Tag Archives: politics

Honor and Sacrifice in the U.S. Military: corporate profit off of military conflict cheapens both.

It is understood that bleeding (and certainly dying) for one’s country brings honor to the dead or wounded. Any individual willing to suffer the pains of death for the good of the whole surely embodies the great virtue of altruistic selflessness. Death (or injury) for the cause of life (and freedom) deserves ultimate respect from the nation. In the event of war or military conflict, regardless of the cause, whether just or unjust, we honor the fallen for the sacrifice they made. The rest of us, we hope, appreciate the meaning which sacrifice has for the status quo of our own comfort and safety. But what happens when the status quo comes not as the blessed result of supposedly necessary military engagements, but instead as the very driver of armed conflict?

Usually, we assume the work of soldiers as being the protection of our “freedoms” while serving in their tour of duty. By combating terrorism or engaging in subversive operations that threaten perceived enemies, troops work under the auspices of liberty and the institutional honor of the executive branch to keep us safe and secure. We easily forget that soldiers, however valorous, do not act in isolation. Troops work for an industrial complex called the military that has enfolded into its very operational structure economic incentives and business relationships with large, multinational corporations.

The military relies on private contractors to build infrastructure and producing military hardware. When the armed forces go off on missions, corporations benefit, often handsomely, from the sale of equipment, weapons, new technology, intelligence, etc. The military industrial complex itself acts to ensure that trade routes and supplies in the commodity chain (principally oil) are open and unobstructed for the exploitation of corporate business. So, when soldiers get deployed, they are doing more than the mere service of protecting American ideals and ensuring national security, they are fighting more directly for business interests. The interests of the citizenry are ultimately indirect or sometimes incidental objectives.

The main beneficiaries of military engagements are, to no surprise, the corporations that stand to gain immense new capital off of the enterprise of war. War is business. In the words of the deceased, Smedley Butler, highly-decorated Major General of the Marine Corps, “War is a racket” (Butler, 1935). War conspires for the benefit of corporate elites for whom the U.S. military acts as a publicly funded cartel to ensure business continues on as usual . Corporations not only benefit from war, they also wield considerable lobbying power in the upper echelons of the United States government, influencing U.S. foreign policy and the direction of foreign trade policy–not to mention U.S. military objectives. The gains of the corporate state from conflict highlight a problematic dimension to the sacrifices made by individual military personnel.

The rudeness of the corporate-military industrial complex is hard to miss. Soldiers put everything on the line to serve their country (ostensibly out of patriotism, but not always so), in order to protect the status quo of comfort and security for the nation. On the other hand, the corporate-military industrial complex drives an agenda of aggressive, hawkish foreign policy–using the bodies of trained men and women as the major factor of war production–in order to ensure dominance by purposefully engaging in aggressive military encounters. The winners are the executive officers, corporate managers, and establishment elites. The losers are the men and women in uniform who return home deformed, psychologically broken, or dead.

Considering the economic bonanza which ripens in the throes of military conflict, the human sacrifices of military AND civilian casualties become necessary pieces in the maintenance of the status quo. No war, no profit. No conflict, no new technologies or experimental designs to test. As a result, corporate power and the infestation of greed infecting elite boardroom arbitrations mock and cheapen the bloodletting of each individual soldier and civilian casualty. Casualties are a structural necessity for the status quo. And the planners, schemers, capitalists hiding behind their mountains of profit reaped from the blood of such human sacrifices carry on unscathed. Elites enjoy the proliferation of new assets and stock dividends, while the fighters and their families along with the victims and their families are drained of spirit and welfare, fermenting their grief and suffering.

Butler, M. G. S. D. (1935, October). America’s armed forces. In Common Sense (Vol. 4, pp. 8-12). Available at: https://msuweb.montclair.edu/~furrg/Vietnam/butler.pdf

DEVELOPMENT AND RESISTANCE: The Absence of Land Tenure and Environmental Pollution as Primary Factors of Development that Lead to Political Resistance in China. (Images did not load; my apologies).

