In China, air pollution has turned into one of the most dangerous threats to kinship and upcoming generations due to early reforms that entirely focused on economic development. In 1992, Deng Xiaoping, the paramount leader of the Communist Party of China coined the slogan “To Get Rich, Is Glorious” which led to the economic revolution in the country. The continued search for wealth and the notion of economic productivity made China adopt the motto “Growth at all Costs” which eventually turned a blind eye towards environmental protection and sustainability. The Chinese citizens are plagued by pollution of all kinds including air, water, and land pollution. The issue of polluted air in China can be approached from diverse perspectives including the community’s economic development, individual’s health, global climate change, and local people’s well-being. The unparalleled engagement in the issue of air pollution in China has led to new forms of interfaces between scientists, Chinese political leaders, industry, the citizens, and public organizations. Based on past and on-going research of the human dimensions concerning pollution in China by authors and activists such as Choy, Zee, and Ong, it is essential to establish how cultural and political logics undergird the issue of air pollution.
Environmental degradation, especially air pollution, is not a recent phenomenon in China. Jerry Zee explores life in changed air through the explanation of canned air in Beijing. In 2013, the city was enshrouded in record air pollution due to the continuous burning of coal. Zee’s cultural logic concerning Chinese environmentalism tries to expound on how air not only holds individuals together but continually creates new kinds of differences. In this case, the people who are affected by excessive air pollution are compelled to bear different environmental conditions. Air pollution in China is caused by a few individuals although everyone feels the impact. A grim statistics from a forum in 2013 held in Beijing indicated that there were more than one million premature deaths. Additionally, the particulate matter pollution as Zee points out led to the loss of more 25 million healthy years of life from the country’s population (Zee, 2014). The ruthlessness of the particulate matter after China’s Orientalism was a significant factor that led to increased urban smog. PM2.5 and PM10 became essential household terms, and this compelled them to unite against the pollutants. In this case, since they breathed together, they had to fight together.
According to Zee, city breathers are bound to experience a malfunctioning of their respiratory organs as they are turned into organic machines. From a cultural perspective, this is against the norms of Chinese society that states that every individual has a right to live. Every aspect of body life including water, food, and breathing becomes insecure, ultimately threatening human life. The process of exposure and erosion of life which causes the dispossession of the body from itself. The inhalation of the contaminated air in the city is both a necessity for survival as well as an erosion of it. Research indicates that breathing as a designed experience has contributed to inequalities in the society (Zee, 2014). In this case, people who possess urban citizenship and those who have the right to city space are increasingly bound by the question of breathing clean air. Recently, breathers in China have frequently expressed their grievance of being denied the right to life. The social system logic dictates that breathing should be a shared collective hardship. The state rhetoric is based on the notion that breathing together is sharing a similar destiny. Hence, the ideological socialist claims of hope and better life promised by the government are null and void according to environmental activists.
In Chinese air pollution politics, human life becomes part of the air’s suspension which indicates that life is not as important as economic development. In this case, air dispossesses human agency and eventually leads to the defenselessness of breathing. Shanxi, which is a major coal-producing region in China contributes to one of the highest levels of SO2 emissions. Other provinces such as Hubei, Jiangsu, Jilin, and Zhejiang have high levels of per capita industrial effluent due to the massive number of industries that they host. The data derived from the effluent and emissions help in determining the relationship between environmental complaints and pollution levels. People from various provinces in China have ensured mass voluntarism which is acceptable in the societal ideology to end the issue of air pollution. The 1995 speech on Earth Day delivered by Xi Zhenhua indicated that the public had to be consciously and actively involved in protecting the environment.
Additionally, during the Mao period, campaigns were considered to be fundamental political institutions, and hence the fight against air pollution was more relaxed and more concerned with the lives of the general public. However, this has changed to a fundamental policy institution where individuals are given empty promises that take up to thirty years to accomplish. The Maoist approaches of mass mobilization were therefore considered better means of addressing social issues and environmental concerns such as air pollution. The primary sources of particulate pollution today such as storms, dust, vehicle exhaust, and construction were not prevalent during the Mao era. As a result, this could be blamed for the difficulty being experienced by the Chinese government in fighting against the rampant air pollution. Currently, the vast majority of the Chinese air pollution is connected to the extensive burning of coal that is used to run local industries. Pollution control agencies restrict buildings that are south of Huai River from burning coal in the winter as this contributes to the unequally distributed respiratory harm in the country.
As Choy argues, one can conduct an ethnography of the diverse ways that air matters in China. Often, air is ignored as the unspoken background although, in Asia, it is a fundamental item for survival. However, Choy questions the manner in which people see the air that multiplies the standards, measures, and technical claims. The political logic established by Choy to undergird the policy of air pollution in China states that air organizes different political and social worlds (Choy, 2012). Based on the politics of air, it is believed that the atmosphere creates unexpected disjuncture and connections. Ultimately, air contributes to unanticipated perceptions that spark new models of violence in the society. The development of China’s complaint system concerning the issue of air pollution has been defined by political interventions which aim at benefiting the state. The citizens are supposed to come up with social movements whenever they want to present genuine grievances. However, the government of China has not been cooperative because of the established structural aspects that restrict accountability. In the past, environmental protection officials took complaints presented by Chinese citizens more seriously until the political structure of the country left open the option for subjective “rule by authority.”
