisis was underway.


Food Safety Regulation

Consumer reasoning for food safety violations in China.
Image by: DDMA Secondary Research

Regarding environmental activism, the history of China’s food safety regulation has not been a straight line of progress but rather reflects a nation that is still learning how to best process and distribute food on the safest level. The core historical failures in this area include the poisoning of thousands of babies due to contaminated infant formula, listeria outbreaks landing

pregnant women in the hospital, and even deaths from food poisoning complications–all due to poor food safety regulations and policies. Their attempts to improve these conditions involve much higher standards before distribution of foods and products that go to sensitive populations–i.e. babies or those with serious medical conditions–and the stricter guidelines for exports. China has room for improvement in food safety regulation from establishing a singular unit with complete power over these regulations to updating food safety laws for restaurants and distributors and implementing stricter quality control.

Environmental Activism

Since the rapid rise of pollution in China in the mid-1970s, citizens have protested acts that harm the government with varying success. Using varying types of activist groups, as well as different types of technology, citizens have been attempting to make change in the way the government, economy, and environment interact.

The video below shows a protest in 2013 in Kunming, in the Yunnan province against a petrochemical plant. Residents fear that this  planet will pollute the environment they live in, but the government claims that it will be safe and bring economic prosperity.

Even with the government keeping a tight lid on dissent, such as protests like the one above, China is making steps toward becoming a more green country. Xi Jinping has made it clear that any steps forward will be on his terms. These actions from the government are an effort to release public tension by showing them that the government is making the correct choices for a better future and to build good faith. This will be a delicate balance for the Chinese administration to hold going forward, as public dissent will likely build up over time.