M.A. In China Development Studies

GEOG7136 – Research Methods and Directed Project


The Absence of Land Tenure and Environmental Pollution as Primary Factors of Development that Lead to Political Resistance in China

Article image

From: Levinson & McDonald, 2014



This paper investigates the relationship between development and political resistance in China. It looks into the connection between significant factors of development that generate social unrest. In particular, lack of land tenure and environmental pollution are highlighted as the main factors which lead to political resistance in the form of protest and litigation. The paper begins with background on these factors, including the relationship between the state and society. Policy suggestions are outlined as a means of ameliorating structural problems in the political and economic system. Most of the policy suggestions focus on policies that would require political reform to implement. The paper concludes with research suggestions and final remarks.


China’s economic development has surged in the past few decades. With the conversion of agricultural land to cityscape and the proliferation of infrastructure projects, old village territories and the continuity of family-land relationships have been disrupted to make way for growing industries and expanding urban footprints. Economic growth and construction have by and large benefited China’s peasant and migrant underclasses by raising the standard of living and opening up economic opportunities for millions of previously impoverished individuals and families. Yet, while economic development has come as a boon to government economies at every level, it has disproportionately enriched the politically connected, often at the expense of China’s poor (Hsing, 2006).

This research looks at the primary factors of development that have led to resistance activities from civil society in the reform era; with particular focus on the absence of private land tenure and environmental pollution (Williamson, 2011). Factors of development in this context are defined as those factors which directly result in the transformation of landscapes and cityscapes through the process of planning and economic growth strategies. The lack of environmental regulation and enforcement results in pollution from manufacturing, construction, and agriculture, while the lack of land tenure results in the vulnerability of peasants to the expropriation of their land. Both situations result in political resistance against government attempts to develop land for new industries and urbanization.


The factors of development that lead to political resistance (as defined by individual and collective citizen responses to undesirable actions perpetrated by authorities) in the reform era may seem obvious on the surface. Official corruption, land seizures, pollution, labor exploitation, among others are all tangible phenomena that have incited resistance in the form of protests, strikes, and vocal criticism of government officials or land developers. However, underlying such phenomena are more basic factors that account for the various problems which eventuate in political resistance. The driving forces behind phenomena such as land seizures, the dispossession of residents from their traditional homes, and the corruption that goes along with those activities boils down to the lack of property rights that might otherwise prevent land expropriation and its associated corruption. Environmental pollution is also a significant factor behind resistance against industrial development and corruption. While weak rule of law and flaws in the political system (such as lack of civic participation or an independent judiciary) also constitute underlying causes of political resistance, they are not directly addressed in this research. Political reforms fit into the possible solutions explored under the Discussion of Policy Responses and Implications section toward the end of this paper. Most of the problems associated with China’s economic development have some basis or another in the political system (Lai, 2010).

The absence of private land tenure in China has generated conditions that have enabled government authorities to make unilateral decisions over land development. Decisions are made to take land away from villagers (expropriation) for sale to developers. Subsequent construction and urban development results directly in the promotion of officials overseeing such deals. The ultimate control over land enjoyed by the state owes its viability to the denial of freehold land ownership rights to private parties (Alsen, 1996). State land ownership has allowed government authorities to enact development schemes which run counter to the interests and livelihoods of citizens while also depriving them of equal opportunities for economic exploitation of the land (Wang, Sun, Xu, & Pavlićević 2013; Sargeson, 2013). Private citizens, such as peasants, are helpless in disputing land expropriation due to their lack of ownership rights. Thus, resistance has come in the form of villager-lead standoffs against authorities over unfair compensation for land expropriation or against corrupt officials who act unilaterally in selling off collectively owned village land to developers (Wu, Zhang, & Webster, 2013; Ren, 2013; Cui, Tao, Warner, & Yang, 2014). Dispossessed peasants cannot, in reality, dispute land seizure on the basis of private ownership and therefore stand at a strategic disadvantage in fighting for their interests.

The prospect of environmental harm from factory building or the presence of industry in general presents another primary factor of development that leads to resistance addressed in this research. Environment here indicates not only the natural surroundings but specifically the land and water systems which directly influence the health and wellbeing of community members (Perry & Seldon, 2000). Once plans for building a factory are completed (often without consultation from affected communities), or once the impacts of factory pollution are fully understood, community concerns arise over the effects of pollution on quality of life. Chinese citizens are voicing their concerns more than ever over the impacts which polluting industries have on their environments and communities. The fact that industries can get away with extensive pollution at the expense of communities adds to the discontent that often boils over in resistance.