In China, air quality has become a crucial political issue, which if not addressed appropriately may spark a severe environmental crisis in the country and other neighboring Asian countries. The legal basis of air quality protection has been turned into a political initiative campaign with bitter results to the general public. For instance, political leaders in Zhejiang claim that their emission control indicators are stronger compared to the targets set by the central level guidelines. The Politicization of the issue has been considered as a significant obstacle towards the elimination of the harmful smog produced in other key cities such as Beijing and Shanghai. The need for rapid economic growth and demand for cheap energy to run most of the local industries could be attributed to the government’s weak political structure. Most of the local people depend on income from the industries to survive. Therefore, the government would consider banning the domestic industries as an economic suicide that would turn the nation into a third-world country in the eyes of other financial giants such as the United States and Japan.
How does air pollution raise new questions of how to breathe in the city? Choy tries to answer the question by indicating the manner in which political substances have formed a network that is being slowly woven into policies developed to curb air pollution. The pragmatic structure of the question brings about the aspects of air pollution and mortality which means the people living in the city are at higher risk of succumbing to diseases. The particularity of air contributes to the formation of political substance with Hong Kong being an excellent example. In August 2000, the South China Morning Post featured an article with the title “A Breath of Fresh Poison” which signified the sympathetic situation in China’s key cities (Choy, 2012). For instance, Choy says that the article introduces a character who feels that the pollution in the Central Business District gives him dizzy spells as well as migraine headaches. The political claims brought forward to explain the situation represents a massive failure of the government in looking after the health of its citizens. In this case, the political particularism and the class of politics in China seem to be a considerable obstacle in the elimination of the dangerous issue of air pollution.
The West tends to criticize China for becoming an imminent threat to the entire globe due to its poor policies on environmental pollution. The tendency of joy over human suffering has been experienced in China where the government focuses on economic development. The uncritical defense of state policy and power is a significant loophole in the fixation of the air pollution problem. Air quality protection in Chinese cities such as Beijing and other coastal towns has contributed to better air quality. The visible air pollution in China has increased consciousness and willingness for the government and the people to adopt more stringent political and cultural measures to eliminate the problem. Exposure is a shared fate in China because even the future generation has the slightest chances of survival. As a result, breathing and living become suspended signatures to pave the way for economic development. The art of living has been breached by the particulate matter that penetrates through walls and sneaks through cracks. Therefore, the cultural norms concerning life are continually being ignored leading to degradation of the human quality of life.
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The issue of urban citizenship and the rights to space are increasingly being associated with the question of breathing. While thinking about the area in three dimensions and how the political body interacts with technical systems, it is clear that China has failed in its efforts to eliminate air pollution. Air pollution levels can be measured in several ways although the method used highly depends on the size of the region and the population. In China’s key cities where the use of coal was high, sulfur dioxide emissions were measured in different ways. The most common method is known as the social density of industrial emissions to determine the number of lives at stake due to air pollution. According to Ong in one of the articles titled “Athlete Gene in China’s Future”, the short-term environmental solutions do not guarantee life and sustainability in Chinese cities (Ong, n.d). The popular movements developed by the general public have little impact because the government promises change in a span of 20 to 30 years. The Chinese science seems to deviate from the cosmopolitan scientific structures, and hence the government rarely depends on the research and data presented. China’s biomedical preparation for global uncertainty seems to be the key to fighting air pollution. Based on a study conducted by BGI Genomics, the future of China hangs in the balance because continued use of coal and other nonrenewable fuels will cause gene complications. Ultimately, the fertility level of the Chinese people will reduce drastically and even lead to total infertility. Air hunger is a major problem in large cities of China such as Shanghai and Beijing. According to Ong, gene adaptation due to reduced air capacity has defied the athlete gene which is linked to a physiological trait of “increased hemoglobin production.” Therefore, the article states that people located in the highlands have good Asian gene pools due to geological isolation. Nevertheless, the genes of the people located in the highly urbanized areas with many industries are at risk of reduced gene adaptation compared to the people found in the remote areas.
In conclusion, China’s air pollution threat is a complex issue that can only be explained through thorough critical analysis of the political and cultural logics that undergird the policy. Current researchers ask how people might notice that air around is a crucial site of cultural and political experimentation. In this case, they ask how the modes of breathing can be tailored to diversified sites of political imagination. By thinking outside of landlocked political visions, the general public should learn how to live through breath. Planet Earth has been branded as a living death with China being an excellent example of how the world consumes people’s lives. The widespread air pollution in major Chinese cities will continue causing deaths of innocent individuals. Based on the anthropological thinking of Choy, Zee, and Ong, China could be facing one of its worst moments in history. Life in the changed air is neither heaven nor hell because everything that is solid is being turned into air. Ultimately, the people will be forced to use canned air which is expensive and only available to the rich.
- Choy, T. (2012). Air’s substantiations. Lively Capital: Biotechnologies, Ethics, and Governance in Global Markets, 121-54.
- Ong. (n.d). The Athlete Gene in China’s Future.
- Zee, J. (2014). Breathing in the City: Beijing and the Architecture of Air. Scapegoat 8: 46-56.