Environmental Protection and Citizen Mobilization in China

Date: 17 May 2012, 4pm

Place: 18 Kelburn Parade Room 204, Kelburn Campus, Victoria University

Speaker: Professor Yu Zhangbao, China Centre Visiting Fellow, Professor of Politics at the School of Public Affairs at Xiamen University

In this seminar, Prof Yu discusses the development of civil society in China and the new forms and platforms of civil society movement and organization. Examining a series of successful civil resistances and campaigns in recent years in China over major development projects, Dr Yu shows the opening up of the public sphere in a corporatist society and how individuals and organizations seek to address issues that emerge from development projects that are often backed by local government, but directly affect their personal interests as well as the popular values of society such as environmental projection.

The economic development of past 30 years in China has led to the growth of increasingly assertive middle class. The political orientation of this middle class however is often debated and there are different expectations of how they advocate and participate in political and policy processes. One group point out that the middle class has grown up in and benefited from the existing model of development and they tend to be more conservative and for status quo. Others argue that the middle class become more critical of the existing system as their interests are often suppressed and marginalized in the system and as their capacity and interests grow, they are more inclined as well as able to challenge the system and protect and even advance their interests. Dr Yu shows in this work that the civil activities of individuals and groups are driven more by their interests on specific issues, but the way they advocate and get their concerns addressed is more sophisticated. If formal channels of addressing the issues exist, they would use. But in most cases, informal and more subtle channels are more effective.

This series of cases show that the growth and influence of civil society clearly reflects the conditions, dynamics and institutional set up in China. The success of these cases indicates that some forms and platforms of civil activities are more effective than others. Indeed, it is through this issue-driven, citizens-centred process we see the continual opening up of the public sphere in a traditionally corporatist society and the development of a more effective public policy process and local governance, moving towards a more balanced society.

About the speaker

Dr Zhangbao YU is Professor of Politics at the School of Public Affairs, and Director of New Zealand Research Centre at Xiamen University, China. Prof Yu received a doctorate in Philosophy from Fudan University in Shanghai and did his postdoctoral research in Economics at Xiamen University. Prof Yu teaches and researches on public policy analysis. He is currently a visiting fellow at the NZ Contemporary China Research Centre, working on a project on gender politics in New Zealand.