Research Questions

This research answers the following questions based on the background given above. Specifically, how does the absence of land tenure create conditions for political resistance in China’s development? How does environmental pollution result in resistance? What would appropriate policy responses look like that could ameliorate such problems and their consequences? Corruption and weak rule of law are notable factors contributing to the problems highlighted in this research. These factors will be folded into the research where appropriate as they relate to lack of land tenure and environmental issues. A section on policy suggestions will address areas in which the government can improve the means of seeking solutions to the problems associated with development. Research suggestions and a conclusion will be included at the end of this paper.

Literature Review

Absence of land tenure

Land tenure is defined by The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) as the system of land governance pertaining to land rights established by different societies usually involving private land ownership protected by institutional mechanisms such as legal and judicial structures (FAO, 2002, p. 7). Williamson (2011) argued that the guarantee of private property rights through land tenure is essential for individuals and communities (and ultimately, countries) to prosper economically. FAO also states how solutions to poverty (and by implication, economic prosperity) depend on the ways in which “people, communities and others” have access to land and its resources, especially in terms of land ownership rights (FAO, 2012, p. iv). Land tenure is the most secure and equitable form of land governance that ensures stable livelihoods and sustainable economic practices. Figure A on the following page shows the different land governance systems distributed across different countries and regions. Notably for this paper, the chart shows how China lacks a land tenure system comparable to the rest of the world. This is the result of China’s land governance system of state ownership.

Figure A: Land Governance Systems across the Globe. From: Enemark, 2004

According to Wong (2014), land use rights and land ownership rights were separated and enshrined in the PRC Constitution in 1988, allowing citizens and government agents the right to lease land and to transfer land-use rights to private parties; these leasehold rights (rights which entail temporary possession through some form of renting) are technically granted for periods anywhere from 30 to 70 years, depending on zoning and parties involved (p. 27; see also Hsing, 2006 p. 581; and Wang, 2013). Under the leasehold system, only the government can claim ownership rights to land. This land governance system has allowed government leaders to more easily leverage their economic and political interests over those of rural and urban citizens.

Hsing (2006) explained how village and municipal governments have taken advantage of the economic potential of land sales and land development in order to grow their local economies. Land development is directly linked to the promotion of officials through China’s meritocratic and bureaucratic political system. Since the inhabitants of village-owned land in the countryside or state-owned land in urban municipalities do not have genuine private ownership claims to the land they occupy (Zerenzhi, 2009), it is relatively easy for government officials to shortchange residents by expropriating land and offering (usually inadequate) compensation for the low “agricultural value” of their land, at the same time reaping handsome profits from the sales of use rights to developers (Cui et al., 2014, p. 2).

Takahashi (2015) calculated the extent of “expropriated average land area per year” at around 1500 km2, with the total amount of expropriated land sitting at “1,922,533 km2 after about 20 years” (p. 41). Figure B on the next page shows the amount of expropriated land in China year on year from 1995 to 2012 in km2. The development and value of all the converted farmland comes at the expense of the peasants who once relied upon it for their livelihoods.

Figure B: Expropriated Farmland Area from 1995 to 2012. From: Takahashi, 2015

Sargeson (2013) noted that “more than 4.2 million hectares of rural land” were expropriated for urban growth between 1990 and 2008, which included an estimated 88 million dispossessed inhabitants who became landless during the same period, and likely many more (p. 1068). Most of those individuals were subsequently forced to find housing elsewhere, often at the expense of losing their communal connections and traditional livelihoods. In a Financial Times article from 2015, it was reported that the population of landless peasants rose from some 40 million in the mid-2000s to over 120 million as of 2015, with roughly 3 million people losing their land each year (Hornby, 2015). The consequence of so much land expropriation is often political resistance in the form of protests. Zhao (2009) stated that in 2006, 17,900 “cases of massive rural unrest” occurred in which 385,000 farmers were involved; 80% of which were related to land expropriation (p. 98). The Landesa Rural Development Institute noted that in 2010, 65% of that year’s 187,000 protests (a figure of 121,550) were related to “land disputes” (Landesa Rural Development Institute, 2012). The combination of land expropriation and corruption has effectively meant that all of the GDP growth and infrastructure development that has come out of the state ownership of land is built upon the exploitation of millions of disenfranchised citizens.

