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Skip to 0 minutes and 1 secondGood morning, everybody. My name is May Tan-Mullins from the School of International Studies at the University of Nottingham, Ningbo, China. Today we are going to talk about a concept of harmonious society in China, and how this has altered or influenced the man-nature relationship in China. The harmonious society concept was introduced by Hu Jintao in 2005 at the National People's Congress. A lot of people termed this as the New Confucianism, because it's rooted at the philosophical parts of Confucius that there needs to be harmony within the society. This concept was introduced to bring about social justice and equality, and to close the income gap. What does this concept mean for the environment then?

Skip to 0 minutes and 48 secondsAccording to Hu Jintao in 2005, in his speech, "a harmonious society is a society that is democratic and ruled by law, fair and just, trustworthy and fraternal, full of vitality, stable and orderly, and maintains harmony between man and nature." So there is this reference to a harmonious relationship between man and nature. The Chinese Communist Party in 2006 further reinterpreted this concept to policies, which needs to cover a broad range of topics, including policy orientation regarding rural development, regional development, employment, education, medicine, and public health, environmental protection, the social security system, et cetera, et cetera. I want to bring your attention to the rural development and environmental protection.

Skip to 1 minute and 48 secondsIt is part of the policy orientation to focus on how to develop the environment in a protective manner. Just give a very quick background of Hu's rhetoric, why this concept came about. As we all know, in the 1950s to '60s, there was this great leap forward, which focused a lot of modernisation, collectivizations, and huge industrialisation projects were implemented. In 1979, Deng Xiaoping, then leader of China, also implemented the opening up policies. The implications of these policies and political torts brought about high increases in FDIs, privatisation process, and rising income for a huge population of China. However, this economic development came with a huge cost. First, there was social tensions.

Skip to 2 minutes and 40 secondsWhat we saw was uncontrolled rural-urban migration, which caused a huge strain on the urban amenities. This also resulted in huge environmental degradations, both at the rural, and the urban areas. Due to the loss of farmlands and forest lands to urbanisation process, there was also a huge loss of biodiversity in China. And finally, food and livelihood security were threatened by this urbanised process, and uncontrolled development. So what we're seeing in China is that there is this huge environment versus economics nexus. And there is this huge contestation over use of resources. To give you an example disharmony, let's look into water. In China, over 300 million people rely on hazardous water source, due to water shortage and scarcity.

Skip to 3 minutes and 35 secondsAnd there is this huge competition over usage of water resources between enterprises and private households. In China, over 77% have access to piped water, which is a great achievement, and 94% in the urban area. However there are rural communities in China that have been exposed to unreliable sources. And all these have huge implications and costs, such as on health care. In China, in 2007, there over 60,000 wastewater treatment plants. Again it is an achievement. But if you compare to the population in China, 60,000 is very, very, very minimal compared to 1.4 billion people. Hence, there is this huge need to increase basic sanitation and governance of contaminants from industrial facilities and agricultural use of pesticides.

Skip to 4 minutes and 30 secondsTo illustrate this point, I would like to move five years later, after the implementation of the harmonious society concept by Hu Jintao. Let's go into Tingjiang River in Fujian. On the third of July 2010, there was a huge chemical leak by Zijin Mining Group, ZMG, at the Tingjiang River in the Shanghang county of Fujian Province. As a result, over 2,000 tonnes of fish were poisoned and dead. This caused a huge threat to the livelihood security of the fishes and farmers around that area.

Skip to 5 minutes and 7 secondsWhat is more scary is that due to the poisoned fish, which was meant for human consumption, although they were compensated by the mining company, there were huge questions of how this poisonous chemical leakage will philtre into the food chain, and finally reach human consumption. The bigger implication for this is that after the government investigation, they found that over 9,000 metal processing companies in China has emitted more heavy metals than allowed by the government. So what we are seeing is that this is not just one random case of leakage and pollution. But it is consistently happening throughout the whole of China. So are we living in a harmonious society in China? Perhaps not.

Skip to 5 minutes and 59 secondsPerhaps it is disharmonious society, as GDP is more important to the policymakers, and to many of the citizenries. We do see some forms of harmony between man and nature at a personal micro level, for example, through the practise of feng shui, through the personal practise of environmental protection. However, at the macro large-level scale, what we are seeing instead there are a lot of examples of disharmony between man and nature. This is due to the perception that nature is a sink to absorb pollutants. And as a result, there is no real concern of protecting nature as a legacy for humankind. This is what brings us to the larger issues of governance.

Skip to 6 minutes and 44 secondsWhy this is happening in China is due to the lack of holistic approach, due to the dichotomy between the central and local government. And as such, there is very little capacity and enforcement ability for the government to protect the environment. And finally, there is this huge lack of information, not just between ministries, but also between the government to the citizenry. And finally, what does this mean? We should not be all doom and gloom. Because there are improvements. For example, Li Keqiang recently announced the war on pollution. The APEC blue in Beijing in 2014 December, also demonstrated that it is possible to mitigate negative implications of environmental degradations. And these are all positive signs that there is a way forward.

Skip to 7 minutes and 40 secondsBut what we need to really ask is what are the implications for China if we don't do something, and more importantly for the rest of the world.

Imagining Nature in China

The recent revival of Confucian thought in official as well as vernacular Chinese discourse emphasises the need to live in harmony with nature.

In this video, May-Tan Mullins, Associate Professor, University of Nottingham China Campus, describes that much of this happens at the micro-level, as people enjoy gardens or other representations of nature. Does this open up the door towards a more ecological politics of the future, or are such rituals of appreciation on the micro-scale a substitute for caring about the environment at large?

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This video is from the free online course:

Propaganda and Ideology in Everyday Life

The University of Nottingham