Practices and Imaginaries of ‘Ecological Civilisation’ in Contemporary China

9:00 am – 10:45 am
Room 5

  • Organised by Yulia Mylnikova and Jessica Imbach
  • Chaired by Yulia Mylnikova
  • Jessica Imbach, “Eco-Futurism in Chinese Science Fiction”
  • Lena Kaufmann, “Linking Farm Chemicals and Migration: A Socio-Technical Perspective on the Practical Hurdles to an ‘Ecological Civilisation’ in China”
  • Yulia Mylnikova, “The Prospects of ‘Eco-Youths’ in China”
  • Polina Rysakova, “China’s Eco-Tourism in Post Covid Times”
  • Edward Vickers, Discussant

This panel brings together five scholars of China from fields including anthropology, environmental humanities, history, and social studies to discuss China’s contradictory pursuit of global leadership towards a low-carbon, resilient ecological future. Four of the panelists will present their research on a wide range of issues, including sustainability-oriented practices, techniques and policy applications, and representations and imaginaries of a green future in relation to the question of “ecological civilisation.” What are the approaches to the concept and practice of ecological civilisation in contemporary China? What are the perspectives and policy applications for resilient green futures in China in the century of climate change? Such questions are especially relevant these days, as the Covid-19 pandemic has further exacerbated questions of planetary livelihood. What seemed to be a secure vision of the future ~ urban, smart, green, connected, equitable ~ has been called into question. Have cities become more risky? Have rural spaces become more valuable? Focusing on the entanglements of ecology, economic development and cultural practices, this panel interrogates, the most pressing issues, practices, and imaginaries at hand in engagements with the environment and ecological change in China.

Jessica Imbach, “Eco-Futurism in Chinese Science Fiction

A green future has become a central promise of the Chinese state and the environment is playing an increasingly important role in China’s bid to promote itself as a political alternative to the West. While state environmentalism and its promotion of “ecological civilisation” (shengtai wenming ⽣态⽂明) have so far proven more aligned with economic and political interests rather than environmental goals, negotiations of Chinese eco-futurism are also taking place in contemporary culture production, notably science fiction. Taking science fiction by Liu Cixin, Han Song, and Hao Jingfang, among others, as its point of departure, this paper interrogates the historical, aesthetic, and political underpinnings of Chinese futurology from both local and global perspectives. As a state promoted sector of the Chinese creative industries, science fiction reflects the symbolic and economic importance of science and technology to China’s growth and self-image. But as a dynamically developing protocol of literary production and cultural expression, science fiction also foregrounds the social agency of technology within the Chinese cultural sphere. This paper probes into recent articulations of eco-futurism in science fiction to analyse the situated entanglements of the technological and the ecological in Chinese discourses of the Anthropocene.

Lena Kaufmann, “Linking Farm Chemicals and Migration: A Socio-Technical Perspective on the Practical Hurdles to an ‘Ecological Civilisation’ in China”

During the recent Anti- This paper investigates the social and environmental implications of (post-)Green Revolution technologies, in particular farm chemicals. Due to government promotion, the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides has risen from almost zero before the 1950s to environmentally alarming amounts today. In Hunan province alone, this has contributed to the contamination of three quarters of the rice fields. As a response, in 2015 the central government announced the Zero-Growth Action Plan for Chemical Fertilizers and Pesticides, a target which was reportedly reached ahead of time in 2017. Nevertheless, China still uses more farm chemicals than any other country in the world. Based on written and ethnographic data from Hunan and taking into account the farmers’ perspectives, this paper explores some of the socio-technical rationales behind farmers’ use of farm chemicals. It shows that, while many interviewed farmers also used organic farming methods for the food grown for personal consumption, when it came to marketing, they generally seemed not to be concerned much with concepts such as “ecological civilisation.” Instead, they had much more practical concerns. The paper argues that farm chemicals play an important role in farmers’ household strategies in the context of rural-urban migration. In view of environmental protection, this implies that if related policies are to be successful, policy makers need to take a much broader perspective on the issue and include areas such as migration, rather than merely focusing on the reduction of farm chemicals alone.

Yulia Mylnikova, “The Prospects of ‘Eco-Youths’ in China

This paper will explore the prospects for a sustainable future for Chinese villages from an environmental point of view and the role of young people in this process. Over recent years, young Chinese women and men have become increasingly disillusioned with the gruelling work conditions, society’s expectations and never-ending competition that constitutes living in the country’s major cities, leading many to adopt a range of alternative lifestyles—from extreme saving, to “going back to nature” and alternative food networks. Environmental concerns in general have received an extra impetus from the COVID-19 crisis, which has caused many in China to review their priorities and question society’s overwhelming focus on economic growth. Despite reports of food safety and quality scandals, China has a rapidly expanding green agriculture and food sector. It’s a new movement focused on ecological agriculture and quality food. Eco-farms enthusiasts, NGOs, farmers’ markets, alternative food networks are initiated by diversely motivated groups of primarily young, university-educated people, who returned from the city with knowledge and ideas they gained from their urban experience. These «new farmers» born after 1980, and therefore raised after the «reform and opening» to the West, never experienced famines, collectivized farms, food rationing, or rural hardship of the Mao era, as their parents did. Will these new trends in society become the prelude to an alternative rural modernity that leads to a more fundamental rural development paradigm shift in China? How will the youth of China approach the many challenges and possibilities of an ecological civilisation?

Polina Rysakova, “China’s Eco-Tourism in Post Covid Times

Last several decades China’s government at different levels put much emphasis at developing so-called eco-tourism. Since 1990s China was striving to launch various programs to implement eco-tourism plans. Recently political agenda concerning “construction of ecological civilisation,” “beautiful China” provided a new impetus for these plans. Today the development of eco-tourism in China is guided by newly derived plan for 2016–2025 years, which gives priority to the following areas—Mangang Eco-tourism Area in the Northeast Plain, Eco-tourism area in the middle and lower reaches of the Yellow River, Northern Desert and Grassland Eco-tourism Area, Qinghai-Tibet Plateau Eco-tourism Area, Eco-tourism area in the upper and middle reaches of the Yangtze River, Eastern Plain Hilly Eco-tourism Area, Eco-tourism area of the Pearl River Basin. However, for many years China’s eco-tourism development was criticized for undistinguished resemblance with mass tourism, while the main purpose of tourism activities were related to economic gains rather that principles of ecological protection in the highly developed Eastern part of the country with high population density. But we can suppose that this situation can change in the nearest future in post-Covid reality. First of all today’s ecotourism is intertwined with economic programs for poverty reduction and overall development of remote countryside regions. It goes hand by hand with rural tourism to small places. Besides the main attitudes of Chinese customers have also change, as many tourists strive to visit new authentic little known places. Finally, virtual online “cloud tourism” to small remote places also serves as an attractor for real visiting.

Event Timeslots (1)

Room 5
Late-Breaking Session