As alluded to above, Williamson (2011) pointed to the work of Hernando de Soto to argue for the importance of land tenure in securing not only the property rights of individuals but also the protection of their human rights from outside interference, especially from the state. Possessing land that is secured by law and backed up by enforcement (i.e. police and law courts)–which private land tenure entails–enables land owning individuals to curtail expropriation activities such as those played out in China’s land-oriented development. Privately-owned land provides collateral to back up bank loans, which is important for establishing fixed assets and other investments, allowing landowners more opportunity to direct their future through economic activity. Private land ownership also forms a community of landed individuals and families with bundled rights, a system which generates greater incentives to more productively and sustainably take advantage of the economic potential of land while fostering social stability.

A broad network of landowners engaging productively under a secure land tenure system balances out the power of government entities. Private land tenure significantly narrows the space in which government leaders can operate in their power to expropriate land or dispossess inhabitants. The absence of such a system therefore stands as one significant underlying factor of development that accounts for resistance activities. As mentioned above, the political resistance and protests that have come out of the systematic expropriation of land–and its attendant corruption–stem from the absence of private land tenure in China’s land governance system. Many alternative scenarios are possible, but one thing is certain: the extent of dispossession and the amount of political resistance would have been greatly reduced–if not avoided altogether–had China institutionalized private land tenure.

Environmental pollution

Concern over environmental problems has risen in recent years with greater public focus on quality of life in the growing middle class. Between 2000 and 2013, environmental protests accounted for roughly half of the protests in which 10,000 or more people participated (Steinhardt & Wu, 2016, p. 62). Environmental problems and associated political corruption are the main driving forces behind such protests. Environmental concerns, therefore, arise directly from developmental processes. Decisions made by political and business leaders result in new construction of infrastructure and industrial facilities, particularly factories, which creates a basis for pollution emissions. The connection between government policies and the environmental problems that result from industrial development is clear. Factories and industrial infrastructure derive from the developing economy while environmental degradation and pollution result from unregulated industrial production.

The rapid pace of development combined with the privileged position of political elites and government leaders open space for corruption, especially by cutting corners on health and safety standards. Since the decision-making behind the construction and subsequent pollution of factories is sealed off from the public, local communities are prevented from managing the risks of environmental problems and seeking potential solutions. The only participatory responses available to the public are thus either acquiescence to the exclusive political system, or resistance. Street protest provides an alternative means of fighting for the public will as “imperfect official channels for public participation” deny the civic sector the right to determine the regulations imposed on polluting industries and the consequences for polluters (Steinhardt & Wu, 2016, p. 62). Figure C below shows the results of a public opinion poll regarding areas of primary concern to the average Chinese citizen. Corruption and pollution come in at the top out of the various problems facing the country.

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Figure C: Poll: Main Concerns of Chinese Citizens. From: Laohu Economics, 2016

Civilians usually end up on the losing end of industrial development because they not only remain outside the business deals between government leaders and the corporations that build and run factories, but the public also suffers from the pollution generated by such factories. The graphs below provide a glimpse of the extent of the pollution problem in China. They provide helpful context for the discontent associated with environmental pollution. Figures D, E, and F show the severity of soil, water, and air pollution, respectively, across China. Figure D on the next page shows the percentage of different types of soil pollution across China as of 2014.

Soil Pollution by Land Use Type

Figure D: Types of Soil Pollution in China. From: Tan, 2014

Figure E shows wastewater discharge from factories over a 12 year period in relationship to the contribution of GDP growth from manufacturing and construction, in billions of RMB. Much of the industrial wastewater produced in China goes directly into community water and soil systems unfiltered (Lerner, 2016).

