Imagining Eco-Civilization and Protesting Air Pollution in China

This is an Archive of a Past Event

With Mette Halskov,
FSI-Humanities Center International Visitor and 2018-19 Aron Rodrigue International Visitor

China may be the only country in the world whose government has managed to draw upon its philosophical past to craft a vision of a global sustainable future—the so-called “eco-civilization” (shengtai wenming). What does this imaginary of eco-civilization look like in Chinese society? How does it connect to the on-going local environmental protests that reflect a rising concern with environmental degradation among the Chinese public?

This presentation builds on findings from an interdisciplinary research project, Airborne, in which anthropologists, sinologists, media scientists, political scientists, and atmospheric chemists collaborated to study air pollution in China. Part of the research for Airborne was carried out in villages in Zhejiang Province, where residents were exposed to air both pollution from industry as well as to pollution from traditional cooking practices. Villagers in Zhejiang also protested against pollution, and the presentation will discuss the implications of these kinds of local protests, as well as of the grand imaginary of a global eco-civilization.

About the Speaker

Mette Halskov Hansen is Professor in China Studies at the University of Oslo. She has studied Chinese society since the late 1980s, and has years of experience doing anthropological fieldwork in schools, factories, villages, and homes throughout China. Hansen has written about Han migration to ethnic minority areas (Frontier People: Han Settlers in Minority Areas of China, 2005), minority education and ethnic identity (Lessons in Being Chinese, 1999), and processes of individualization in China (Educating the Chinese Individual: Life in a Rural Boarding School, 2015). Recently, she has been working with a group of scholars from China, Norway, and the US on an interdisciplinary project about the human dimensions of air pollution in China (see e.g. special issue of The China Quarterly, June 2018). Together with her colleagues, Hansen is now writing a monograph analyzing what Chinese textbooks have taught children about human-nature relations over the last 100 years, as well as a book titled The Great Smog of China, which will be published in 2019 as part of the AAS series Asia Shorts.