Pollution in China: Can China Grow Without Living Citizens?
China has seen incredible economic growth in recent decades, sprinting “past Germany and Japan to become the world’s second-largest economy” (Ma and Adams). While the Chinese economy still continues to grow, the rate of growth has slowed significantly. The restraints of this staggering growth are being felt on all aspects of Chinese society. Political, social, and economic issues have become roadblocks for Chinese development. Pollution is one of the more profound problems China suffers at the moment, as it affects the health of the population as well as the economy. Because China’s growth is credited to rapid industrialization, the economic expansion could not have come without the environmental damage. China’s pollution, specifically air quality, is becoming a global issue. China will have to decrease their pollution and emissions as the rest of the world continues to push for change, and these changes will slow the already declining economic growth. Pollution in China is a wide-reaching issue, affecting the entire population regardless of socioeconomic stance. The Chinese Communist Party will not be able to maintain power once pollution decreases because economic issues and shortages will be stressed without growth.
In regards to the lower-class, a vast majority of the Chinese population, many are exposed to toxic chemicals while farming and providing food for the rest of the country, which means this issue is wide-reaching as well. The already small amount of arable
land is steadily becoming contaminated. As a direct result of industrialization, “the pollution that chemical factories released in gas and sludge” (“The Victims of China's Soil Pollution Crisis”) incorporates into the waterways, and that water is used to irrigate farmland. More specifically, “a report that showed that heavy metal pollution in the Wuxi, Suzhou, and Changzhou areas has increased continuously since 2004,” (“The Victims of China's Soil Pollution Crisis”) and exposure to these toxins damage the lives of farmers greatly. Many farmers believe that their compromised health is a direct result of soil contamination. One farmer, Zhang Junwei, “believes that the cancer that ended his uncle’s life was caused by soil pollution” (“The Victims of China's Soil Pollution Crisis”) coming directly from Lake Tai, a large freshwater lake lined with factories built during the industrial boom of the 1990s. Zhang himself, although adamant about the issue, is reluctant to stir controversy regarding this specific issue, as he kept his real identity hidden. Soil pollution is as big of a health risk as water and air contamination, but is much less discussed politically, and in the recent past “has received relatively little public attention in China” (“The Victims of China's Soil Pollution Crisis”). The CCP has made strong efforts to keep soil contamination out of the media. Only very recently, in February of 2013, “the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) finally admitted that ‘cancer villages’ existed in China, and released a list that included the area around Lake Tai,” (“The Victims of China's Soil Pollution Crisis.”) This is a perfect example of CCP censorship and the Chinese government reaching the limits of their control and growth. Mining, along with chemical factories, also contributes to the issues of soil contamination and “cancer villages”. Along with mines “destroying crops and poisoning people” ("Arsenic Pollution Sows Despair in Chinese Cancer Village"), miners also fall ill doing work they have no choice but to do. One man, Xiong Demin, learned “that the mine he worked at for 32 years would leave his home village poisoned and hundreds of residents, including himself and his wife, stricken with cancer,” ("Arsenic Pollution Sows Despair in Chinese Cancer Village"). Many lower-class workers are forced into work that has been proven dangerous to themselves, the people around them, and China as a whole.
Severe air pollution can be seen on a daily basis in China’s largest cities, where a majority of the upper-class population lives. Health experts in Beijing, China’s capital and second-largest city “say they’ve seen a rise in a certain kind of cancer known as adenocarcinoma—which is characterized by duct formations and the production of mucus that is tied to pollution” (Burkitt). Chinese citizens are growing discontent with government officials’ and economic powers’ negligence regarding public health. The government still continues to instate potentially polluting plans in order to further economic growth, but the public is beginning to push back. The planned construction of a waste incinerator near the city of Hangzhou sparked “protests that resulted in dozens of overturned and burned cars” (“China’s Anti-Pollution Protests Grow Increasingly Violent”). Urbanites in Shanghai and Guangzhou as well have responded to intentions of factory and nuclear facility constructions similarly. These deportations prove that the issue of pollution surpasses the vast socioeconomic divide within the Chinese population. These demonstrations are roadblocks in economic growth and halt potential income sources.
The Chinese Communist Party has made improvements in their policies regarding pollution and environmental protection, despite many of China’s cities failingair quality index examinations in the recent past. The president of China, Xi Jinping has “publicly pledged not to sacrifice the environment to promote temporary economic growth,” (Nair) a testament to the severity of the pollution issues. Even though China’s aspirations of becoming an even bigger economic power have carried it throughout the past decades, “China would likely be willing to forego an economy that doubles in size every 10 years for an end to the air pollution that kills thousands annually in Beijing alone” (Nair). The Chinese government's recent reforms have given way to improvements in air quality in Beijing. According to a recent report, “the air in Beijing and surrounding provinces is showing some signs of improvement” (Sheehan). As important as these improvements are to the future of China, it is still unclear whether the Chinese economy can continue to grow without the inexpensive industrialization that produced the dangerous levels of pollution. With improving technology, Chinese industry may stay afloat without environmental detriments, but at this point, China’s economic sacrifices and efforts to solve their contamination has slowed financial growth.