Industrial Wastewater Discharge vs GDP from Secondary Industry

Figure E: Wastewater Discharge in Relationship to GDP. From: Hu, Tan, & Lazareva, 2014

Figure F highlights the gravity of the air pollution epidemic plaguing Chinese cities. de Boer & Whitehead (2016) noted that one fifth of the court cases brought against polluters in 2015 focused on air pollution.

Image result for china environmental pollution chart

Figure F: Comparison of Air Pollution between U.S. and Chinese Cities. From: McCarthy, 2015

Many cases exist in which street protests results from frustration over environmental pollution. The case of a paraxylene (PX) petrochemical plant (used in plastics manufacturing) in Kunming proves illustrative of the role environmental pollution plays in political resistance. In 2013, the Kunming municipal government planned to locate a PX plant 32 kilometers away from the city center with approval from the National Development and Reform Commission (Steinhardt & Wu, 2016, p. 73). However, two local environmental NGOs mobilized online via websites and social media to raise concern over the project’s environmental impact. Additionally, many people voiced concern over “a GDP-driven local government, a lack of transparency in public policy making, and a perceived irresolvable contradiction between investment in petrochemical industry and Kunming’s role as a tourism destination” (Ibid., 2016, p. 74). Thousands of citizens rallied around the cause, signing online petitions in opposition to the plant’s construction and staging two mass street demonstrations about a month after the issue initially drew public attention. The resistance activity prompted the mayor of Kunming to put the project on hold. The NGOs initially involved were able to mobilize other activists and organizations to form a broad coalition that brought the issue all the way to the central government. Eventually the Ministry of Environmental Protection suspended the project altogether.

The case of the PX plant street protests illustrates how political resistance can result from the prospect of environmental pollution from development projects as much as the actual pollution itself. The initial phase of raising awareness and concern over the PX plant in Kunming took place on virtual platforms building consensus and solidarity amongst concerned citizens. The coalition of NGOs and activist organizations demonstrated the effectiveness of rallying support and building a base when confronting municipal authorities. Street protests demonstrated the gravity of the public’s sense of disenfranchisement from the policy side as well as the severity of grievance and sense of urgency over the prospect of environmental damage and harm to public health. The capacity to organize and resist in differing ways is instrumental for political resistance and provides Chinese civil society with a means of targeting problems in the country’s political economy.

Due to the rise in environmental protests as mentioned above, the Chinese government has responded by strengthening laws and facilitating the environmental litigation process out of public interest. Improved legal channels for seeking mediation on pollution cases facilitates an alternative, legal format for protest against violators. According to de Boer & Whitehead (2016), close to one hundred pollution-related lawsuits were filed in 2015 by “NGOs and public prosecutors” (para. 1). One notable example of the success of such litigation came in 2014 when an environmental group in Taizhou sued—and won—against chemical producers for roughly $26 million USD. Many legal cases target local governments and the companies which partner with them in setting up factories. Problems remain, however, as the majority of China’s environmental pollution continues unfettered and unpunished, while contamination continues to plague soil and water resources. In fact, the presence of 450 “cancer villages” across China–villages in which chemical factories have left behind hazardous environments resulting in high rates of cancer among local populations–demonstrates the gravity of the problem and the fact that environmental contamination and its effects will likely persist (Göbel & Ong, 2012, p. 38). Environmental pollution is built into the Chinese development model, which means fundamental adjustments will need to be carried out in order to ameliorate the problem. Possible solutions and policy adjustments are discussed below.

Discussion of Policy Responses and Implications

The lack of private land tenure and environmental pollution account for the majority of political resistance activities in China. They constitute factors which underlie much of the phenomena related to China’s economic development that have been met with resistance from Chinese citizens. The causes and effects of the resistance factors of development raise questions about ways the Chinese government can or should respond appropriately. Some policy responses are naturally more practical than others given the constraints set by the authoritarian political system and the country’s current stage of development.

