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The Greening of Red Cadres: economic development and ecological modernisation policy discourse in the People's Republic of China

Date

2020

Authors

McCarthy, Joe

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Abstract

China's economic development over the past four decades has come at considerable cost to its environment. Yet, in recent decades, the People's Republic of China (PRC) authorities have responded with a series of legislative measures consistent with principles of 'sustainable development' (kechixu fazhan). These environmental reforms have caught the attention of ecological modernisation theorists who argue that China is undergoing form of 'ecological modernisation'. However, despite their focus on the process of ecological modernisation within China, there has been little scholarly attention on the influence of ecological modernisation as a policy discourse in China. Examining this environmental policy discourse helps to define the parameters within which Chinese authorities are prepared to act and arrest the environmental impact of rapid economic development. This thesis argues that since the 1980s Chinese authorities have drawn on the environmental reform experience of developed nations and steadily incorporated ecological modernisation ideas into their environmental policies. Environmental bureaucratic agencies have been the key pioneers for their inclusion, although economic bureaucratic organs have also supported environmental reform measures. This has fostered a convergence of economic and environmental rationality within environmental policy discourse. However, despite these reforms, this thesis will also show how political interests, ranging from local cadres to the upper echelons of the Party, can stymie the inclusion of certain ecological modernisation ideas when these ideas challenge embedded economic and political rationalities. The empirical material for this research is derived from an examination of policy discussions surrounding five proposed environmental policy reforms in China: 'cleaner production' (qingjie shengchan), 'circular economy (xunhuan jingji), 'green GDP' (lvse GDP), 'low-carbon economy' (ditan jingji), and 'ecological civilisation' (shengtai wenming). It utilises Chinese-language material from a variety of official Party and Chinese government sources: policies, legislation, speeches, articles and interviews in order to demonstrate that Chinese officials' ecological modernisation beliefs stem from their need to balance the PRC's twin guiding principles of a 'socialist market economy' and 'sustainable development'. The incorporation of 'ecological civilisation' into this policy discourse encapsulates this wish to create 'ecological modernisation with Chinese characteristics'.

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Thesis (PhD)

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Open Access

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DOI

10.25911/5f58aff066cba

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