Private land tenure policies

With respect to private land tenure, the first hurdle lies in changing the Chinese state’s fundamental relationship to the land. The current land governance system stems from the socialist period, which began with the founding of the People’s Republic of China under Mao Zedong. The Maoist period came to an end through the radical economic transformation under reforms instituted by Deng Xiaoping in the late 1970s. One could argue that the current stage of economic growth offers new opportunities to reform land policy by departing even more from the bygone socialist past. The question, however, is more political than economic. As Lai (2010) argued, the dynamic shifts in the economic system which arose through decentralization of state control over industries and opening up to private enterprise through Deng’s economic reforms were not met with paralleled political reforms. The political system that exists today remains authoritarian and superior to the rule of law, very much in kind to its socialist past. Despite the persistence of the authoritarian system, reform in the land governance system must come from fundamental reorientations in the relationship between the state, land, and society, which runs contrary to CCP ideology.

The objective of land reform would be to provide secure property rights to landowners under a system of private land tenure. Already, the state has granted land-use rights to individuals, families, and companies since the late 1980s, as discussed above. Prior to that policy shift, rural households were given more direct control over their allocated lots in the late 1970s through the Household Responsibility System (HRS), which allowed farmers to benefit from surplus production after the state had taken its quota share (Zerenzhi, 2009). Those policies were implemented by the central government and departed from the inefficient collectivized use of land sponsored under the Maoist regime. A similar alteration of land governance in the direction of private land tenure must also come through the initiative and sponsorship of the central government in order to become reality. Grassroots movements are incapable of pushing for reform under the current system.

The way in which such a transition could happen under the rigid authoritarian system would be to set up pilot programs in certain provinces or cities to aid in the land governance shift, similar to the Special Economic Zones (SEZs) established in the 1980s (such as in Shenzhen) that created more favorable economic conditions and institutional structures for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and private entrepreneurship (Wang, Wang, & Wu, 2009). An experimental land tenure zone in the spirit of SEZs would allow the Chinese government to moderate and observe the effects of the nascent private land tenure system, encouraging confidence in the results and providing insights on nationwide implementation.

Initial steps towards a private land tenure land governance system in China, whether applied in experimental zones or nationwide, would likely have to begin with imposing restrictions on the ability of farmers to sell off their land after gaining private ownership rights. Such restrictions would prevent companies and rich individuals from snatching up land before the benefits could be realized by the peasants for whom land tenure has the most to offer in terms of economic benefits. What local governments have done to peasants vis a vis land expropriation under the current land governance system would likely be repeated in the form of wealthy parties offering alluring deals to shortsighted peasants who may not understand the value of private property for their future livelihoods. Thus, for an experimental situation to work, pilot land tenure programs would need to include provisions to protect farmers from further exploitation by the powerful and wealthy. Perhaps the central government could propose a contractually binding agreement that would restrict farmers’ ability to sell their private land for a period of time, perhaps 15 years, after which time they would be eligible to keep their land or decide to sell it off.

A gradual process of land tenure would also have to apply to urban dwellers. Urban property owners who currently own real estate but who do not own the land which their properties stand on could also be gradually integrated into the private land tenure system. In order to prevent large, wealthy buyers from snatching up cheap units and owning a disproportionate amount of land in the cities, the central government could impose other restrictions on the implementation of the new system. For instance, land ownership could spread in stages, starting with granting ownership rights to citizens in low-income brackets. After a period of time, wealthier segments of the population could also be given property rights. It may also be necessary to restrict private ownership of land to a certain number of housing units initially. For example, owners of multiple real estate properties would be restricted to private ownership of just one property, perhaps over the property which they first acquired. Multiple schemes would need to be discussed and debated before rolling out any new land tenure reforms.

Gradual implementation of private land tenure would be the more sensible way to wean the government off of the current land governance system of state ownership. It would also allow for a more equitable transition and one with manageable political and economic consequences for the regime, which is bound to lose a significant amount of control after full implementation. Finally, such a policy transition would require broader structural reforms in which the central government–and the Communist Party in particular–would have to submit itself to the rule of law as ensured by an independent judiciary. State accountability through an independent judicial system is the only way to guarantee protection of land tenure rights against state actors prone to renege on policies that reduce state control. Rule of law would secure not only private ownership rights but also a smooth transition into the new system.

Environmental policies

The central government has already responded to political resistance from environmental pollution, although more must be done. The revised Environmental Protection Law of 2015 provides a case in point (de Boer & Whitehead, 2016). This law makes it easier for the public to sue environmental polluters as well as the local government officials that collude with offending companies. The ability for citizens to channel their discontent into litigation was already briefly discussed above. Despite the improvements in litigation, actual pollution levels remain a massive problem in China. According to McKinsey & Company (2013), fewer than one percent of China’s “500 largest cities” had clean air in 2013, and the problem persists (para. 1). The environmental crisis is linked to the Chinese model of growth over the past three decades, in which regard for the externalized costs of industrial production in heavy industry and manufacturing (i.e. environmental degradation) has been almost entirely disregarded. Policies and practices favoring GDP growth targets and economic development have supplanted concerns over the consequences to environmental quality and epidemiology.

The fact that some of the state’s environmental data such as soil contamination statistics were concealed from the public under the designation of “state secret” as late as 2013 demonstrates the difficulty in obtaining accurate, up-to-date information on which to make appropriate policy decisions (McKinsey & Company, 2013, para. 4). It is apparent that the Chinese government at the central and local levels is complicit in allowing the environmental catastrophe to persist by maintaining such secrecy. The foremost policy implication for resolving pollution as a factor of political resistance would be to make pollution statistics and information on polluters transparent. Transparency would allow the public to come to terms with the gravity of the situation and thereby facilitate appropriate responses such as more targeted litigation and productive activism. Such transparency, however, puts the government in a vulnerable position of criticism. The path to political transparency would probably have to begin, again, with political reform in the direction of greater civic participation in political affairs, especially with regards to the public’s ability to hold government officials and organizations accountable for the consequences of their actions. Such reform is highly unlikely under the authoritarian model currently entrenched in China today.

Whether or not the Chinese government can make structural changes to allow for greater civic participation is a factor that plays a key role in determining appropriate policy responses. More attainable policy options, however, might lie in strengthening the means already available to curb environmental pollution, particularly pertaining to prevention and punishment. Prevention of pollution entails environmental health and safety regulations. Ensuring companies implement proper safety equipment and efficiency standards in their factories would demand a beefed up licensing and permitting system impervious to bribery. Independent licensing agencies could provide the needed means of permitting factory construction and operation only after companies complied with the appropriate regulations. Such a system would require further auditing to ensure companies do not regress into operations which violate the standards they initially passed. Such as system would be dependent on improved institutional quality which China currently lacks (Borin & Stefano, 2016). More severe punishments for health and safety violations would provide further incentive for companies to pursue compliance rather than avoidance of pollution standards.

Finally, the sources of pollution themselves should be targeted aggressively to stem the output of pollutants. Significant pollution in China derives from burning fossil fuels such as coal and petroleum products. Targeting efficiency standards in automobiles and in filtering equipment in factories requires high institutional quality to carry out enforcement and punishment. Another manageable approach would be to strengthen education policies that could be implemented to teach children or inform the public on best practices for reducing individual polluting habits, especially with regards to consumption. Educating the public on how to be wise consumers, especially through reducing consumption, could be counterproductive to the economic growth model that requires mass consumption to drive the industries which provide jobs to millions of workers. The government’s current policy directives aim to shift from a manufacturing and export-oriented economy to a consumption-based one (Borin & Stefano, 2016). Yet those industries which depend on high consumption are the very sources of environmental pollution which result in public health hazards and political resistance: the challenge of finding appropriate policy responses is indeed complex.

Research Suggestions and Conclusion

This paper has looked at two primary factors of development which have led to political resistance in China. The scope and depth of the paper provides an outline of the main issues pertaining to development and political resistance, entailing background on land tenure and its place in Chinese land governance, as well as pollution. Policy suggestions are outlined, offering a glimpse into possible alternative paths the Chinese government could take in alleviating the problems arising from economic development. The policy implications addressed deal mainly with political reforms necessary that lie at the root of potentially effective changes in the current growth model. The research does not intend to comprehensively address all factors of resistance, nor all the associated consequences related to social unrest and protest. Neither does it provide an exhaustive list of the policy implications.

Further research could look into a more comprehensive enumeration of the types of political resistance seen across China as well as the underlying causes stemming from development practices which foment resistance activities. More data mining would be necessary to accomplish a comprehensive investigation, which could prove difficult considering that one of the policy suggestions offered (at least with regard to environmental pollution) focused on the lack of transparency or availability of data related to environmental pollution statistics. Therefore, data could present a challenge in structuring original research beyond a literature review.

Another area for further research lies in distinguishing economic factors of development from political factors. Within the authoritarian state, most aspects of society are subsumed under the control of the Communist Party and nearly all economic activities can be boiled down to their relationship with state polity. The political system ultimately dominates all activities in Chinese society in terms of its constraining or enabling functions. This paper did not go into detail on the relationship between China’s political and economic structures or their influence on development practices and social unrest. Establishing clearer distinctions between the country’s political and economic systems could help elucidate the sources of development-related problems that persist in Chinese society.

China’s economic growth and developmental trajectory is undergoing a shift away from the model of manufacturing and land development that has so far fueled spectacular growth. The central government is now attempting to steer the nation towards a more sustainable growth model based on consumption instead of export-oriented manufacturing. The manufacturing and land development industries happen to be the very locus of the majority of political resistance activities and social unrest. With the transition to a consumer and services oriented economy, it remains to be seen what opportunities will open up under these changing economic conditions. New conditions could potentially facilitate the policies necessary to ameliorate the grave environmental and land governance situation. Alternatively, the current state of affairs could equally persist without any foreseeable improvements, possibly even worsening. Perhaps the emerging economic reorientation will create conditions which would open up new possibilities for political reform, and thus open the way for the implementation of a private land tenure system. Changes must happen in order to remedy the environmental damages brought on by China’s development, and they are happening to an extent. The Chinese government must respond with new tools and policies to meet the challenges associated with its current developmental model. Encouraging greater civil society participation is perhaps the most key element of all.


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References for Charts and Figures

Title Page

Levinson, A., & McDonald, K. (2014, October 30). Why citizen participation should be encouraged in China’s 13th Five-Year Plan. Chinadialogue: Blog, News Focus. See: https://www.chinadialogue.net/blog/7440-Why-citizen-participation-should-be-encouraged-in-China-s-13th-Five-Year-Plan/en

Figure A: Land Governance Systems across the Globe

Enemark, S. (2004): Building Land Information Policies. Proceedings of Special Forum on Building Land Information Policies in the Americas. Aguascalientes, Mexico, 26-27 October.http://www.fig.net/pub/mexico/papers_eng/ts2_enemark_eng.pdf. From: Opaluwa Y. D, Adejare Q. A, Samaila-Ija H. A, Onuigbo I. C, Nwose I. A, Idris M. K, Surveying and Mapping in Sustainable Land Administration and Socioeconomic Development in Nigeria: An Overview, American Journal of Geographic Information System, Vol. 3 No. 2, 2014, pp. 88-97. Retrieved from: http://article.sapub.org/10.5923.j.ajgis.20140302.03.html#Ref

Figure B: Expropriated Farmland Area from 1995 to 2012.

Takahashi, G. (2015) Two Main Conditions for Collapse of the Bubble Economy of China—Large Number of Unsold Houses and Deregulation of Deposit Interest Rates. Journal of Financial Risk Management, 04, 40-55. Retrieved from: http://file.scirp.org/pdf/JFRM_2015032711481138.pdf

Figure C: Poll: Main Concerns of Chinese Citizens.

Laohu Economics. (2016, April 13). What can China protests tell us about the state of economic stability? Laohueconomics. See: http://laohueconomics.com/new-china-economics-blog/

Figure D: Types of Soil Pollution in China.

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Figure E: Wastewater Discharge in Relationship to GDP.

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Figure F: Comparison of Air Pollution between U.S. and Chinese Cities.

McCarthy, Niall. (2015, January 26). Air Pollution Levels In Perspective: China And The US. Statista. See: https://www.google.com.hk/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwimp9TSh7_QAhWIerwKHb8fBXAQjhwIBQ&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.statista.com%2Fchart%2F3161%2Fair-pollution-levels-in-perspective%2F&psig=AFQjCNGdy472ge25Nw5pKeus2TblzEm4Mw&ust=1479996734107536